Thursday, August 20, 2015

Marriage of Design and Transformative Instruction - part 2

In my last post I described a visit to a neighboring school which I believe is engaging in transformative educational practices which are accommodated by ingenious design elements. Fundamentally,  Hillel Day School has eliminated traditional classrooms. Consequently teachers can/must consider the optimal learning space for each lesson. 

In this post I want to reflect on how important flexible design is to collaboration and student agency. As I mentioned previously, Hillel's gathering spaces are open and transparent. Conference rooms have glass walls. Teacher "offices" are common spaces, encouraging collaboration. 

The Hillel students can create their own furniture arrangements for working in small or large groups. They can gather in a variety of commons areas or can sit at furniture in the hallway. 

Open spaces, mobile furniture, comfortable seating at Hillel (photo by G. Bank)
This fascinated me because at Mercy we are also trying to repurpose large spaces in our building and create more opportunities for students to collaborate. A great example would be the courtyard re-designs which allow students to comfortably gather.

Of course the courtyards are subject to weather and Michigan's hard winters. However, we are taking advantage of an enormous underutilized space in our  lobby. Next week our new furniture is arriving for a phase one 53 seat arrangement depicted. Currently students are forbidden to go into this lobby during school. That changes once the Steelcase furniture arrives (photos to come!).

However, I anticipate the lobby usage will largely be social. On the other hand, for our Media Center pilot we intend to repurpose a corner of the room clearly aimed at project work. With the help of NBS designers we are selecting furniture that is very similar to Hillel's: it is movable and supported by media, not unlike the corner configuration below, though with additional options. 

I was blown away by how many markable walls, surfaces and boards existed throughout Hillel. We also hope to bring this feature into the Media Center-- the object of course being to expand on our pilot throughout the space

NBS is also helping us take steps toward creating maker spaces in the Media Center to promote student agency. Hillel has done an astonishing job in this area too. This subject will serve as the third installment of my reflections on that fine school and how it is influencing the initiatives at mine.

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