Oct 14 2014

Tips for Redesigning Learning Spaces

Learn what classroom redesign practices work for Summit Public Schools in California

Not everyone can build a school from scratch. If budgets are tight, districts can remodel school buildings in phases or start with small pilots by redesigning a few classrooms at each school, recommends architect Linda Stevenin, who is also a program administrator for Summit Public Schools in Redwood City, Calif.

Summit Public Schools, which operates seven schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, has created open-plan learning spaces in two of its campuses. For example, at Summit Denali, a 6–12 school in Sunnyvale, Calif., the charter school organization upgraded one half of the school in the summer of 2013 and a second half this past summer, says Stevenin, formerly Summit's facilities director and now co-leader of Summit's career readiness program.

Working with an architecture firm, Summit designed and built flexible spaces, in which a large glass door separating classrooms can be lifted to create one large space.

"We want to encourage teachers to collaborate, combine their classes and do cross-disciplinary, integrative projects," Stevenin says.

At Summit Denali and Summit Shasta High School in Daly City, Calif., administrators have deployed modular furniture, such as desks and tables with wheels. Each classroom also has a mobile interactive whiteboard on wheels.

"When good teaching is happening, teachers use their space differently. They may want students to work in small groups, so they push tables together or set up tables in a U-shape," she says.

Summit Public Schools, which first piloted one-to-one computing and blended learning at its San Jose schools in the 2012–2013 school year, is pursuing grant funding to redesign the classrooms in its other schools. In the meantime, administrators are encouraging those schools to conduct pilots and furnish a few classrooms with new modular furniture.

Stevenin advises other school organizations just starting out with a classroom redesign project to do the same.

"Do a pilot and play around," she advises. "Change is most effective when teachers have ownership and buy in. So find some teachers who really want to explore doing things differently, and let them do it."

Don't forget to create collaborative workspaces for faculty as well, Stevenin says. At Summit Denali, for example, teachers don't have their own private desks. They share desks, tables, sofas and bistro-type tables and chairs in the faculty room. 

"You can go in there and have a meeting or a webinar or do quiet work," she says. "It's set up for teachers to be able to share, interact and create.

Fengyuan Chang

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