Crafting Engaging Learning Environments
Through Learning Design, Physical Space Design and Digital Space Design

by Doug McIntosh

Today, most of our K-12 classrooms in the United States are pedagogically founded and physically furnished in the reflection of late 20th century schools from the 1970's - 1990's

However, there is a revolution happening in these very same buildings, often changing one room at a time. Leading the charge are passionate teachers who practice project-based learning, use technology and mix up how their class is set up on a regular basis. These teachers (along with supporting Principals) are part of a 21st-century transformation in teaching and learning as educators wanting a more engaging learning environment for their schools.

Compare your school and/or individual classroom with this chart below and see where your students live for typically 6+ hours a day 5 days a week.

Note - Below, I will sometimes defer to new school or classroom construction design. I want to emphasize that engaging classrooms are created inside any existing building. it is more about the educators' pedagogy inside the building than the shining new exterior structure that makes it a 21st-century learning environment. 

See also LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design), is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. To receive LEED certification, building projects satisfy prerequisites and earn points to achieve different levels of certification. 

 Late 20th Century Classrooms

 Engaging classrooms - Learning Studios

Learning Design
  1. District follows individual State standards

  2. Whole Group, direct instruction with some small group work and projects, teacher is sage on the stage

  3. Test-driven system built on consumption of knowledge and skills

  4. Technology purchases are not part of District or School's strategic curriculum and instructional plans 

Learning Design

  1. District follows Common Core Standards and Next Generation Science Standards

  2. Inquiry and Project-based learning with some direct instruction, teacher is guide on the side

  3. Production-driven system built on content creation from skills and understandings

  4. Technology purchases are an integrated part of District or School's strategic curriculum and instructional plans - Are words transformed into actions?

Physical Space Design - Outdoor Landscape

  1. Trees, grass lawn, shrubs or other types of landscaping are often visible from classroom windows, lawns are accessible to class for a special project

Physical Space Design - Outdoor Landscape

  1. Shade trees, lawn (real or artificial turf), shrubs or other drought resistant landscaping are visible from classroom windows, lawn surfaces are accessible to class as place for small group work
Physical Space Design - Architecture
  1. Most classrooms and portable classrooms are a rectangular shape maxed at 960 sq. ft.

  2. Many classrooms have a wall dedicated to a window view to either outdoor blacktop surfaces or greenbelts

  3. Variety of ceiling heights and materials 

  4. Lighting is typically controlled by two switches turning on/off half of the room at a time

  5. Power outlets and Ethernet ports are on one or two walls 

Physical Space Design - Architecture

  1. New construction classrooms are a square shape. 1st-12th grade rooms are larger than the minimum requirement of 960 sq. ft.

  2. Classrooms have a wall dedicated to a windows view. In new construction, windows would look out to a green belt of grass and trees

  3. Maximum 12' height with false-ceiling panels for sound baffling, lighting and mounted ceiling speakers

  4. New construction classroom lighting is controlled with 4-6 switches or zones with dimming

  5. Multiple power outlets/Ethernet ports are located on all four walls of classroom and/or floor
Physical Space Design - Ceiling/Walls/Flooring
  1. Teacher uses a louder voice to project his or herself to students - excessive use of voice may contribute to sick days needed by teacher 

  2. One or more wall-mounted chalkboards or dry-erase whiteboards located around the room, and/or
    • students have individual whiteboards

    • teacher has one tripod flipchart easel and/or whiteboard

  3. Room has linoleum tile or carpet, with typically only elementary students sitting on a carpet surface

  4. One or more walls have built-in cabinets and counters for life of classroom, floor space is determined by these built-ins, leaving teacher with less options for floor space planning

  5. Overhead or video projector on AV cart or table located in front to middle area of the classroom facing a pull-down screen
    • Possible Document camera used with AV cart or classroom digital still camera 
Physical Space Design - Ceiling/Walls/Flooring
  1. Teacher/students use classroom audio system with wireless microphones and ceiling or wall-mounted speakers

  2. One or more wall-mounted dry-erase whiteboards located around the room, and/or
    • a Whiteboard Wall - at least one wall has expansive whiteboard space (even ceiling to floor)
    • mobile whiteboard/chart paper easels are used by students in group work

  3. Room is wall to wall carpet, K-12 students can sit or lay on the carpet with a variety of floor matting and pillows

  4. No built-in cabinets and counters, three walls are available for instructional displays and technology, classroom equipped with mobile storage cabinets
     
  5. Two wall-mounted short-throw video projector systems on separate walls, or at least two large LED flat screen displays (wall-mounted) - Both displays are connected/mirrored or used as separate displays
    • Document camera or web camera connected to teacher laptop on a presentation station

 Physical Space Design - Furniture

  1. Same student desk and chair for every student, all made by same manufacturer

  2. Furniture is designed for passive seating, meaning feet on the floor and eyes facing front of room

  3. Student is assigned a desk that has a metal storage space compartment typically built-in below/underneath the desk

  4. Furniture is heavy and typically arranged to stay in place for the school year, or long periods of time 

  5. Most furniture have flat metal or plastic glides on the bottom legs to keep furniture in a fixed position, designed for whole group instruction

  6. Furniture is arranged in either:
    1) rows with individual desks or,
    2) small groupings using a two person table desk often arranged in a pod.

  7. Teacher has a heavy fixed desk position in front or in back of the classroom

  Physical Space Design - Furniture

  1. Variety of student desks, tables, chairs and soft furniture made by one or more manufacturers

  2. Furniture is designed for active seating with sit and stand options often with balance ball or wobble chair type of furniture

  3. Student isn't assigned to same desk, but rather, moves to different furniture
    • Elementary students use a personal portable plastic tray from a mobile storage cabinet

  4. Furniture is mobile/modular (MobiMod™) and is arranged to meet the instructional needs of the classroom on a hourly basis.

  5. Most furniture have wheels/casters for mobility in multiple arrangements for collaborative learning and working in smaller groups

  6. Furniture is arranged in a more eclectic manner that optimizes teaming and also personal spaces too

  7. Teacher may not have a desk and uses a sit-stand technology-based presentation station
Digital Space Design
  1. Ink jet printer with under 400 page cartridges - dual color and black and white, often purchased by teacher

  2. One or more desktop computers assigned to classroom are usually placed together by an Ethernet hub/switch location, or
    Classroom laptop cart
    • Students' apps and data are directly saved on the desktop computer or laptop hard drives 

    • District IT - Restricts and may prohibit student owned digital devices on District network



  3. Teacher may have a classroom desktop or laptop

  4. Teacher may have a website that students can access from home
Digital Space Design
  1. Network Laser printer with minimum 10,000 page b/w toner cartridge or, printing to network copier/printer zone

  2. K-1: Several touchscreen desktop computers assigned to classroom, Tablet classroom cart for 1:1 ratio, or Tablet in backpack home program

    2-12: Laptop classroom cart for 1:1 computing ratio or, 
    laptop in backpack home program 
    • Students' authenticate login to hard drive apps and/or cloud-based files and apps with District access and backup of data

    • District IT - Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) practices leverage student owned smartphones, tablets and laptops used for certain academic tasks

  3. Teacher has a laptop for school and home use

  4. Teacher uses a class/course online Learning Management System (LMS) 

Last updated 12/27/16 

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