Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Modern Learning Environments : More Than Just Beanbags

Modern Learning Environments are a hot topic in education at the moment.   Having opened up our doors in 2013, Hobsonville Point Primary School has had more than 1200 visitors to date and many visit to experience the physical space.  Often, what people come here to see and what they take away are two different things.

The most common feedback we receive is that people come with the view of gathering ideas about spaces and furniture however after seeing the teaching and learning in action their focus shifts to pedagogy in their schools.

To give context, Hobsonville Point School is open-plan design, with learning commons (classrooms with break-out spaces) that can cater for approximately 80-90 students.  There are some specialist spaces such as a gymnasium, cooking room and science lab.  Each learning common has a fenced outdoor area, with mini performance stage and seating.  The school also has a community cafeteria and covered communal outside space.

The facilities are impressive however we view the environment as a supporter and if we don't shift our pedagogies and embrace what learning could look like then we are not doing our jobs properly.

The environment is an enabler for us in living out our values of:

  • personalising learning,
  • innovating,
  • authentic learning,
  • relationships,
  • and making learning authentic.
Traditional practice, within an MLE, could easily happen without questioning then redesigning what learning could look like.  

This video shows the school (and students) within the new Hobsonville Point community

Hobsonville Point Primary MLE Snapshot

Classrooms look very different to the traditional four-walled, desks and chairs design.  There is no  fixed 'front' of the classroom and learning advisors (teachers) work alongside students rather than the more traditional model of teaching from the front.  Each learning common is the same size as three traditional classrooms and is staffed by 3 teachers.  The layout of the space and types of furniture we have are enablers and we deliberately avoid the lecture style type of pedagogy as we personalise learning for our students.

Spaces are flexible.  We have mobile whiteboards and TVs so that these supportive tools can be accessed practically anywhere within the school with the goal of reducing barriers to learning.  Spaces can be used flexibly, with concertina dividers in some spaces, and most of the furniture is on castors and easily shifted.  Often students will redesign spaces, to best support the learning that is taking place at the time.  The students have a strong sense of belonging and ownership of the school.  They negotiate use of spaces, design and are a part of projects that develop and resource the school.  They engage in authentic learning and student voice is honoured.

We teach collaboratively and a positive outcome for students is that they can build relationships easily with a range of mentors.  A positive for staff is that we can reflect on students together, have  regular, just-in-time conversations and be fully responsive to the students needs.  We are able to tap into passionate experts across our team as we feel a sense of responsibility for our whole cohort opposed to the traditional model of a class that changes from year to year.  It allows us to support each other and collectively raise our own professional knowledge, understandings and practice.

Students are multi-aged grouped and social and dispositional growth influence where we place students across the school.  We tag individual students to individual learning advisors where there is a natural positive relationship.  This 'home' learning advisor stays with the student for a number of years so a really deep understanding of them as a learner can be developed.  The larger learning common grouping is multi-age grouped which assists in breaking down mindset barriers around students' perceptions of their abilities.

Technology is a ubiquitous part of learning.  Students use varied devices for a range of purposes such as; creative design, organisation, collaborating ideas, accessing information, creating learning tools and connecting within the global community.  The school is BYOD however we provide enough technology and devices so that every child has access.

Teaching practice is deprivatised within the open-plan MLE environment and that also extends into online spaces.  Teachers plan on google sites.  Students, parents and other teachers are able to access this planning.  The design of the planning is responsive so it changes on a daily basis and every child personalises their day attending 'must do' workshops', negotiated 'workshops' and self directing learning.  We do not subject silo, however you may see target workshops addressing some of the core curriculum needs such as developing specific writing or numeracy skills.  Whenever possible, learning is linked to students passions, interests and curiosities or framed around immersing the students into a 'world they do not yet know, they do not know.'

Example of planning for senior school students on a google site

We value relationships and we utilise online spaces to engage our community.  For example, we use social media as a way of connecting, have a school app to share alerts and important notices and use google documents to share updates with parents about their child's progress and well-being at school.  We invite and encourage commenting and interaction within our google sites, blogs and social media accounts.  For those parents who work full-time or struggle to get into school, the feedback has been positive as it helps them to stay connected with their child during the day.  For those who are curious and want to know more, Amy McCauley blogs from a technology perspective and she also shares her teaching journey at HPP.  Have a look at her blog iLearn as it has lots of great ideas and information.

Here is a snapshot of our learning commons in action at 2.45pm on a Monday of the last week of term.  In the senior common students were involved in project based learning, reflecting on their learning by emailing learning advisors or blogging.  In learning common 2, students were engaged in a range of self-directed activities from maths challenges to problem based learning experiences and in the junior common they were been read to as a group.

The beanbags are a small part of our MLE, what is truely exciting is seeing students engaged in their learning after been given permissions and freedoms to fly.  

Fresh off the press, there is an interesting article regarding the designs of Hobsonville Point Schools in Commercial Design - Trends vol 30 no 3, from an architectural perspective.

Mark Osbourne, Core Education has published an interesting read on modern learning environments.  Click here to be directed to his paper.