I had been trying to lecture to the students for almost 30 minutes about the difference between physical and chemical change. I knew it was important since it was going to be on the test coming up next week, but why wasn’t anyone listening. There were so many side conversations going on that I finally lost it. I gave every child a textbook and told them to read the chapter and answer the questions at the end. I will never forget the one girl who looked me straight in the face and said she wasn’t going to do it as she pushed her book on the floor. I gave up.
That was the moment that I decided that school as I remembered it would not suffice for today’s youth. In a society built on innovations and high-speed internet, the days of the-size-fits-all curriculum is dead. No longer can we give our students the same assignment, the same book, the same desk and expect them to be prepared for tomorrow’s workplace.
And this idea is not new. Since the early 1990s researchers have called to “challenge an educational system that assumes that everyone can learn the same material in the same way and that a uniform, universal measure suffices to test student learning” (Gardner, 1991). Where Gardner’s primary research was on multiple intelligence and how it related to learning activities in students, one can extend this framework into the physical learning environment.
I am very much a proponent of designing learning spaces that lend themselves to flexibility. Just like how curriculum needs to be differentiated, taking in to consideration learner modalities, the learning space also should be differentiated. I personally have watched the squirmiest of students physically not be able to focus on assignments while sitting in a school desk. However, when given the option to stand are able to not only participate but flourish.
Of course, like all good things in education, a lot of planning and care should go into the redesigning of a learning space. To help with this a framework was put together by the Ministerial Council of Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA), gives guiding principals for maximizing student performance (MCEETYA, 2008).
A couple last thoughts. Where redesigned learning spaces is the direction in which education needs to hear, it does not come without some road bumps. For example, if a teacher is not willing or able to let go of control and bring in a more personalized learning approach, the learning space is all for not. Educators have to design a class that encourages inclusivity, collaboration, and creativity before the class’ physical space can be effective.