Monday, December 1, 2014

Innovative Learning Spaces

The bond measure that Boulder Valley voters approved on November 4 includes funds earmarked for improving learning spaces at each school. This is important because the environment that we create for students has an extensive impact on how they learn. Teachers spend countless hours personalizing their classrooms, making them more welcoming for students with bulletin boards, posters, artwork, and furniture arrangement. There are certain limitations, however, that keep us from creating spaces that support the major changes happening in education.

Students sit in rows facing the teacher for direct instruction.
Most of our schools were built and outfitted during a time when teacher-centric classrooms were the paradigm. Desks were arranged in rows, all facing the front of the classroom. This model worked well when the only teaching model was the "sage on the stage". We now know there are multiple ways to teach and facilitate learning that include more student-centric, collaborative environments.

So what does this new, innovative classroom look like? There’s no one answer or “look”, but it should have certain key qualities. It should be modular and easily adaptable to the fluid nature of student-centric learning. For most classrooms this means moveable desks, chairs, and other furniture that can easily transition from group work to individual projects and even whole-group instruction when needed.

The IT Copper Lab can be reconfigured for a variety of collaboration opportunities.
The innovative classroom should support a variety of learning styles rather than making every child conform to one style. For some students this means incorporating movement into their day with “fidget” chairs and plenty of well-timed breaks. For other children this may mean providing breakout spaces for quiet study or small group work. The variety of meeting configurations will also allow students to have more opportunities to share and collaborate in a space and group where they are most comfortable.

Hokki stools are a fun alternative to traditional chairs.
The innovative classroom should also adapt to the technology the class is using, with plenty of charging stations and displays for projecting any device. With this flexibility, there is no ‘front of the room’; rather there are multiple areas students can turn their attention to when the teacher is delivering direct instruction to a group of students. This type of adaptation in a classroom allows teachers and students to flow more efficiently between the different types of activities and instruction that occur many times during the school day.

A redesigned classroom does more than just improve the learning experience for students while they're in school; it also prepares them for a changing work environment, where employees may use couches instead of desks, or sit at large tables instead of in cubicles.

This modern office space features modular, comfortable seating options.

The qualities of the innovative classroom—modular, inclusive, and adaptable—can be applied anywhere in a school. Libraries, cafeterias, gyms, even restrooms can be outfitted to better support the diverse needs of our students.

An adjustable table and chairs can go from the library to the lunchroom.
The innovation funds from the Bond will allow your school will decide how to create spaces that will support student-centric and innovative flexible learning environments. (Please note that innovation funds cannot be used to purchase technology, such as iPads and Chromebooks).

In preparation for these changes, we encourage you to visit innovative classrooms, including the Copper Lab at IT, and notice how they affect you. Do you feel more comfortable? Empowered? Are you more engaged as a learner? If you feel different as a result of the space, imagine how your students will feel and how they will learn.

Modular couches provide a comfortable meeting environment.

For More Information



  • Christenson, Clayton M. Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. 
  • Crawford, Matthew B. Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. New York: Penguin Books, 2010. 
  • Friedman, Thomas. Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution-- And How It Can Renew America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. 
  • Friedman, Thomas. The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. 
  • Gardner, Howard. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York : Basic Books, 1983. 
  • Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books, 1995. 
  • Jones, Richard. Rigor and Relevance Handbook. Rexford, N.Y.: International Center for Leadership in Education, Inc., 2010. 
  • Pink, Daniel. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. New York: Riverhead Books, 2006. 
  • Trilling, Bernie, and Charles Fadel. 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009. 
  • Wagner, Tony. The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need--And What We Can Do About It. New York: Basic Books, 2008.