Friday, May 29, 2015

What are we teaching and why? Start overhauling tired learning spaces

Let's face it... there are some tired learning spaces out there. Education offices too.

Far too many are steeped in clutter, storage housing more clutter, bad lighting, and uncomfortable furniture all floating in old school / mental institution high gloss beige.

It's the hope that schools could look like spaces people actually want to be in and work in.

It would be great to build a new building... but don't wait. Start pulling together ideas and making small changes until the new dream building somehow, some way becomes a reality.

Understanding flow

I do understand designing around classroom flow. But...

What if there isn't a good flow in the classroom?

What if the space is so confining that 'flow' isn't possible?

What if the current space is all lecture driven?

I took the challenge myself in 2005 where I used to teach and have been helping teachers over the last 10 years refit / rejuvenate learning spaces and offices.

There are a few simple steps that can happen to change things in the right direction. Sometimes some simple changes can get things moving.

Move / eliminate that teacher desk!

Make the classroom peer learning centric rather than teaching centric.

This will be a good challenge to your work in teaching students. Sit with students. Sit in the back. Sit in the middle. Move about day to day and let the stage define itself.

Challenge yourself to get your teacher desk out of the front of the room. Challenge yourself to eliminate it altogether!

Remove clutter!

Remove 'stuff.' Get the shelves clean, get stuff off the floor, get it off tables and desks. Don't just put it somewhere else!

Toss it!

Identify what you 'need' from what you might want.

Get. Rid. Of. Stuff. You. Don't. Use.

Remove unnecessary storage!

I visited a classroom recently and the teacher mentioned they didn't have enough storage. When we went over what was being stored in the room... 90% of it was unnecessary as in never used or fell into that category "we might need this someday." The entire classroom was like a giant kitchen junk drawer. Students hated it, and sadly the person who taught in the room did too. We gutted the room and went minimalist, by moving essential and frequently used items into one cabinet. Classrooms should be work spaces not storage centers. Get that seldom used stuff out!


Make it a school effort. Ask students to help. Polish. Don't take no for an answer. Get the grime off the windows too!


Introduce a color palate... other than school athletic colors and institutional white, light blue, and... beige!


Stay away from high gloss. Win that argument. Make taking care of the walls a school priority.

Softer tones of... green, orange, yellow, blue can go a long way. Nature based color palates work extremely well. Take a look at the modern workspaces online like Google,, and some others. Get inspired to make some changes.

Accent walls. More than one color makes it interesting.

Develop a catalog of colors for the school. 20 colors?

Get teachers involved. Get rooms painted. 10 rooms per year could cost $2,000 - $3000.

How would new paint and a modern color palate change the 'feel' of your school?


Get some large whiteboards up to unpack ideas. Large sheets are easily mounted, easily framed and far, far less expensive than the expensive alternatives.

Many schools have whiteboards that are not used often. Find them and repurpose them into high use areas and spaces.

Multiple white boards in different spaces? Why not?

Get things moving

Convincing yourself and students that desks and tables can be moved around is very liberating. Circle one day, groups another. Many hands make light work.

The school as an art gallery... Start in rooms, then take on the building

Curate student art!

Get the art dept involved in displaying student work and get projects going with college and community artists to work with kids to add murals and shapes to walls. It's amazing what life this can breathe into tired old facilities.

Start down the furniture path

It's time. Get rid of these...

If you don't believe it... try becoming a student for a day.

It's expensive to change furniture. But it's also fun. New furniture can be moved to that new building you might build someday.

Best advice: Choose things that have great warranties and are comfortable.


Changes like this can lead to positive morale shifts. It can stir up pedagogy. It can stir up some innovation. It shifts energy. It gets people buying into the thought that "we can redesign our learning spaces."

We can face the reality that it doesn't take much money to reduce clutter, eliminate furniture, and paint!


Links to the full 'What Are We Teaching and Why? series:

8. Start overhauling tired learning spaces
7. #educolor and literary choices
6. Positive ripples of student choice
5. Common roadblocks
4. Student pursuing their interests
3. The Other Math
2. Rethinking Math Requirements
1. AP Classes