Transforming Classroom Spaces

For decades the classroom as we know it has been virtually untouched. Chances are that your classroom as a child was very similar to the one your parents attended. Only recently have there been concerted efforts to make learning spaces more engaging and more in-tune with the needs of today’s learners.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with several young students, ranging in age from 5 – 7 about their visions of their ideal classroom. What I was amazed by was the wide diversity in what they considered important. Some stressed small things like the addition of plants and flexible seating, while others dreamed big, asking for cupcake cafes and in-school beaches. I’ve included some of their illustrations in this blog post.

In this classroom, students can rest in pods and relax while reading or working. Lighting hangs from the ceiling on springs, and students have unlimited access to interactive whiteboards with programs like Tux Paint:

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In this school of the future, students can learn in the theatre, at the beach, in the cupcake café, or take the sky car over to their next class. The school has rooms for art, science and pets, and is surrounded by nature where you can pick apples or do yoga. There’s no homework either:

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This classroom is more rooted in nature, with a natural grass floor, a class bird, and lots of plants:

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.. And finally this student envisions a school in space where the kids are learning to float, there are robots, and there is a bed to relax, if you need to:

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Thanks to the team at Place Cartier Adult Education Centre, I recently had the opportunity to visit Forest Hill Elementary Senior Campus, LBPSB in St. Lazare, Quebec and I was absolutely amazed at the ways this school has transformed its learning spaces. From the minute you walk in the door, you know this school is different. From the open foyers, to the posters on the wall, there is consistency in what they say and do. Doors are open and there are students milling about.

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The teachers have led an initiative, which is fully supported by the administration, to transform the school into a space for modern learners, based on the principles of UDL. Every classroom is warm and inviting, decorated with bright colours, alternative seating, and flexible spaces.

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Teachers support the concept of flexible seating, meaning that students can sit anywhere that they are productive. Yes, there are rules, but students are expected to take ownership and be accountable for their actions. Students can even camp out in the hallway and flip up one of the portable worktables to have a little more of a private, quiet space.

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These unconventional learning spaces create excellent spaces for independent learning, and for collaborative work. Students can easily work in pairs or small groups and they have the space and set-up to explore. This leads itself well to project-based learning and to cross-curricular activities.

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On the day we were visiting, there were students working in small groups in a language class on building towers, art projects, and using computers. The important part was that they were developing language skills through the collaborative work they were doing. Students have a lot of autonomy and have the freedom to choose.

Instead of an old-school hall pass, students can pick-up one of the iPods hanging in a box on the wall and scan a QR code to go to the bathroom. The codes trigger a Google form, which they quickly fill in before heading out of class. This provides more freedom, but still maintains accountability. Students use the same process to sign out Chromebooks for in-school class work. What I liked best is that students are treated with trust and the iPods are NOT kept under lock and key. In turn, students show respect for their classroom and school property.

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Teachers have embraced that some students have lots of energy and they’ve created creative outlets for it. Students can ask for an “Club Energie” pass and escape to the hallway for 10 minutes. I was told by one of the students that this can be great after a test, when they have been sitting still for a long time. They can pick from a variety of activities, like badminton, that are set-up in boxes along the wall. The students are even responsible for setting a timer (not the teacher) and returning to class as expected, which is another example of how the school has fostered an environment of mutual respect and trust.

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In the staff room, teachers share techniques via post-its so they can learn from each other. They are encouraged to visit each other’s classrooms and adopt what works and learn from what doesn’t. How neat is that?

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I walked away SO genuinely excited by the sense of community at this school. From the way the teachers networked to the way technology was seamlessly integrated into the school at multiple levels. I was even more amazed at how giving the students more autonomy and responsibility ended up creating such a sense of trust amongst the students and between the teachers. This is a school of the future!

I am excited to learn more about schools who are adopting elements of alternative classroom spaces and UDL. Are you doing any small changes in your classroom? If so, I would love to hear what’s working for you. Let me know!

I’d like to thank Sylvie Monette (Principal) and the staff and students of Forest Hill Elementary, Senior Campus for inviting us into their classrooms. I’d also like to thank Myriam Rabbat (Centre Director) and the team at Place Cartier Adult Centre, LBPSB, for organizing this visit. Last but not least, a special big thanks to Emily, Amelia, Henryk, and Jack for their drawings/vision of the school of the future.

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