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Flexible Seating and Learning Common Spaces

Flexible Seating Classrooms & Learning Commons at SNCDSB

Innovative learning spaces at Superior North Catholic District School Board (SNCDSB) include physical spaces within a school, outdoor learning spaces, virtual learning spaces and spaces for serendipitous collaboration. Physical areas within a school have whiteboards and writable surfaces to record brainstorming and collaboration, flexible furniture to move around the open space to create a physical learning hub, designing a magnetic learning environment that draws educators and students supporting informal collaboration. Outdoor learning spaces support wellbeing and health, allowing users to move around, access fresh air and learn in a green space. Virtual learning spaces and learning management systems facilitate online collaboration. Technology allows students and educators access to education and resources from all over the world, reducing barriers of physical distance.

Physical learning spaces are considered the third teacher as referenced by the Ministry of Education Ontario Capacity Building Series. Physical classroom space design can be initiated to effect pedagogy and support student learning. Creating innovative learning spaces embraces the idea of space as a change agent. This approach to learning space design at SNCDSB is the inspiration. The shift in pedagogy precedes the change of space. Educators at SNCDSB had the opportunity to create a learning environment that will best suit the learners in their classrooms and leverage their pedagogical practices. Engaging educators in the development of flexible learning spaces captures educator voice, choice and pedagogical inspiration. Students' learning styles, barriers, students interest and needs are vital to designing learning spaces. Classroom educators know their students' needs and learning styles, engaging educators and students in the flexible seating design process maximizes learning within the physical learning space.

A critical piece to student engagement is technology. Technology engages students and also is a platform that creates equity. Leadbeater and Wong (2010) write about how computers and learning that matters to children and families is necessary to encourage students to attend school. Each student comes to school with different perspectives, knowledge, learning styles and interests. Educators at SNCDSB are open to customizing the learning environment based on what they know will reach each student.

Makerspaces in Learning Commons at SNCDSB

The learning commons is a student magnet, students love to visit the space with flexible furniture, with various seating options. Design thinking is a mindset that supports creativity, maker movement and prototyping through multiple drafts to improve the quality of student work. Design thinking also fosters experiential, hands-on learning opportunities that connect to student’s real everyday life. Design thinking is a shift in mindset for both educator and student to focus on the process of learning rather than the final product (Razzouk & Shute, 2012) Makerspaces support student’s curiosity and embedding prototyping and inventor’s mindsets into hands-on activities. Students are engaged to improve continually when learning tasks are real-world and authentic and (Leadbeater &Wong, 2010).

Students are able to tap into their creative juices through the implementation of a makerspace. Makerspace is understood to be the activity of making something or being a maker. It can include physically making something such as wood work, prototyping or cooking to technically coding/making something such as a computer program or robotics. In order for a makerspace to be successful educators need to have an open mindset to allow students to explore and create based on their interests. Student learning can be documented in a portfolio, whereby students share what they learned, what problems they encountered, their initial goals, and reflect on where they ended up. It is the educators role to deliver the curriculum, however, allowing space for students to explore within the curriculum can provide a rich opportunity for student engagement and unleash creativity. Students are in charge of their learning, not the teachers in the maker movement. The responsibility for learning is on the student, students learn that it's ok to break things and intrinsically are motivated to learn.

References
Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. HarperBusiness. P. 3.

Leadbeater, C. & Wong, A. (2010). Learning from the extremes. Cisco. Retrieved from: http://www.cisco.com/web/about/citizenship/socio-economic/docs/LearningfromExtremes_WhitePaper.pdf

Razzouk, R., & Shute, V. (2012). What is design thinking and why is it important? Review of Educational Research, September, 82 (3), 330 – 348. http://rer.safepub.com.exproxy.csu.edu.au/content/82/4/483.full.pdf+html
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