Classrooms of the Future

Long gone are the ‘chalk and talk’ days that framed old ideas of teaching and learning. The focus in today’s schools is on designing and providing the best possible environments for successful learning.

When parents think ‘classroom,’ our minds often think back to the old days of sitting in rows at individual desks, facing the front and letting the teacher fill us with knowledge. Then we sat an exam to test our recall skills. However, modern research and observations of the way students learn show us that this is no longer considered best practice.

Understanding how children learn has inspired many administrators to rethink and redesign classrooms. Learning in the 21st century is underpinned by teaching methods and spaces that are engaging and challenge our traditional view on classroom teaching and learning. Referred to as flexible learning, it uses spaces and evolving pedagogies to provide environments for creative and energised students and teachers.

Karl Fisch, who was behind the video Shift Happens, states that, “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”

If this is true then it is reasonable to say that the way children are being educated now should be very different to how it was done in the past. Schools for tomorrow need to be focusing on core skills for life: collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication.

Flexible classroom environments are outfitted with appropriate furniture that allows teachers and students to adopt Professor David Thornburg’s archetypal learning spaces, such as:

The “Campfire”

A space where students can gather to learn from an expert or guru.

The “Cave”

A quiet and reflective space where students can activate their diffuse thinking and shift their learning from external knowledge to internal belief.

The “Watering Hole”

An informal space where students can collaborate, as well as share both information and discoveries. They can bounce off each other, thereby it serves as an incubator for ideas.

These are all different ‘zones’ that have specific displays or purposes within flexible classroom models.

In a typical flexible classroom, you could expect to find:

• Students who are active participants in their learning rather than passive vessels, who are challenged to think and do more.

• A design that promotes a sense of enquiry, wonder and excitement.

• Teachers delivering flexible lesson content in either lecture-style, group-style, presentation-style or activity-style.

• Moveable desks and furniture that accommodates different needs and different activities.

• Areas that promote student and teacher communication and collaboration.

These classrooms provide students with a choice of where they undertake their learning tasks. Stadium seating, community booths and standing desks enhance connectedness. Movable furniture such as wobble stools, ottomans and carpet mats provide students with the sensory input they need without distracting themselves or others from learning.

In a research study by Castellucci, Arezes, Molenbroek, de Bruin and Viviani (2016), it was found that characteristics such as high furniture, sit-stand furniture, tilt tables and seats had up to a 64 per cent positive effect on students’ physical responses and/or their performance. 

The benefit of a flexible classroom is its ability to provide an environment where students are motivated to do their best work and allows them to express their knowledge in diverse ways; an environment that has been strategically built and designed to promote curiosity and one that offers students the freedom to engage with content in the way that suits them best. Each child has their own strengths and limitations, so a flexible model seeks to allow a ‘way in’ for every student – one that they may not have had in a more traditionally designed classroom.

In his study, Herman Miller (2008) revealed that “Giving people some control over their surroundings adds to their sense of well-being.” (www.Psychologytoday. com). Barrett Et Al. (2015) also supports that 28 per cent of classroom design factors that drive student engagement also relate to ownership and flexibility.

Technology plays an integral part in the success of these modern learning spaces, with interactive whiteboards, iPads and laptops all being common place. With new advances in technology, new opportunities for engagement and learning are created. Augmented and virtual reality tools are already available to students, enabling them to experience looking at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre from their classroom in Cairns, fly through the Amazon Rainforest or engage in a submarine expedition.

Schools that wish to provide classrooms of the future will need to be constantly evolving to embrace these changes.

It is suggested that today’s learners will have between 10 to 14 jobs before they reach the age of 40. Take a step back in time… the first text message was sent in 1992, today the number of text messages sent and received each day exceeds the world’s population. There are 600 tweets sent per second. If Facebook was a country it would be the third largest in relation to population size. So with this in mind, just what are the future possibilities? Who knows how much schools will have to change as we head into the unknown possibilities the world will present to us.

The introduction of flexible classrooms in relation to space is just the first step, closely followed by flexibility in pedagogy, understanding and assessment, presentation of knowledge and the development of core skills.

Schools will need to continue adopting best practice by analysing research from around the world and constantly adapting their learning environments. This will ensure that every student has the opportunity to do their absolute best.

STORY BY Sarah Rowan, Head of Junior School – Peace Lutheran College.