Crafting contemporary classrooms - Education Matters Magazine

Beyond the Classroom, Professional Development

Crafting contemporary classrooms

Based on academic and action research projects in the United States, Australia and Sweden, learning space expert Peter C. Lippman discusses his strategy for crafting contemporary learning environments for new and existing classrooms.

Uniting five different concepts, this strategy aims to help enhance student engagement in the classroom.

An open plan approach
Developing an open plan means that teachers are able to see and have access to all that is occurring in the classroom. For students, they are able to view the activities of their peers, as well as having direct access to their peers and any necessary resources.

Incorporating activity settings
Activity settings are differentiated learning zones in the classroom that allow learners to focus, explore and share concepts. They support the diverse ways that individuals work. Furthermore, activity settings may be attuned by learners to create spaces that are safe and secure for them to learn.

In a primary school classroom, a larger activity setting may be crafted at the front of the room. This area may be defined by a whiteboard and a television (or smart board) hung on the wall and a large rug where learners can sit and meet. Other activity settings may be delineated by moveable storage units. These units may be freestanding in the middle of the room and located behind the rug or placed against tables. In each scenario, storage units provide places where learners may meet, stand and work.

Using corners
Corners are features of a rectilinear classroom where learners can settle. Being settled suggests a level of comfort so that learners may become fully engaged on their projects. However, in a rectilinear classroom, typically, only three corners may be re-claimed by teachers. Hence, corner activity settings must be crafted using furniture. This may be achieved by clustering desks and placing them perpendicular and against two or three of the perimeter walls in the classrooms.

Exploiting walls
By freeing walls of storage units, additional learning areas are found within classrooms. Activity settings may be further actualised with whiteboards hung on walls. These additional whiteboards provide a place that learners can personalise and share what they are learning. In sharing, others recognise a student’s achievements which affords learners to develop self-awareness and social-awareness.

Considering the spaces in between
The spaces-in-between may be described as areas sandwiched between the activity settings. These encourage learners to leave their refuge and see what others are doing as well as invite others into their space and share their daily progress. These areas also allow teachers direct access to their students. In the event of a conflict, the teacher can quickly and easily attend to their students.

For the last 25 years, Peter C. Lippman, M. Phil., Assoc. AIA, has been researching, writing about and designing activity-based learning environments for the future. By providing insight that reaches beyond the current normative mindsets about learning environments, Mr Lippman is able to fashion dynamic places for learning. His approach is holistic, not fragmented, as he understands that learning environments are places in which learners are always acquiring knowledge in relationship to an ever-evolving physical environment. This approach recognises that the goal is not the design of dynamic buildings, but rather creating places for learning. An acknowledged thought leader in the field of educational architecture, Mr Lippman has been invited to work around the world where he guides municipalities, school districts, schools and design professionals in creating places for learning. He is the author of Evidence-Based Design for Primary and Secondary Schools: A Responsive Approach to Creating Learning Environments (2010) and the founder of Places Created for Learning.

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