May 10, 2018

F3 – Fixed, Flexible & Fluid Learning Spaces

Photo credit: DLR Group

 by Dr. Lennie Scott-Webber, NCIDQ, AIA Affiliate 

It is argued here that flexibility is just one component of designing to support intended behaviors, and the design community perhaps interprets the word differently than the education community. 

Designing for flexibility is often the ‘go to’ for classroom solutions. A general understanding is that a flexible design “adapts to new situations,” and when incorporating it one is attempting to have a one-size-fits all solution set up for a variety of teaching practices. It suggests if a flexible solution is used, all design issues are solved, and teaching practices are made easy no matter how one delivers one’s practice. Design solutions must support the users’ needs and intended behaviors —that’s a given. But do designers and educators speak the same language and have the same inference regarding terms? Let’s examine the design and teaching practices continuums along with what we know about how we learn, and then provide some linkages in terms of language and solutions.

How we learn is being studied ever more intensely by brain scientists than ever before. We know so much more about how we learn, what it takes to stay focused and why engagement in one’s learning is key to overall student success according to research findings[1],[2],[3]. That evidence indicates sitting still is not conducive to learning. We need to move to learn and we need to stand to stay focused longer. Research further argues it is OK for the mind to drift; in fact it must, as focusing for too long is just not possible. Our brains can truly focus for about 10-15 minutes and then need a break. Postural change helps us all particularly when we are working on computers and focusing or working on a particular problem; standing up, sitting down and lying down should all be considered.

And the more we can connect students emotionally to the learning tasks/problems kinesthetically [through our senses] the more information is retained. As advanced learning designs supporting active learning increase and classrooms are replaced with ‘learning suites and maker spaces,’ we have the opportunity to challenge and invent a new language, bridging the perceived gap between design’s language and the educator’s. Thus, this article presents the 3 F’s, or F3 – Fixed, Flexible and Fluid. The information shared here is an attempt to bridge a perceived gap in language between a design language and a teaching practice language. F3’s are explained first from a design solution perspective and then from a teaching strategy one.

This article suggests design solutions work within a continuum of F3 – Fixed, Flexible and Fluid. It is this continuum that needs further explanation and understanding.

FIXED represents all of those items physically built into the infrastructure of a building. In other words, if you turned a building upside down those items would not fall out. Examples include cabinetry, bolted down seating, and of course the building’s entire structure and infrastructure.

FLEXIBLE may translate into several design opportunities. Solutions are often categories as items with castors, fairly lightweight tables easily moved, and items that are ‘wrenchable,’ but all with predictable and set patterns for alteration. An example of wrenchable might be an open office cubicle situation. It can be moved, but not easily, but it is not built into the building. The challenge with ‘flexible’ is that most often furnishings are heavy, or awkward and thus not easily reconfigured. So, guess what? They don’t get reconfigured. In fact, these flexible places become more fixed just for the fact that items are not easy to move.

FLUID in the design sense might translate to a swivel seat on a chair, a clicker that allows for a digital screen to be changed, and lights/temperature changed with the flick of a control — perhaps like a Google home devise. Little movement or rearrangement is required in a fluid situation, and all are not predictable. Where students choose to move in a chair with wheels is not necessarily in a specific pattern. If these examples illustrate a ‘design language’ for educators to interpret, how might designers interpret the educators’ needs with a variety of teaching practices?

Teaching practices have a continuum of sorts as well from the very traditional lecture to a simultaneous, multi-modal strategy, to a fully operational tinker/maker/production space as some of the most creative. Each of these practices elicits strategies and places that must support them. Types of strategies might also include problem-based, project-based, inquiry-based, etc. approaches to deliver content. A lecture as we have come to understand it is teacher-centric. The teacher comes in prepared to share knowledge and may utilize a projector and screen to support a visual connection to the content accompanying the verbal one. Often we think of the design solutions as fixed seating, or tiered lecture halls. Here students should be in active listening mode, perhaps taking notes, but nothing more is typically expected.

In the second practice described, it could be likened to a one-room schoolhouse, or more student-focused. Thus, in a simultaneous, multi-modal strategy, multiple learning activity situations, and content delivery approaches are going on at the same time and in fact some students may be leading certain components while the educator leads others. One-to-one, peer-to-peer and small group to whole group situations strategies are incorporated. Here the educator is more of the ‘guide on the side’ acting as a facilitator allowing students to discover on their own in a pre-planned and purposeful strategy(ies). Multiple types of postures, equipment, technologies and places within a room(s) are needed to orchestrate these situations successfully — a fluid solution is best here. For example, the simplest and most impactful furniture solution for fluid connection is a swivel chair. The individual does not have to reconfigure anything and can simply and easily move slightly or swivel entirely without getting out of one’s seat. He/she can connect to others, or see content wherever it might be presented.

The third scenario, or a creative space, acts in much the same way as the multimodal ones, is still student-centric, however depending upon the type and more importantly the equipment required; a balance must be struck between students being on their own and the educator directing their discovery. This type of pedagogical practice is more likened to an apprentice / master one. As equipment and access to tools are most often needed, this type of space may be designed supporting a fixed to flexible solutions.

This article has explored the language given to F3, or fixed, flexible and fluid, in an attempt to align design language to the language of teaching strategies. The bottom line is both design and pedagogy solutions need all three F’s; essential for appropriate advanced learning solutions. However, we seem to have a design predisposition to the fixed and the flexible ones. It is further argued here to be truly active as an educator and to have students actively engage in their learning processes, we need to push the boundaries of fluid. Easy access and ability to follow content wherever it may be displayed, shared, talked about could be a new driver. As active learning practices increase in more advanced learning places, it is ever more important to allow for fluid and quick transitions from individual work to small group work and back again.

 About the Author:
“Dr. Lennie” is a leading thinker on the evolution of what we know about learning, the learner and the learning place has pioneered research strategies addressing how the built environment impacts student engagement factors and learner success, and has designed future-focused, evidence-based design applications for 20+ years. Currently, she is the Owner / Principal of INSYNC: Education Research + Design. She is also acting as the Education Research Leader for DLR Group’s K12 Education Practice. She was formerly the founding Director of Education Environments Globally for Steelcase Education; tenured, full-professor and chair of two design schools; Director of the iLAB Research Center, Radford University; professional interior designer, author, published researcher, national and international speaker.

[1]Scott-Webber, L., Konyndyk, R., French, R., Lembke, J., & Kinney, T. (2017). Spatial design makes a difference in student academic engagement levels: A pilot study for grades 9-12. European Scientific Journal. 13(16), ISSN: 1857-7881 Doi: 10.19044/esj.2017.v13n16p5.
[2] Kilbourne, J., Scott-Webber, L., & Kapitula, L.R. (2017). An activity-permissible classroom: Impacts of an evidence-based design solution on student engagement and movement in an elementary school classroom. Children, Youth and Environments 27(1): 112-134.
[3] Nissim, Y., Weissblueth, E., Scott-Webber, L. & Amar, S. (2016). The effect of a new stimulating learning environment on pre-service teachers’ motivation and 21st century skills. Journal of Education and Learning: Vol. 5, No. 3. pp. 29-39. Doi:10.5539/jel.v5n3p29.

Designing Classrooms for Students with EMDs

By Christopher L. Daikos MiT, MEd, EdS

One of the greatest social justice challenges facing educators today is how to best serve children with Emotional Behavioral Disabilities (EBD). Many students come to school with entrenched emotional and/or behavioral difficulties that impede their and other students’ ability to access their education. External behaviors typically associated with these students exhibit a range of social, emotional, and behavioral problems, including physical aggression, school refusal, bullying, and defiance towards authority.

The Department of Education’s 36th Annual Report on Individuals with Disabilities Act indicated that students who have been identified as EBD represent 6.2% of the student population, a subset population within Special Education that has consistently increased annually. Nationally students with disabilities have a graduation rate of 63% (Department of Education 2015), yet students with EBD have a national graduation well below 50%. With the current model of training, facilities and services in place we see results in which students with EBD are arrested at a rate of 60% prior to leaving school and 40% are on probation prior to leaving school. The data clearly indicates, nationally, the services we provide students with EBD result in the strongest conduit in the school to prison pipeline. This is a national crisis that few are paying attention to. Those involved in designing and outfitting educational spaces can help right this wrong.

How Did We Get Here?
To qualify for special education services for EBD, schools must first attempt two evidence-based interventions to address behaviors of concern. If the interventions fail, students are assessed based on the following criteria set by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which defines EBD as meeting one or more of the following criteria:
  • An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.
  • An ina­bility to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.
  • Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.
  • A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
  • A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

The challenges presented by students with EBD cuts across disciplinary, instructional, and interpersonal domains, which frequently results in chaotic school and classroom environments. The characteristics of students with EBD can overwhelm the ability and capacity of schools and staff to effectively accommodate their instructional and social-emotional needs. Consequently, more than any other group, students with EBD are placed and educated in restrictive educational settings sequestered from their peers. Such spaces tend to be located in areas that have the least impact on others when students in EBD classes have emotional outbursts. It is not uncommon to find EBD classes in portables or in remote locations within the building. 

Historically such restrictive spaces were used as a dystopian daycare for some of our neediest students. Restrictive educational settings with no standardized approach towards student intervention have been troubling when considering the results of the poor services and outcomes for these students. The need to provide intentionally designed spaces to provide evidenced-based interventions for students with EBD is paramount and could result in the greatest impact on school wide discipline and improve the life outcomes of some our neediest students.

What Can We Do?
Meeting the unique needs of students with EBD and simultaneously maintaining a safe and orderly school environment that is conducive to learning places a tremendous amount of stress on educators. Historically school design has been a one size fits all approach. When designing spaces to serve children with EBD, before the first architectural design is drawn educators and architects need to work together to account for a safe and secure space for counseling and therapy, private meeting space for small group and individual interventions, safety exits for students and staff, restorative space, just to name a few.

Incorporating the above elements I worked with Architect Daniel Gero of Integrus Architecture in Seattle and generated the following design. The space below incorporates two classrooms providing all the elements needed for a successful EBD classroom. With consideration that the typical EBD class has 9 to 11 students with 1 teacher and 2 support staff we decided to remove a wall and replace it with a retractable divider. This means that educators can team 18-22 students with 2 teachers and 4 support staff. 

Larger Design Elements
A school psychologist should have access to a private space within the class or close to it to allow consistent communication among the education staff. The intent on such communication is to make certain interventions are informed with the students needs and that they are done with fidelity. Too often children with EBD receive counseling outside of the school with no control of quality and evidence-based counseling practices. An additional beneficial factor is the opportunity for family members to be onsite when attending family counseling sessions, which are an integral component to cognitive behavior therapy.

Our design provides a space for restorative practices. This space is referred to as the Boring Room, situated between the counseling room and the teachers’ office. The intent of this space is for students to have a quiet area to reflect on inappropriate behaviors through a restorative exercise. 

The above design is our first attempt to support a population who represent some of the neediest students in our schools. In general, current practices in EBD classes continue to result in more negative life outcomes than not. We encourage other educators, manufacturers, designers and architects to take on one the greatest social justice challenges that we face in our communities today. In a society that provides compensatory education we must be aware that all students enter our schools with some unique needs, some more acute than others. It is our responsibility to meet those needs and provide the appropriate space that facilitates all services and interventions needed to support children with EBD.

About the Author:
Christopher Daikos is an Educational/Psychological Consultant at Continua Group in Seattle, WA. He works with school district administration and staff for the design and implementation of special education interventions. Chris holds master’s degrees in special education and educational leadership and policies, and is pursuing a PhD in education psychology from the University of Washington.

May 9, 2018

How to Get Started with a School Maker Space

by Mark Hubbard, Paragon Furniture

Looking to inspire the next generation of tinkerers and innovators, a growing number of schools are creating maker spaces equipped with everything from popsicle sticks and glue guns to electronics kits and 3D printers.

When educators encourage students to learn by creating, they inspire students to take ownership of their learning. Students become highly engaged and invested in their education.

In the process, students can learn not only key STEM concepts (like how an electronic circuit works or what the engineering design process entails), but also 21st-century skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, critical thinking, creativity, and perseverance.

Creating a maker space for your schools might seem like a daunting task. But it doesn’t have to be. The first step is to articulate your vision for the space and outline the goals you hope to accomplish. Your vision and goals will help you answer other critical questions, such as what the space should look like, how it will be equipped, and so on.

Here are four key questions to guide your initial planning. 

1. Who will use the space? 

When you’re deciding who your maker space is intended for, consider which grade levels or age ranges you want to target. Are you building a space for students in grades K-2? Grades three to five? Six to eight? High school? Will the space serve multiple age ranges?

Also, which classes or academic disciplines will use the space? Is it meant only for certain subject areas, or for all academic subjects? Finally, will you open your maker space to members of the public, such as adults for night classes or students from other schools?

2. How, and when, will students use the space?

It’s also important to understand how—and when—you plan to use the space. Will it be used for formal, structured learning activities led by a teacher? Informal, student-directed learning and exploration? Or both? Will students use the space during school hours? Before or after school? Or both?

3. What are your instructional goals?

You’ve addressed the “who,” “how,” and “when.” Before you go any further, you also have to answer “why”.  What are your learning goals in creating a maker space for your school? Are you hoping students will learn core academic skills, 21st century skills, or both?

If core academic learning is your target, how do your intended learning activities align with state instructional standards, Next Generation Science Standards, or other curriculum goals? And if 21st skills are your desired outcome, which specific skills are you hoping students will acquire? How will the activities completed in the space lead to the development of these skills? 

4. How will you measure success? 

Finally, what methods will you use to evaluate the success of your maker space initiative? Will you use formal measurements of the skills students gain, informal observation and reflection, or both?

If you’re measuring the skills that students gain, what types of assessments will you use? How will you put these together? If you’re using informal observation and reflection, how will you collect this information? Will you use teacher observation forms, post-program surveys of students, or some other method?

Once you have a plan for how your maker space will be used, you can design the actual space itself. When you are designing a maker space, you’ll want to make sure the space promotes creativity and collaboration. You can encourage both of those traits through the design of the space itself. Here are some ideas to guide you.

• Ask students what they want. Giving students a voice in the design of the space can inspire their ingenuity.
• Build flexibility into the design of the space. Use furniture that can be arranged easily in many different configurations to promote different kinds of student groupings and activities.
• Take inspiration from the “stations” approach to classroom design that is common in elementary schools. Consider creating separate areas for different kinds of activities, and equip each area as appropriate.
• Include open, informal spaces for students to gather together, brainstorm and bounce ideas off one other. Soft seating options can make the space comfortable and inviting for students to congregate.

When students are given the chance to create, anything is possible.  Students become excited and engaged, and real learning occurs.  

About the Author:

Mark Hubbard is president of Paragon Furniture. Mark frequently interacts with dealers, architects, designers, owner representatives and end-users in order to better understand how the instructional tools of education are transforming learning environments and the furnishings within.  Download a free copy of “How to Create a Maker Space in your school – A step-by-step guide to unleashing student’s creativity”.