What can you remember from your time at school? If I close my eyes and wind back the clock I can just picture it. Four large square blocks of classrooms which, rumour had it, were built by a construction company that specialised in building ‘correctional facilities’. It worked. We all had a seat, desk and could see a board or even, on special occasions, an overhead projector. But I would be lying to say the spaces inspired me. I remember sitting still a lot, passive, as the fans helped to ease what could only be described as the ‘smell of teen spirit’ on hot summer afternoons. I felt like a captive governed by the sound of a bell which told us we could wander the yard and then ring again to repeat the process. While I struggle to remember exactly what was said in these classrooms, I could never forget how the spaces made me feel.
Physical characteristics of classrooms make a huge difference. According to Barrett et al, (2015), 16% of variation in learning outcomes over a year can be explained by the spaces students learn in. So it would be an understatement to say that we are all just a little excited about the opening of the new building at Norwest Christian College and the opportunities this brings. A real highlight this year has been seeing students and families react to this new space – the oohs and ahhhs that come from walking into a new space and new possibilities, overhearing comments like ‘it feels like a university’, ‘it is so open’ or ‘there is so much light’. A far cry from my own experience at school!
One thing I am wondering, though, is how we can make the most of these spaces for learning. This is a question I have been exploring with a group of curious Year 9 students completing the Skills Based Learning course to stretch their disposition to question, imagine, reason and make links. After walking through the new collaborative spaces, classrooms, learning walk, lecture theatre and atrium we have together spent time imagining some of the possibilities. While these students have to wait until the end of term to share some of their ideas with Mr Hinton, some of their suggestions include:
Year 7 and Year 12 Kahoot! quizzes in the atrium on a Friday afternoon
Adding a slide to go down, instead of stairs
Teaching students to know what to do in the real world
Making something all together which is helpful for this world
Developing a simulation room which can help to visualise a problem
Using Minecraft to learn more effectively, like designing a building
Each room has its own adjustments for a specific subject as it would be more interactive
Having a share and tell session for classes to tell others about your problems to guide and assist you with a situation
Learning becoming more challenging by giving us a task or project to work on over time and keep working on that because it is always hard and challenging and pushes us
Giving us more choice on what we want to do as in options and tasks
More group activities instead of individual work to share everyone’s ideas
Open ended tasks we can work on for more than one lesson with a partner
Interestingly, Year 9 students also felt a strong responsibility to make sure the building remains in great condition, asking lots of questions about how the building can remain clean and looked after.
While I am not sure about the slide, a lot of the suggestions are already happening. Educators at the College are also committed to experiment with ways to make the most of all of our learning spaces to inspire and equip students to build purposeful lives. This is a much bigger vision for learning than my experience of school! We want to use spaces in a way that celebrates the God-given dignity, value and creativity of each student as an image bearer of God made to live in relationship. To have spaces which are engaging but not overwhelming. For teachers and students to be take ownership of classrooms but remain flexible to how they are used. To have spaces that allow quiet reflection and concentration while also promoting collaboration to solving real world problems. Above all, to make the most of this new space so that it is a blessing to all students in the College. Watch this space.
Andrew Beitsch Director of Professional Learning and Accreditation
Barrett, Peter, Yufan Zhang, Fay Davies and Lucinda Barrett (2015). Clever Classrooms: Summar Report of the HEAD Project (Holistic Evidence and Design) (Manchester: University of Salford). Available at http://usir.salford.ac.uk/id/e...