The how and why behind our Innovative Learning Space

Recently my school (Tarawera High School) has made the exciting move into our brand new Innovative Learning Space (ILS). With the students about to start on Monday, my two colleagues and I have spent some time organising our equipment and furniture into what we think will best serve their learning needs. We have a group of 70 year 10 students in a homeroom setting, where we teach them over three days (they go to options the other two days). We generally focus on numeracy, literacy, health and an inquiry unit. We are also a digital class, so each student has access to a Chromebook. Below is a visual of each space and how we intend on the students using each of the spaces:

Our Main Common Area

Main area

This is our largest space, with three breakout rooms on the sides (with the dark frames in the photo on the right). Within this area, we have a mobile TV display which we will equip with a Google Chromecast so it is easy for the teachers or the students to display what is on their Chromebooks (using the Google Cast extension). As the photo in the middle shows, the desks around the main whiteboard are set up in a way where the teacher (or another student) is able to teach or present information to others. The rest of the desks in this are set up in small groups to encourage collaboration between students. There are also a few desks that are set up facing towards a wall for those students that want to work independently with no distractions.

Break-out space 1

Breakout space 1

We have designed this space in a traditional “chalk and talk” setting, with the desks and chairs in rows facing the board (or mobile TV display) at the front. However, there are only approximately 15 desks, so the space is intended for teaching small groups. Even though we encourage self-directed and individualised learning the majority of the time, we still felt there will be times when this setting will help in the learning situations that are more teacher directed. At times when this space isn’t being used like this, the students can still use it when they need to work individually.

Break-out space 2

Breakout space 2

We have designed this space with group work and collaboration in mind. The curved tables in front of the whiteboard give students or the teachers the opportunity to show something to the group. At the other side of this space (at the bottom of this photo) is a large rectangular table with chairs around it. This setting gives students the opportunity to have discussions and collaborate on different topics.

Break-out space 3 (Media room)

Breakout space 3

This space is a smaller area that we intend on using as a media room, as it is dark and has a short-throw projector. We have deliberately not put any desks in this space, therefore maximising the amount of room that the students can spread out. We will equip the projector with a Google Chromecast so that it is easy to display whatever is on the teachers or the students screen. This will give students the opportunity to utilise this space when they need to show others something that they have found or created. When the room isn’t being used in this way, students still have the opportunity to work in a quieter, darker area where they can stretch out.

Collaborative Learning Space

Peer teaching room

This space is at one end of the main common area. We intend on using this space as an areaa where the students can work together and collaborate to solve problems, especially in a math setting. The whiteboard has a short-throw projector above it, which we will again equip with a Google Chromecast so teachers or students can quickly display what is on their Chromebook screen. For example, a student could chromecast a maths problem that they are having difficulty with, and this space allows others to be able to show how they would work out the answer. As well as the white-board, the circular white tables are whiteboard tables (they were originally older tables, so we bought some whiteboard paint and painted them). These whiteboard tables are great for encouraging collaboration, and from my experience students love to use them to show others how to work out problems. The green, half round, desk is also set up so that an ‘expert’ on a particular skill can easily show others how to do that skill. Connected to this room (although not shown in the pictures) is also a shared art space that students can access when they need it.

Chill-out Space

quiet space

This space is around the corner from our Collaborative Learning Space. This is a small area where students have the opportunity to work in a quieter space. The low seats also have a great view to the field. As this is a smaller space that is generally out of the teacher’s view, we intend to have a booking schedule, and students also have to earn the right to use it.

Tech Hub

Tech Hub

Our learning common also has a shared tech hub, that is decked out with Google Chromeboxes. This area is intended for students to use at any time that they need to do some research. As our year 10 cohort are on Chromebooks all of the time, we do not think we will use this space too often (therefore it is free for other year groups to use). However, this space could come in handy if a student’s Chromebook has run out of battery towards the end of the day.

Conversation/Reading Space

conversationreading area

This is a space that is at the end of our main common area that also joins up with the next part of the common that our Year 7 team will be using. We have set this area up as either a conversation space or a reading space. If a teacher needs talk to one or two students, they could break off into this area to have a discussion. This space could also be used for reading, or just if a student wants a slightly quieter area where they could work independently.

Final thoughts:

Moving into a new learning space from a traditional learning space is going to be a big and exciting change for our staff. My two year 10 colleagues and I have put a lot of thought into how we think each of our spaces can enhance the learning of our students. We have also put a lot of thought into how we are going to use student agency to encourage self-responsibility within these spaces (which I will blog about in the next week or so). However, we also realise that it is all untried at the moment, and on future reflections we may change from these original thoughts on each space. I intend on writing new posts reflecting on how our transition into our new ILS goes, and I would love to hear any feedback and comments from anyone with experience in MLE’s and ILS’s. So please feel free to comment and share your experience below.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInEmail this to someoneShare on Reddit
  • Helen Tuhoro

    Great thoughts Sam; you and your team have gone a long way to preparing yourselves and the students ready for this style of teaching and learning, bringing in competencies of managing self and relating to others in a very real sense.
    It is an exciting and challenging time ahead, with change happening all around us.

    • Sam Gibson

      Thanks Helen, already learnt a lot from the first day!

  • Karyn Gray

    Great to see secondary schools experimenting with this stuff. Hope your first week was full of excitement. While there will be challenges along the way there will also be lots of rewards. The new environment looks wonderful! 🙂 All the best for the term ahead. Karyn

    • Sam Gibson

      Thanks Karyn. First week has been great, the students have responded really well.

  • Eoin Lenihan

    The school looks great! What an exciting way to start the year. Have you noticed a change in the teaching methods you and your colleagues employ in these new spaces in the short time you have been in?

    • Sam Gibson

      Definitely requires a huge shift from traditional practises! In anticipation of the move, we made a huge effort to move forward and adobt modern learning practises in our old environment. So it is more about the modern practises than it is about the actual environment. A lot of posts on my blog are about these modern learning practises, such as encouraging self-directed learning and creating individual learning plans. However, we are still learning heaps from the new environment as we go, so I will keep sharing my experiences and ideas.

      • Eoin Lenihan

        Can’t wait to hear more and I will definitely check out the rest of the blog! Great post!

    • Kerri Thompson

      Hi Eoin and Sam. I absolutely love the look of your new spaces – your learners are lucky and it is awesome to see High School’s moving forward. I am REALLY interested Sam in what PD you all took part in before moving into a collaborative teaching space. We are also having new spaces built (Intermediate School) but I am concerned that it is such a change in TTWWADI that we possibly underestimate the new understanding required to ensure it works the way it needs to. It is a different approach to single-cell, private classrooms and I imagine requires teachers to be more open to critical reflection/discussion and working more than ever as a team! Did your staff do any particular PD around this?

      • Sam Gibson

        Hi Kerri. To be honest, we didn’t have too many opportunities for PD in terms of speakers or visiting other schools. Some of what we have done has been based on ideas I have read about, but most of the learning has just been from getting amongst it and trying out various ideas. We have learnt an amazing amount in the short time we have been in our new environment. It is hugely different from a traditional classroom, but also very beneficial to student learning if used correctly. My two colleagues and I are forever reflecting on what we are doing, so we work very closely and discuss everything we do (which has been great for improving our teaching practice). Most of what I write about on this site revolves around being in a MLE as well as a using technology. Hopefully you find some of our ideas useful in your transition into your new environment. If you ever need any PD on the transition, and modern learning practises, feel free to get in contact and I would be happy to help.

  • Pingback: Class. The how and why behind our Innovative Le...()

  • Nat

    Exciting project and it looks like you have the space to experiment. Good luck!

  • Putauaki Chris

    Fantastic work Sam and the Tarawera team…the space and your direction for learning within it are impressive…look forward to updates…

    • Sam Gibson

      Thanks Chris, good to hear from you. It is been awesome to have been part of this, learning so much.

  • Pingback: » RT @samgibson1983: The how and why behind our Inno… Langwitches Twitter Feed()

  • Verbena McCauley-Walker

    Hi Sam,
    Nice to have met you at educampwhakatane…the year 6 students and my colleagues enjoyed our visit last week for transistion from primary to intermediate last week. Well done to what you, Julian and Sheree have done thus far. Looking forward seeing what else is happening at Tarawera High

    • Hi Verbena, it was good to meet you. You are welcome to come in at any time to see what is going on. Looking forward to connecting in the future.