When educators and school administrators describe their vision for new K-12 school buildings as ‘21st-century learning spaces,’ they’re not exaggerating. Many new schools are truly different in concept from their counterparts of only a few years ago.

September 07, 2012

3. Guide school officials, teachers, and parents on innovative design concepts.

Many stakeholders in schools moving toward 21st-century learning don’t know what appropriate learning spaces look like. “We ask teachers to imagine the greatest change that we can provide to help them teach better,” says HMFH’s Metzger.

Innovative design elements being constructed today include:

  • Multiple libraries distributed around classroom wings, instead of a central facility. These include small study and research spaces that are used for a variety of purposes and are within a short walk for all students.
  • Large sliding glass walls that can be opened to outdoor classrooms and which can augment indoor space for large group activities. Some outdoor spaces include gardens that can be used in science lessons.
  • Acoustically sealed, folding glass walls to divide large rooms into smaller spaces.
  • Student cafés—not traditional cafeterias—where students can get a snack, study, and work on group projects throughout the day.

When Marysville Getchell High School, in Marysville, Wash., opened in 2010, it included a radical design element: no hallways, at least in the traditional sense. Areas for moving about the building are square-shaped and contain partitioned spaces that are used for teaching and studying. “The pass-through space is wide enough to meet safety codes,” notes DLR’s French. Students are organized into four self-contained “academies” housed in separate areas of the building; as a result, they don’t have to walk as far as students in a typical high school.

Building Teams should explain that teachers may need time to get accustomed to these new space concepts. “It’s very important that the school system help teachers to teach differently and better utilize space,” says HMFH’s Metzger.


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