Friday, December 21, 2012

Learning Spaces PLG shaping up for 2013

Following the success of The Open Learning Spaces Professional Learning Group this year we're getting organised for next 2013. There has been a real surge of interest in Modern Learning Environments (MLE) and the group is proving a valuable forum for visiting schools, sharing ideas and engaging in discussion. This year we've visited three schools and finished off with a session at the Westpac Bank (pictured). Next year is shaping up to be an exciting one with opportunities to collaborate with CEFPI, to visit another high school, as well as a focus on converting existing spaces into MLE.

The first session will be on Thursday 28th February at Jasmax and will be combined with a CEFPI group meeting. There will be an opportunity to look around the spaces as well as presentations from an educator, an architect, and a leading NZ researcher in learning environments.

Following on a month later on Thursday 28th March is a visit to the Hobsonville Point Primary School, the latest to open in Auckland.

Also on the calendar for Thursday June 6th is a workshop at the National Library focusing on the role of the library as a space in 21st C learning environments.

More meetings are planned for later on in the year. Dates, details and registration will be on the PLG website in the new year. If you have any questions, feedback or ideas for the PLG, these are very welcome - just email.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Towards the Second Build: Minecraft, right brain thinking and 'rooms within rooms'

As we moved through the school to begin consulting with the more senior students (years 5-8), there was a noticeable progression in thinking about learning environments. This wasn’t entirely surprising given the age of the children perhaps but it did exemplify a deep engagement with the role of the built environment in their learning.

What was noticeable in the students’ designs was, in general, a greater sense of proportionality and a stronger sense of realistic expectations. What was noticeable in their thinking was a growing depth of understanding about the relationship between the space and their learning, and in a growing level of self-awareness of their own use of space. 

The consultation with students in Learning Hub Three was designed along similar lines to Hub Two. As well as analysing existing spaces there was also the opportunity to design potential spaces. As with previously, a number of individuals and groups were interviewed regarding their design thinking. 

Initial work was done with Hub Three students gathering data about like and dislikes in the existing spaces. Groups of children took a series of photos of places they liked and disliked, added these to a plan of the hub, along with ‘Like’ or “Dislike’ symbols. They then annotated the plans with their own observations and justifications. The older students were perhaps more willing to be critical of things that they didn’t feel worked so well, for example acoustically, but reflected that it was often the way they chose to use the space rather than the space itself that was the issue.

One group commented that:
I like the library because it is good for learning and reading (picture of library breakout room).
I like this because it is good to store stuff (picture of cupboards on left hand side of hub).
I like this because it’s cool and comfy (picture of the couch).
I like this because it is a good learning space (picture of whiteboard at front of room)
Too many windows! More curtains for lockdowns (picture of breakout room windows).
I dislike this it’s too messy and we never use it (picture of store room).

Students were invited to put together designs for possible hubs. These were completed either individually or collaboratively. Some students opted to create Three-Dimensional representations of learning spaces using Minecraft (discussed in an earlier post), and now reported in IT News and Crown Fibre Holdings.

A number of students were interviewed about their own designs and thinking. These highlighted a number of aspects including students’ deep understanding of the nature of the space and how it can impact on their learning; reflections on sound, colour and light; the nature of withdrawal rooms and how they are used.

Take this excerpt for example; a couple of students who earlier this year had been learning about the difference between left and right brain learning were able to apply this to their own design.

L- … with walls we can have different colours which are beneficial to learning.
J- For example we are doing light green walls and carpets and things like that.
CB- So what’s a good colour which is beneficial?
J- Green is the best one for learning.  When we did this we brought quite a bit of what we were learning in, so we had skylights and things like that, so having things which give natural light.
CB- So you have brought in some things which you already talked about as being part of your brain learning?
J- and instead of blue that’s meant to be purple (pointing to design), The bean bag thing, purple, purple is very good for imagination so this is pretty much the reading room and it’s got a curved bookcase, and you’ve got purple beanbags so your imagination’s growing as you read, very good for right hand side.
L- And we’ve got this room which is left brain learning.
CB – So you’ve got a right brain learning space and a left brain learning

J- But you do need to cross them over so this one has got the element of the other, its not just left, its got a squiggly wall for some creativity, and the curvedness and this one is also, rather than just being creativeness it’s got the doors and things like that, elements which make it quite left. A room where you can get down to work in a nice area and have meetings there.
L- We also have plants, and we want plants placed around the room.
J- Particularly the plan was to have some lilies, and computers, they draw away the static from the computers which is bad for the computers and bad for you, but the lilies draw it into them, when you’ve been working on a computer for too long you can be distracted in your learning, so it takes away that. We did like the element of openness; we’d quite like a couple more of these solid walls and being able to see right through”

One of the themes to come up in dialogue with Learning Hub Three students was around the idea of different levels. A number of children drew small sunken areas, and others, stairs with a landing that could be used as a seating area and learning space (Labarre, 2012). It has been interesting to observe students using different furniture settings in the hub. When given the opportunity to have an additional two tables, the older students (as well as Hub One students) opted for taller stools around taller (900mm) tables.

The provision of quieter spaces was a recurring theme. There were a number of comments about acoustics, and a feeling for a small number of students that spaces were, at times noisy. Some spoke about having a quieter and darker space to work in where they could avoid distraction. This was along the ideas of a ‘room within a room’ theme that Stephen Heppell (2012) refers to.

The idea of being able to access other learning hubs was raised, particularly in reference to more specialist areas for learning. Students talked about having different specialist areas in different hubs; not every hub for example would need a green-screen or cooking area.

Hub Three students considered increased flow to easily accessible outside learning spaces important. There was a sense that being on the second storey made that more difficult, and was possibly a lost opportunity.

Students were intrigued the idea of a wall that they could sit in to read. They had seen some images of these (Labarre, 2012) and liked the separation but also the visibility that the wall enabled.

  • Split levels- raised with steps to landing area (stairs could accommodate tote trays
  • Quiet spaces
  • Kitchen area and sink
  • Idea of room within a room
  • Access to outside spaces for learning
  • Space for plants inside
  • Dividing wall that we can sit in to read
  • Access to other hubs to enable collaboration
  • Skylights giving natural light
  • Wall and floor coverings to reflect colours that are beneficial for learning
  • A more closed space for those who are more easily distracted

Heppell, S. (2012). Rooms within rooms. Retrieved from

Labarre, S. (2012). School Without Walls Fosters A Free-Wheeling Theory Of Learning. Retrieved from

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Towards the Second Build: Consultation and conversations

Our consultation process and living our norm of ‘Value the Voices’ has continued with our year 2, 3 and 4 students. A team of teachers in Learning Hub Two worked alongside children in a number of different ways. Some students focused on existing spaces and how they felt about them, others on potential new spaces and what they would like to see. Data was gathered using drawings, photographs, models and conversations.

How do you sincerely listen to a large group of students and for it not to become token consultation? Working with a group of close to seventy students produces a staggering mass of data- some great learning for us around student voice and how to get the most from it, and personally as well, just about to launch into a research project.

The important thing seemed to us to extract key themes that were raised by a number of children, whilst still hanging onto the individuality and creativity that individuals brought along. So a number of students were interviewed afterwards either individually or in small groups. In general these interviews were carried out with children who contributed elements that in essence added something new, without being unrealistic (more about this soon!).

Initial learning was done with Hub Two students gathering data about like and dislikes in the existing spaces. Armed with cameras, small groups of children took a series of photos of places they liked and disliked around our hub, glued these to a plan, added ‘Like’ or “Dislike’ symbols, and were then invited to comment and justify their decisions. In general students focused on the positive aspects of their spaces and were quite pragmatic about furniture, layout and facilities such as sinks, bathrooms and Comments often referred to elements within the space such as computers or furniture rather than the space itself.

One group commented that:
I like it because the table is mobile (picture of the back of the X4 teaching station).
I like this space because I can concentrate when I’m learning (picture of beanbags in the breakout room).
I like this space because it’s quiet most of the time (picture of the shield table at the end of the hub).
I like this space because it can shut its doors and it will be quiet (picture of breakout room).
I like this space because I can get supplies from here, that are organized in tote-trays (picture of tote-trays).
I don’t like this place because it is not tidy (book shelves)

Another group commented that:
I like this because it tells you what you are doing (picture of Literacy Tumble on the wall).
I like this because it tells you what stage you are in (picture of Reading progressions on the wall).
I like this because it tells the teacher who’s here (picture of guardian group roll).
I like seeing our pictures (picture of wall mounted TV).
I like this because it shows our clay and you can look at it (picture of clay artwork display on table).

Other common features that children commented on and liked were:
·      Coloured ‘welcome couch’
·      Large space where the entire hub could meet
·      That there was lots of space- easy to find somewhere to learn
·      Spaces behind furniture where children could sit
·      Wall mounted TV
·      Corners where they could sit and learn
·      Coloured glass

Students were invited to put together designs for possible hubs. These were completed either individually or collaboratively. Some chose to draw and others built possible spaces using construction materials. Both of these were used as a basis for conversation, much of which was captured on video. A number of students participated in collecting video data, where they explained in greater detail what was involved in their design. They were also able to respond to questions about why they had included certain elements and what their thinking was.

Interestingly the learning spaces that children drew were mainly rectangular and often with small rooms coming off the main area. Children have really adopted the concept of working alongside teachers in a more central space and then moving out to learn more independently. Children often drew multiple small rooms as components of the larger space, often with designated purposes. One students design for example includes a larger space and then a number of smaller spaces to be used for: science, private learning and music. Another’s included a designated maths room, a reading space and a teacher’s room. Did teachers need their own room we asked “they might need their own space but would have to keep it tidy!” came the response.

There was a strong sense of purposeful spaces resonating with this group of children, for example science or specific facilities for cooking. When asked if this space would be exclusively for the use by their learning hub children commented that it would be ok for another hub to use the space too, and for them to have an alternatively purposed shared area.

The pragmatism continues into bathrooms. A number of children drew what they described as ‘private toilets’ accessible only by students in that particular hub. When questioned further about these they described wanting the toilets close so that ‘if I got really into my learning and was busting to go to the toilet, I could get there quickly’. In general the point was that proximity not exclusivity was the key. The toilets would be ok outside, as long as they were close (It is possible that children considered that the new hubs would have to utilise existing toilets).

Children commented on the small breakout rooms being quiet places where they could concentrate. They were able to close the doors and work undisturbed. This raises the question of how many breakout spaces a hub might need and how many need to be closeable.

Sinks and wet space areas were a common theme in the drawings, frequently appearing in the corners or ends of the hub. It was felt that the wet space certainly needed to be larger than existing lino areas and positioned away from the main thoroughfare.

A number of children commented on the desirability for more that one level within the space, with either a drop down or a rise up. One commented on the ‘Staircase to nowhere’ idea of a set of stairs with a small landing on them, one on a mezzanine level, another on a sunken area.

Bag storage was initially an issue at school and was solved with the aid of a project involving a team of students and a design expert. Some children commented that it would be better to have the bags indoors, out of the wind and rain.

Emerging Themes: The main themes to emerge from Hub Two students were:

·      A space large enough for the entire hub to meet.
·      Toilets in close proximity
·      Internal bag storage
·      Sinks and wet spaces away from the centre of the room
·      Inclusion of ‘quiet spaces’
·      Purposeful spaces that could be shared with other hubs
·      More than one level
·      Corners and spaces behind furniture- idea of ‘secret spaces’

The consultation continues…

Monday, December 3, 2012

Towards the Second Build: Consulting our youngest learners

The process of gathering student voice about our learning environments began with our very youngest of learners. For these children, who had spent up to a year at school it was a great chance for them to share a bit about their own experience of our learning spaces. 

We began with finding out about what children liked about learning in their existing spaces and aimed to discover where they liked learning best. Alison Clarks book, Transforming Children’s Spaces provided excellent frameworks and strategies for eliciting students’ narratives and feedback on place and was a key resource.

A team of teachers worked with children in Learning Hub One (Years 0-1) to elicit responses about the places they enjoyed learning in. Students were asked “Where do you like learning, and why?” Children were encouraged to talk, to draw pictures, both individually and collaboratively, and made models to illustrate their preferences. 

In responding they frequently referred to a number of different areas in their hub e.g. The Butterfly pod, and Google Room. These are labels that the students have helped to create and it was interesting to see how often they were used as reference markers. A couple of children drew a map to help explain where the areas referred: 

There was a wide range of responses: 

E - I like to learn in the Google pod next to the doors, I like to be able to see the gardens. I like to see the caterpillars 

M - I like to go to the Apple room because it is quiet. 

K - In the Rainbow Room because there ‘is’ computers. I like the Penguin Pod because there are books and computers and Mobilo. 

A - I like the awhina space because it has nice beanbags. 

L - I like to learn in the in the Butterfly Pod because Miss H is a good teacher. I like to sit at a table next to the window. 

Z- I like the Apple room I can make stories in here I like using it before school and in reading time. I like the chairs and sitting on the mat. I like the rainbow room too we can make stories. 

F- I like to learn on the beanbags because I love the beanbags. I can sit near the windows and I like to see the cars. 

M- I like the penguin pod because there is lots pencils on tables and there are chairs. 

What was really interesting were the frequent references to learning that took place outside the classroom. This is only natural to hear, especially perhaps with our five year olds who have grown to expect that level of indoor-outdoor learning flow at their early childhood centres. One of them for example, commented that she liked learning in the staffroom best, "because we can do baking there". Her next suggestion was to have a stove in the new learning hubs, "so we don't have to go all the way up the stairs".

T - I like learning on the ground outside I like learning in both outside and inside. I love to read outside It helps my brain outside. 

D- I like learning outside because I like to be able to look at the playground and i like to sit in the sun. I like sitting on beanbags outside because it is nice. 

J - My favourite part to learn is outside by the benches and reading a book because it’s nice and sunny. 

B - In the library because it is quiet. 

C - In Hub 2 at the literacy end because it helps me learn it doesn’t have that many people and I like the medium tables and the ottoman chairs. 

M - I like to learn outside because it is nice and sunny. I like to go on the seats. 

J - I like to learn in the library because it is nice and quiet. I like learning by the seats outside. 

This is only a snapshot of the mass of data that was created over a few sessions in the hub. At this stage what was important was to tease out themes that emerged out of all the video, picture, map, model and interview data. 


Emerging Themes 
The main themes to emerge from Hub One students were:

  • Natural light is important 
  • Windows at a low level helped children make connections with outside i.e. to be able to see cars, garden just outside, things going on 
  • Different flooring levels: children enjoyed the ‘stage’ level in the Hub 
  • Movement between indoor and outdoor learning settings was important 
  • Outdoor settings for learning i.e. covered seating outside 
  • Baking in the Staff Room- easily solved according to the children by having cooking facilities in their hub. 
  • Small spaces 
  • Quiet spaces 

These themes have certainly been developed as part of our consultation and architectural brief. 


Clark, A. (2010). Transforming Children's Spaces. London: Routledge.