Learning spaces

This post has been written as part of the 2016 #EdBlogNZ Challenge for February which encourages participants to share a virtual tour of their learning space.

My own learning spaces

As I’m not currently teaching, I don’t have a classroom or learning space for my own students, however I do have my own personal learning spaces and this has made me think about what I find suitable for my own learning needs.

my workspace

In my “office” at home, which is really just a small corner of my bedroom, I have set up my desk, and a ridiculous number of devices and monitors. Okay… I’m sure some others have more, and to be honest I don’t always use them all at once. But this works for me. Yes, it’s my workspace, but I also do a lot of learning here as a part of my job.

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While my job sometimes takes me to work in various locations, I do have another space that I have used for both work and specifically learning. It’s a place that I find peaceful, calming and generally relaxing. I sit in my car and work/study with a view across the Wellington harbour. Even on an evening like today’s which is overcast, with a slight breeze (not even a Wellington breeze!), I can enjoy it.

What draws me to my learning spaces?

I’ve always liked my work or learning spaces to be as uncluttered as possible. I think I’m probably a little anal about this actually as I would often procrastinate when I was studying by tidying up my desk (although it honestly did help as I was able to calm down and focus more with the clutter gone)… And… I don’t know why I’m sharing this one… When I’m watching TV I can’t stand there being any mess around or anything visual that might distract me after a slight glance at it. Again, I tidy up the space and make sure none of the white backing on the curtains are showing (including the ones behind me because once I know…)

Actually I do know why I shared that. I have seen so many classrooms that are just full of clutter, whether it be stuff or colour. For me, this is distracting. I know it’s not the case for everyone, but there will definitely be some of our students who also find it distracting or possibly even over-stimulating.

Overall, I like the spaces in which I’m working/learning to be open and peaceful, with not too much noise or distraction.

What do my children like in their learning spaces?

I thought I’d ask my children what they prefer in their learning spaces/classrooms. I’ve got 5 of them, so I figured this was a reasonable sample size. 😉

Miss14 (Year 11) – prefers to lie on the floor; doesn’t like lots of people in one space; prefers an open space but not a big space; likes some things on wall but only if relevant; when lots of posters/student work on wall and/or with lots of colour, it can be distracting.

Mr10 (Year 7) – prefers to learn inside, at home; inside at a desk (at school); quiet space; computers; not lots of stuff like books – take up too much space; doesn’t like lots of clutter – too hard to work with and too hard to find stuff (low vision); lots of colour can be distracting.

Mr9 (Year 5) – prefers quiet, not many people around (personal space), likes sitting at a desk.

Mr7 (Year 4) – likes a lot of colour, quiet, sitting on a cushion.

Miss6 (Year 2) – likes lots of stuff around, teacher, not much stuff on the wall (also low vision), quiet, at desk.

Every teacher needs to consider their learning space and the students they have at that moment. Not all people can cope with a lot of stuff around. It can be visually exhausting or distracting. Some like music playing, others can’t focus with it. Some like sitting at a desk, others like sitting under desks, on a cushion, lying on the floor. It’s exciting to see more and more schools and teachers creating flexible learning spaces for their learners.

Modern learning spaces & collaboration

Albany Senior High School (1)

I read this blog post from the CORE Education blog Modern Learning Environments: Not ‘any colour as long as it’s black’ and the second part of it headed up Teacher learning really got me thinking.

Firstly, a disclaimer: I have never taught in a modern learning space. These are simply my thoughts and observations from what I have seen, read and heard.

I imagine, although I cannot be certain that probably 95% or more of schools in New Zealand do not have modern learning spaces (I would love someone to tell me that I’m very wrong about this!). There could be a number of reasons for this, but I imagine that the most likely is that most of our schools are aging, and the funding that they receive for building and maintenance does not enable them to modernise across the school very quickly – they either have to do one or two classrooms or a block at a time, or try to do a little bit across all/many classrooms. I have a little bit of experience as a Board of Trustees member and when it comes to buildings there seems to be a balancing act between these classrooms must be replaced now and let’s be fair across everyone and upgrade a part of every classroom so that it’s consistent across the school. I believe many of our schools simply haven’t been given a real opportunity to update themselves, so unless you’re in a brand new school, chances are high that you’re teaching or learning in silos – in individual classrooms separated from one another by four walls.

It has been my observation that sometimes (certainly not always the case) these classrooms become a certain teachers domain, and although some are willing to collaborate, often collaboration does not occur at the level perhaps needed/desired.

Interestingly, I have also observed in online “classrooms”, in what could be considered a modern learning space, that we talk a lot about how collaboration and interaction can occur with students but seem to do little of it with teachers. The technology we are using to run these online classes is set up for communication and interaction but it appears often that only goes as far as our students. Yes, I am generalising, and I’m sure those that are reading this blog are collaborating with other teachers in a variety of ways, however I know this is not always the case.

I strongly believe that if we have these expectations of our students, then we as teachers need to be doing it too. We need to collaborate with teachers in our schools and build professional networks to learn, to grow and to inspire us. We need to do what we can to move out of the comfortable silos that we we have grown accustomed to and share our experiences with our colleagues.

This year I have started team-teaching online with two other teachers. It’s going to be an interesting journey as we bare all in how we teach and interact online. I think it will be good for all of us because we are having to be open and because we are able to learn from each other. We have no choice but to work together.

 

BTW: The CORE Ed blog is well worth following if you don’t already.

Image: Albany Senior High School By 4nitsirkKristina D.C. Hoeppner – flickr.com

Learning spaces

My wife and I were watching an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition the other day. On this episode the design team built a school room in a house for two home-schooled children aged 6 and 8. These girls had an immune deficiency disease so they could not go to school due to the high risk of infection.

It was, as it usually is a lovely episode, but what got me was the school room. It was a great room with the latest technology such as laptops, an interactive whiteboard and video conferencing unit. There was science gear, art supplies and so on. What got me though were the two individual desks in the middle of the room with a laptop on each for the girls to work at. All I could think of was that it is so cliche to have school desks like this. Yes there was a table for doing art together, but those desks made it look like that was the place where work is done and done on their own.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I think individual desks should not be allowed in classrooms especially children of this age. They don’t encourage interaction between students or collaboration. The video conferencing unit was great for them to interact with other students from around the world (fantastic!), but what about interaction with each other in the same room. Yes, I know it will still happen, but is it the same?

Modern classrooms should be built with this in mind. We should be encouraging interaction and collaboration. This is normal behavior in a work place, so these skills should be developed at school.

I like hearing about the learning spaces at places such as Albany Senior High School (link to Steve Wheeler‘s blog), or the different classroom layout that Andrew Churches (link to Andrew’s blog) has at Kristen School. These are just a couple of examples and there are many more. There is also probably no perfect classroom, but it’s so important now to ensure our learning spaces promote students building the skills they will need in later life.