Learning Space Redesign: Looks really do matter …

Walking into the library at my elementary school, students and staff are surrounded by bookshelves, a colorful mural, and access to technology.  They are also able to spend time in three zones – a lounge in the fiction section, an open space by the picture book shelves, and a teaching area in the corner.  Currently this windowless teaching space has tables, old metal shelving and an interactive whiteboard.  While working with classes throughout the library, I have thought about this quadrant, and envision more happening here than is currently possible.  Imagine my delight when this week’s assignment for CEP 811 was to redesign a learning space.  Time to put my dreams down on paper – or at least on an electronic equivalent!

Current Teaching Corner

Current Teaching Corner

Current Teaching Corner - Side View

Current Teaching Corner – Side View

Right now, this area of the library is used for large group instruction, small group work, staff meetings and presentations.  Some collaboration takes place around the static tables, but primarily this space fits with the classroom model in which a teacher stands in front and delivers instruction to students. In thinking about the CEP 811 design challenge, I was inspired by The Third Teacher flash card #11 which says “Make it new.  Look at your learning space with 21st-century eyes: Does it work for what we know about learning today, or just for what we knew about learning in the past?” (OWP/P Architects, 2010, p. 57).  Based on what I have learned in this course, I want this library to be a flexible learning space that supports collaboration, creativity and 21st century learning.

For this week’s assignment, I used Sketchup to create a model of my dream for this collaborative space.

New Space - Side View

New Space – Side View

New Space - different side view

New Space – Other Side View

New Space - Top view

New Space – Top View

In this redesign, I would begin with the walls and remove the metal shelving, relocate the class sets of books housed there to another area of the school, and wrap the walls in a whiteboard-like wallpaper.  Students would be able to sketch out their ideas, storyboard digital projects, and take notes on these whiteboards.  They would be able to physically display their learning and get immediate feedback.  Additionally, three flat screen monitors would be mounted on the walls, which would mirror laptops and iPads that students and staff are using.  These monitors would become the hubs of collaboration work stations and small group instruction areas, and collectively would function as a presentation space.

The furniture in this re-design would be mobile.  Tables and chairs would be on casters, and would be easily moved by students and staff.  Students would have the opportunity to arrange the space in a way that best suits their learning.  If groups needed to work on a collaborative document, they could push tables up to the monitor.  If pairs needed to spend time in a quieter location, they could push a table to a different corner in the library.  The space would fit the needs of the users, and would not have a front.

This redesign fits what I have been learning in CEP 811.  The physical design of a space affects learning (Barrett, Zhang, Moffat & Kobbacy, 2013), so it is important to think about how furniture choices, layout and other features support students creating meaning and building understanding.  According to O’Donnell (2012), feedback, collaboration, agency and scaffolding are keys to learning in a constructivist view of education.   By having furniture that moves according to student choice, space to write down ideas (a natural formative assessment), authentic grouping opportunities, and technology access for scaffolded, personalized instruction, this redesign will promote the learning of the students and staff in my elementary school.

In order to implement this redesign, whiteboard wall covering and monitors would have to be purchased and installed. Furniture would have to be purchased, and current furniture and materials would have to be relocated.  Students and staff would need to be oriented to the space, and collaborative lessons would need to be modeled for the staff. This project would have a price tag of around $13,000, and would need support from the PTA, building administration, SIP team members, district technology staff, and the staff and students of the elementary school.  However, the benefits to the learning of everyone would indeed be priceless.


Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Moffat, J., & Kobbacy, K. (2013). A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on pupils’ learning. Building and Environment, 59, 678-689. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2012.09.016

O’Donnell, A. (2012). Constructivism. In APA Educational Psychology Handbook: Vol. 1. Theories, Constructs, and Critical Issues. K. R. Harris, S. Graham, and T. Urdan (Editors-in-Chief). Washgington, DC: American Psychological Association. DOI: 10.1037/13273-003.

OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture, & Bruce Mau Design. (2010). The third teacher: 79 ways you can use design to transform teaching & learning. Retrieved from http://thethirdteacherplus.com/s/Ch2-TTT-for-Web-0y6k.pdf

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