Lower School News 

Learning Reimagined: Why We Should Invest in Innovative Spaces
Posted 08/28/2018 09:50AM

By Susan Clain, Chief Advancement Officer


Factory-style classroom - Credit

Then and Now

Gone are the days of being shushed in the school library. As a chatty child growing up in the 1980s, I’ll admit to having been silenced more than once. “Things,” as Bob Dylan crooned “have changed.”

Educators and architects are combining forces to effectuate this change. Together, they are challenging the relevancy of the “factory-model” school and designing innovative learning spaces, which encourage teamwork and improve student engagement, pedagogy, and achievement.

Libraries, for example, are becoming adaptable, collaborative centers – conduits of learning. While mine housed microfiche and card catalogs, the modern-day school library embraces iPads and Google Scholar. Today’s library disrupts our notion of knowledge acquisition. It questions the relationship between space and learning. The modern library acknowledges that the way in which students consume and synthesize information has and will continue to change.

The Evidence

You may remember the scene in the John Hughes American teenage comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s the one where high school students slouch in uncomfortable chair-desks, as their economics teacher drones.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986

Scientific evidence shows that physical environment can counter the kind of boredom that Ferris’s classmates endured. Flexible, open, bright design nurtures creativity and profoundly affects student learning and outcomes.1 “Friendly” settings, those placing students at the center, are more conducive to student-teacher interaction and increase motivation.2 Versatile seating arrangements have been shown to enhance both student and faculty performance. When teachers and learners believe that their roles are valued, ambition and achievement rise. Innovative spaces allow for thoughtful, differentiated instruction, varied groupings, movement, and curricular and technological integration, all of which have been linked to improved educational outcomes.3

Flexible learning space, 2017 - Credit


Cognitive research also suggests that classrooms must provide stimulation. Students focus better in dynamic, engaging spaces in which furniture and displays change frequently.  “Novelty in the environment,” writes Dr. Mariale Hardiman, vice dean of academic affairs at the Johns Hopkins School of Education, “can foster attention, and certain environmental factors such as lighting, sound, scent, order, and opportunity for movement can enhance the learning experiences for all learners whether in early childhood centers or on college campuses.”4

Reinventing Spaces at Graded

Earlier this month, Graded Superintendent Richard Boerner introduced bold plans to transform existing facilities into an Upper School Innovation Center, two Lower School Innovation Hubs, and an Upper School Library – measures that will fundamentally change the way in which our teachers teach and our students learn.  

Graded’s new STEM-inspired innovation spaces are being imagined, in collaboration with co-designer of the Stanford d.school (Design School) and co-author of Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration Scott Witthoft, and in partnership with local architectural firm MAB3. These areas will house tools for ideation. Flexible layouts with movable equipment and furniture will enable students to customize their own learning experience.

Inspirational image for Upper School Graded Innovation Center, Credit

Inspirational image for Lower School Graded Innovation Hub, Credit

An Upper School Innovation Center will allow Graded to expand its course offerings to include engineering, computer science, and drone development.  Two Lower School Innovation Hubs will encourage tinkering and collective problem-solving. They will help guide students through their discovery of curricular areas such as light and sound, energy, and robotics and automation.

Graded’s new Upper School Library will expand Merriam-Webster’s limited definition of the library, “a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials...are kept for use but not for sale.” It will also serve as a destination for investigation, inspiration, and collaboration.

Inspirational image for Upper School Library, Credit

Witthoft, who also teaches at the Stanford d.school, calls space “the body language of an organization.” The areas that we design at Graded send clear messages to members of our community. What are our spaces saying? Are we placing students at the core, both physically and pedagogically? Do we encourage collaboration? Do we inspire?

Investing in the reinvention of Graded’s physical structures will help transform educational delivery. In accordance with Graded’s Strategic Plan, the new Innovation Center, Innovation Hubs, and Upper School Library will foster student-centered learning. They will promote discovery by trial-and-error. They will champion teamwork. Powered by faculty facilitators, these reimagined spaces will help cultivate critical thinking skills and grit.  They will prepare our students for the future, and they will empower them to discover solutions to real-life problems.

Graded needs your philanthropic support to help fund innovative learning spaces. To find out more about these transformative projects and how they will prepare Graded students for the future, please contact me at susan.clain@graded.br.  You can make a difference.

1 Sapna, Cheryan, Zigeler, Sianna A., Plaut, Victoria C., and Melzoff, Andrew N. Designing Classrooms to Maximize Student Achievement. SAGE Journals. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Sage Journals. October 1, 2014. https://doi.org/10.1177/237273221454.8677 

2 Lewinski, Peter. Effects of classrooms’ architecture on academic performance in view of telic versus paratelic motivation: a review. Frontiers in Psychology.  2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4453269/ 

3 Hattie, John. Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyzes Relating to Achievement. Routledge. 2008. 

4 Hardiman, Mariale. Brain-targeted Teaching. Accessed August 25, 2018. www.braintargetedteaching.org.

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