Mr Kemp

Transforming Learning Spaces

Today’s post is a special guest blog post by Grant van der Kruk. Grant is an expert in classroom furniture and how to transform learning spaces. Grant works for Furnware and lives in Singapore, supplying schools in South East Asia (and around the world) with amazing collaborative furniture to support student learning. 

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I am delighted to be writing this guest piece on Craig’s blog. Craig and I have only been collaborating for a short time, but it doesn’t take long to understand how dynamic Craig is and to appreciate his passion and enthusiasm for young people.

I hope you’ll find my opinions and reflections thought-provoking.

I have had the enviable job of travelling around Australia and SE Asia for the past six years, assisting all manner of schools in their learning space transition with the use of innovative furniture designs. In the past five years I’ve noticed that learning spaces and their design have become an integral part of the overall school environment. The dynamic landscape of curriculum and pedagogy continues to drive innovation in most areas of a school but, surprisingly, the innovation in learning space design has really only just started to become a global “trend”.

When it comes to furniture, the desks and chairs that I sat at in school are still being used today, some 20 years since I graduated. Curriculum design, pedagogies and the way teachers and students interact, have progressed so much, yet learning space design has been left lagging.

Not anymore.

In the past few years, attitudes towards space, colour, surfaces and furniture have taken a quantum leap. Where previously, spending money on these areas was considered a luxury, now many schools deem investment in their environment to be a priority.

The advent of MLEs (Modern Learning Environments) is playing a significant role in school transformation as “classrooms” adopt more of a café or airport lounge feel. (It’s where you’ll find me right now in fact).

As I type this, I look around the Singapore Airlines lounge in Hong Kong and I’m interested to see the parallels – different hubs set up to cater for different activities.

There are families reflecting on their trip and the flight home ahead of them. They’re sitting around tables that can be grouped together, or separated depending on how big the group is. In learning space design we would commonly refer to this as a Watering Hole.

I also notice the smaller areas designed for 2-3 people. These spaces contain more casual furniture with soft seating and a coffee table. These guests are reading newspapers or working on their mobile devices.

I’ve chosen to sit at a small booth so I can concentrate on doing some work without distraction (Office or Fortress).

Those guests I observe sitting up at the bar with their coffee are elevated enjoying views over the lounge – we would term this a Watchtower setting in a learning environment.

These concepts are the same in our modern school spaces. Although they may look less structured or “messy”, they have specific purpose assisting to engage students in learning. 

The biggest change in attitude I have seen from educators, is that they are setting their spaces up to cater for how students want to learn, not how Teachers want to teach.

I have seen this challenge in many schools transitioning, but I have also seen an unbelievable change in students.

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The stories are too many to tell, but I will never forget the change I saw in a 10 year old boy in a Western Sydney Public School.

His parents had no end of trouble getting him to school, fighting to even get him in the gate. You can imagine how well he did in the classroom! I worked closely with this school to design and supply furniture for their refurbished spaces. Day one in this new space saw a new young man as he went from being totally disengaged and affecting his peers’ ability to concentrate, to being able to focus for 15 minutes at a time. This was a huge progression for someone not achieving at all.

What was it that turned this student around? Choice.

He was now able to place himself where he wanted to learn, rather than where the Teacher placed him based on his behaviour.

When I visited he chose to sit on a stool at a standing height table with a Whiteboard surface on it. He went from not reading at all, to writing a full book report on a Whiteboard Table. He wasn’t embarrassed to make mistakes because he could fix it straight away. He had his own space and was not bothered by anyone…maybe more important, he didn’t bother anyone else.

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Granted, not every student in every school will have such dramatic results.

We know that empirical research into MLE’s and the improvement of data is yet to surface, but if my eyes and ears are worth anything, learning spaces designed for students (by students…) can have amazing effects.

Have you thought about creating MLE’s at your school?

Here are some concepts I recommend you think about:

– What spaces do you think you students want? Ask them!

– How much flexibility do you require?

– Where can the students collaborate, conduct group project work, have intimate areas for private study?

– What colors and textures can add a new dimension to the space?

– What behaviours do you want to encourage?

There’s a lot of material on Craig’s and my Twitter feed, it’s that’s a great place to start!

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Craig Kemp

Craig Kemp

I am a passionate Head of Educational Technology at a large International School in Singapore. I am a lifelong learner, dream creator and thought leader. I love to inspire others and find inspiration. Co-founder of #whatisschool, #asiaED edchats and #pubPD.

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Hi
    Thanks for this post. It’s certainly interesting coming from a different angle.
    I find that the biggest hindrance to MLE’s is funding. Property wise, our school has been jumping through paperwork hoops and reports and crossing t’s and dotting i’s since 2011/12 to get standard 60’s buildings ‘updated’ with vertiface, sound absorption in the roof so when it rains we can still hear ourselves think, carpet over wet area, and upgrade windows to aluminium.
    A nigh on 3 year battle with at least two different MOE property advisors in that time, and we’ve only just gotten approval to do the roof tiling on 4 classes.

    I know this post is about furniture so to speak, but with the buildings making up part of MLE as well, we simply don’t have the funding to fork out for new furniture.

    Frustrating!

    Really, REALLY want those whiteboard tables of yours though. I’ve had my eye on them for a while now 🙂

    • Hi Al, thanks for your comments and perspective. Unfortunately your story is too familiar, even those schools who are ready and willing for transformation can’t support it through lack of financial investment. MLE transformation does need significant investment for the transformation to be at its best, not just furniture. More natural light, more oxygen in the space, glass walls to open up the space and to write on and create more connection to nature (outdoor gardens etc) are all aspects to create ultimate MLE’s.
      Educators are some of the most frugal and personally invested (financially as well) people I have ever met, using whatever they can get there hands on to help create choices for students. Cushions on milk creates, old family couches, using storage units as standing height tables are just some of the things I see in my travels. I don’t think I’m telling you something you don’t know, but I guess these are ways to help create different space with funding issues.
      I still believe the most important thing you can do now is making sure the chairs and desks/tables you have now are the right height ergonomically. I know this may sound boring vs Whiteboard Tables and hubs, but in terms of decreasing off-task behaviour, it is still the most important aspect of a learning space no matter how modern. This is where our companies journey started and still remains the core of our research and belief. Happy to help wherever I can and I hope truly hope the global momentum and appetite for MLE’s reaches your MOE soon.
      Grant

  • This is an actual job you do? Visiting countries around the world and helping them set up their learning spaces? I want to do this! Amazing

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