Flexible Spaces and Learning
Flexible Spaces, Schedules and Roles are Part of an Educational Ecosystem that Works
by Kay Tucker
Modern schools need to look beyond their four walls, their set schedules, and the roles their teachers play, and create what is called a learning ecosystem. This ecosystem combines physical and virtual spaces to create formal and informal learning opportunities on a 24/7 basis. It includes environments and practices that are most conducive in engaging students in the activities needed to acquire relevant skills and knowledge. A white paper titled “Designing an Innovation Ecosystem for Learning”, written by Valerie Hannon, Alec Patton, and Julie Temperley of Cisco addresses the idea of ‘Engaging with learning, not just with school’:
“...economic recession, demographic pressures, and environmental stability are primarily felt as pressures rather than opportunities-though in responding to them, educators are coming up with innovations that enrich learning and help them in dealing with specific challenges. ...These pressures and opportunities require people to acquire new kinds of literacy (including information literacy, cross-cultural literacy, and ecological literacy) as to be lifelong learners, because technology, politics, economics, and the environment are changing so quickly. This demands a shift away from focusing on engagement in school, to engagement in learning. It also requires an examination of what sorts of environments are most conducive to learning in (and for) the 21st century.”
The impact of emerging innovative technologies that support different modes of learning has changed the way we think about education – it has broadened our opportunities for collaboration and given us easy access to unlimited continuous information. Shifting the focus from going to school to learn, to engaging students in learning, these ecosystems should be flexible and interconnected and promote learner ownership. This is the realm that fosters the connections between formal and informal learning as it occurs within and outside of the classroom. It should also be the impetus for teachers to take advantage of all opportunities for learning as they shift their role away from delivering content to one who facilitates learning that happens beyond the classroom walls.
Alicia Pepe, 6th grade teacher at Lone Tree Elementary had her students create designs for the “perfect” classroom. She offered them them the freedom to rid the room of desks and start from scratch. These students now spend their days learning in an environment that looks nothing like a typical classroom. Areas in her classroom include: couch-like comfortable seating areas; options for gathering around circular tables either standing or sitting with short upholstered stools; a maker-table surrounded with stools set among baskets of available material; a place for mobile digital tools (iPads, MacBooks, chromebooks) available to use in any of the spaces; large screen iMacs in separate areas for individual or small group “Hangouts” or Skype sessions; presentation area; “campfire” area. Three Spheros, APP controlled balls, sit on the shelf as class pets. Students play games or write code on iPads to move these robotic pets around the room. The class captures both how they are engaged in learning and what they are learning, and use both Twitter and Instagram to disseminate information. They use social media as a tool to expand their horizons and to create global connections. All students have access to Google APPS for education and have websites as eportfolios. Personalized homework takes the form of online math forums, flipped classroom options, and research for project work. Alicia does not have a defined schedule for content delivery, but instead designates large blocks of time for students to work on their projects and individual goals as she conferences and mentors to meet individual needs. All of the learning applies to the creation of authentic assessments with no set due dates as students develop and grow their ideas for real world application across the entire year. They set personal schedules with ample time for product development involving feedback and revisions. Alicia has purposefully aligned her physical and virtual spaces to create an ecosystem for learning that is rich with resources, is collaborative, and leads to personalized learning.