Driving K12 Student Success by Designing for Collaboration

When we think about the educational facilities of the next century and beyond, the conversation turns to collaborative spaces. We imagine spaces that are both flexible and fluid – encouraging higher levels of creativity and critical thinking, while freeing students to communicate clearly about the task at hand. Architecture and Design influence how people interact with one another. They also largely determine whether people will be able to fully engage in an activity. For these reasons, encouraging collaboration in your school isn't just a nice idea – it's a must. Let's explore these spaces a little deeper...

Collaborative spaces should be dynamic

Collaboration is when a group of learners work cooperatively on a task. However, collaboration does not mean that all learners are working together on the same tasks throughout the course of the entire project. After their initial brainstorming sessions, the group may decide to pass on specific tasks to individuals, and learners may proceed to work on their own aspect of the project. It is for this reason that collaborative spaces must be dynamic enough to allow for members to work either independently or in groups. Collaborative spaces may contract when the group comes together to discuss the project and then expand as individuals separate from one another to work on their specific tasks. This separation might simply entail moving their seating position a few feet away from the group space, or it might mean moving into another space altogether.

Collaborative spaces in educational settings

Collaborative settings can include all areas of a school, encompassing classrooms and adjacent areas outside them. Collaborative spaces must provide areas for independent learning, 1-to-1 learning, small group learning, and large group meetings in which the entire class comes together. For example, an instructional space that supports 25 to 32 learners can allow for collaborative settings by arranging fixed elements along with unfixed features and furniture. If the entire class is working in small groups of four or five learners, then the space must be arranged to support five to seven differentiated activity settings, which can expand, and contract as needed to support the learners as they work.

Specific considerations for your collaborative spaces

Once you have an idea on the right technology for the place, the next consideration is to select the proper furniture for supporting small-group collaborative activity. For a mix of roundtable conversation and viewing, you may want to shape your tables like a hyperbola. If you're environment will require the use of touchscreens, you'll want to keep some space in front of the screen. Many furniture companies are also coming out with classroom tables that accommodate a computer or tablet in the middle of the work surface, which makes collaboration around a screen even easier. And to ensure that students can move freely from one learning location to another, chairs with wheels are becoming standard equipment in K-12 classrooms.

collaborative breakout spaces

The structuring of spatial technology is not only important for the stability of a building, but also for creating and supporting routines that afford growth and stability for learners. Considering this, collaborative breakout spaces must be designed with an understanding of how people learn best. These spaces must be planned to support the developmental, social, and emotional needs of learners. Differentiating the design and size of breakout spaces is important, since the spaces themselves need to support student/teacher, student/student, and teacher/teacher activities. A variety of breakout spaces, described below, support the different ways that people acquire knowledge.
Breakout Niches
These are open areas, such as recesses in walls, in hallways, or at intersections. This sort of space may be a waiting area with comfortable seating and tables, or an extending learning area. These are also spaces where students will likely use their laptops, tablets, or handheld devices.
Breakout Hollows
"Breakout Hollows" are more private and semi-enclosed settings that could be placed in the "hole" in the wall of a corridor, within the instructional spaces, or in more open areas like libraries or waiting rooms. Breakout hollows function as extensions of the instructional spaces and support one to three people.
Breakout rooms
These rooms are private and closed off settings for one to six people. They might be used for staff, parent, or student meetings; for evaluation functions; or as quiet rooms for students. Within these spaces might be movable chairs around a movable table (or tables), soft seating, or fixed countertops.
Breakout nodes
These spaces promote both small-group and large-group interactions. They can often be found under a stairwell. These are instructional spaces and should be equipped with the correct technology and furniture to be practical and effective.

a bright future for K12

We truly believe that highly dynamic collaborative spaces – such as the ones discussed – will be extremely prevalent in the future of K12 school design and we couldn't be more excited about that! What are your thoughts? Are you looking forward to the future of K12 design?

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