Redesigning learning spaces is far easier feat if the money exists to support it. However, the vast reality is many, if not most districts, don’t have the budget available to purchase new furniture, no less at scale. Thus when redesigning spaces, affordability and sustainability most always remain part of the conversation. Educators are some of the most creative, problem solvers on the planet, as many continue to develop cost saving hacks to create dynamic spaces for kids. So how can we create spaces that better work for kids without breaking the bank?
1. Reduce Visual Noise
In spaces where “visual noise” is the norm, evidence has shown that on the whole, students are off-task more frequently, and off-task for longer periods of time, than in environments where such visual noise and clutter are minimal (Barrett, et. al, 2015). The converse is also true. Very low levels of stimulation can also produce poorer learning conditions and thus a balance is needed. Start by decluttering overstimulating spaces. Your children’s brains will thank you.
2. Find a Hack!
Educators are hacking traditional ideas and creating visually appealing, multifunctional resources for not much money and often sharing them on collaborative online spaces such as Pinterest. One example of a creative hacking solution can be seen in the charging and storage of devices. With the cost of charging carts often exceeding $1,000, some educators have turned to creating their own solutions, using dish racks and power strips to save both money and space. Using hacks such as these also encourages students to creatively problem solve other issues they face. A quick Internet search for classroom hacks will turn up many great ideas. What problems can you solve through a creative hack?
3. Empower Students to Design and Create
Many times we find ourselves racking our brains to find a solution and never pause to ask our students their opinions. Many students, especially those in vocational education classes, have incredible real-world trade skills. From automotive and cosmetology to carpentry and electronics, today’s modern learners have the ability to creatively design and create needed resources. Can traditional coursework for these students be shifted to problem solve issues in their home schools? Doing so builds the community and school culture while also empowering students to solve real-world issues. What problems are your students designing solutions for and solving? How are their learning experiences being transformed?
4. Transform Unused or Underutilized Spaces
Start by reviewing every square foot of unused or underutilized space inside and outside the classroom and school campus. Brainstorm instructional needs that could be taught better in a creative space, and consider unconventional ideas. Ask colleagues to think creatively and envision what could be possible and what it would take to increase instructional opportunities. Consider creating small, collaborative areas of innovation, especially in non-traditional areas that are often overlooked or under-utilized. Often called “watering holes,” “campfires” or “caves,” these micro-spaces can leverage small square-footage for large impact. From small closets to hallways to the backstage of the auditorium, is every square foot being put to maximum use? How can traditionally unused or underutilized spaces become hubs for innovation?
5. Shop Local and Used
Try connecting with the local Goodwill or Salvation Army to give second-hand materials new life. Form relationships with local managers and explain what, as a school, you’re looking for and the student experiences you’re trying to design. They might just put you on their speed dial list!
6. Purchase Seasonally
Develop relationships with local colleges and universities, and offer to purchase used college furniture during graduation week as students leave for the summer—a time when significant money can be saved. During this time of year, graduating students often want to get rid of their belongings and are willing to sell them at a low cost or even donate them to the local school district. It’s also a good idea to connect with local big box stores such as Home Depot, Lowes, and Target, and ask them to let you know when seasonal merchandise hits the clearance aisle. Many of these stores take great pride in supporting their local schools and community.
7. Crowdsource Your Needs
Sites such as DonorsChoose, GoFundMe, and Classwish connect teachers with people willing to donate to school projects. Staff and students can share their online campaign with the world to raise money and support the project. Whether designing a new building, renovating an old one, or updating even a few square feet of space, every effort should be made to create the conditions where student-centered learning can flourish. It’s imperative to understand that each space is inhabited by various teachers with a very specific—and different—group of students.
8. Leverage Student Feedback
Leveraging student voice and growing student agency are foundational in learning space redesign. Asking kids how they’d learn better and for their ideas, regardless of their age, can help build ownership, community, and relationships.
As such, there is no one “right way” to design a space. Each space, whether old or new, large or small, traditional or modern, should be designed to maximize a personal approach to student learning. If you’re unsure where to start, begin by taking one step. School entryways or the library can be great places to begin. Educators will know that their spaces have been designed successfully when the design positively contributes to the learning process and helps create an authentic, dynamic experience for all.
All for the kids we serve,
Image credit: Joey DiPuma (@josephdipuma)
Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Davies, F., and Barrett, L. Clever Classrooms: Summary Report of the HEAD Project (Holistic Evidence and Design). University of Salford Manchester. February 2015. Retrieved from http://www.salford.ac.uk/cleverclassrooms/1503-Salford-Uni-Report-DIGITAL.pdf.