Reconfiguring Learning Spaces

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Today’s #MVMiddle Faculty Meeting might have been my favorite in 3 years. In pursuit of our wildly important goal of “Nurturing Innovators,” our teachers were asked to “reset the space” into 5 unique configurations and reflect on both the physical and mental impact on their learning. How might reconfiguring learning spaces help ignite and nurture innovators in your school?

Debate Seminar Senatorial Independent cooperative

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First, teachers reset the space from the room’s typical “horseshoe” configuration to a “cooperative” learning configuration. They were given 60 seconds with a timer projected on the board. When time was up, there was an unmistakable ringing bell sound.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 11.15.28 AMOur ethnographers are Mary and Jim…

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Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 11.15.51 AM Cooperative mode

Once in “Cooperative” learning configuration, the teachers were instructed to collaborate and create an assessment map for the current semester. In other words, Learners were asked to “produce.”

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Several groups discussed the work at hand…Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 11.16.19 AM

Although the seating configuration was intended to foster cooperation among groups, the nature of the task (create an assessment map) was a bit more individualized in nature. Thus, although several “groups” were sitting together, and they were certainly “producing,” they were not necessarily “collaborating.” This reveals how thoughtful and intentional teachers/facilitators must be in designing their activities to match their desired outcomes.
Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 11.15.57 AMScreen Shot 2015-02-05 at 11.16.04 AMAfter 60 seconds it was time to reset the room. Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 11.16.26 AM


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Independent Mode

Learners were shown a picture and asked to reconfigure their space into an “independent” formation. Learners were asked to “consume” information on the form of a video (while listening with headphones) about how to post upcoming major assessments on Haiku and how to update to the shared, major assessment calendar for their grade level.

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The learners easily reconfigured the space within the allotted 60 seconds and very shortly the room was quiet.Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 11.16.48 AM

Though the design was intended to foster independent learning, there was still some evidence of collaboration (even if simply by sharing earbuds).
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Some educators have described this configuration as “soldiers in rows.”Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 11.17.03 AM

There is a time and place for a variety of physical configurations and mental modes.
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Time is up. Reset the room!Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 11.17.10 AM


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Seminar Mode

This time, learners are asked to created a “seminar” configuration and they will beĀ “searching” for something. They are asked to “communicate” which of the 5 principles and practices of the MV Continuum is most important. It’s a trick question – all of them are equally important, though we quickly learn that or learners don’t see it that way. Our goal in asking the question is simply to get them to search for the MVContinuum document, read the 5 principles and become more familiar with them.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 11.17.44 AMWe were surprised to learn how strongly many felt that “relationships are foundational for learning” was the most important principle and “curiosity and passion drive learning” was very popular, too. No one raised their hand for “learning demands interactive and flexible spaces” or “empathy influences learning.” “Learners apply knowledge to make an impact” had a handful of supporters.Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 11.17.27 AM

You can find the MV Continuum here.Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 11.17.51 AM

Reset the Space!

This time, learners shifted into “senatorial” mode. A facilitator (me) led a discussion seeking feedback about our team’s recently created “Group Work Norms.” Specifically, are you using them? If so, how? What is working? If not, why not? What would improve them? We were interested to learn that several wanted to further develop the “group norms” portion and that there is a need for these norms to be applicable not only for large, long-term group projects, but also for short, 10 minute group work in the day to day.

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Senatorial Mode
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Debate Mode

Reseting a fifth time into “debate” mode. Learners have adapted and are very quick at resetting now, leaving 20 or 30 seconds remaining on the clock. We start the next activity early. Learners are asked to communicate. They are asked if advisement is being used the way it was envisioned in pre-planning. We proposed two models for how to address this:

option A – specified activity each day

Monday Tuesday Wed Thursday Friday
study hall/help eportfolio Chapel/Xian Ed badging/reading study skills/advising


option B – student choice each day with rooms designated for each activity

Room 1 Room 2 Room 3 Room 4 Room 5
study hall/help eportfolio Chapel/Xian Ed badging/reading study skills/advising

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Many learners really enjoy debate mode!Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 11.18.05 AM

Finally, learners are asked to reflect on their learning. Specifically, they are asked to write two responses. “I used to think…” and “But now, I think…” The room is silent 5 minutes except for the furious and fully-engaged sound of typing fingers.

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Students in senatorial mode

After reflection, discussion, and debrief, the room is reset one final time to the teacher’s original setting. I was happily surprised to hear the teacher instruct all of us not to reset to the “horseshoe” but instead “senatorial.” She was already experimenting with what she learned and transferring it to our students. #Exemplar!

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And yes, there is always amazing food and coffee at our meetings!

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