(This was original published HERE for Richard Byrne at FreeTech4Teachers.com)
The images that we see of many “modern” classroom designs are filled with Pinterest-pretty decorations that aren’t based in the what we know to be brain-friendly learning spaces. Ideally, schools would be taking time to study and design with intention spaces that support excellent learning. Unfortunately, the social pressure to decorate classrooms is strong, and decorating classrooms is an inch deep solution that elicits the dopamine flow that comes with likes on Instagram, Facebook, and Snap. These cute, neat, and fancy solutions rarely equal great learning. As educators, we need to make sure that there is a sync between instructional practices that provide experiential learning, technology tools that support creation, and optimal learning environments. To accomplish this, consider the seven tips below to keep the focus on intentional design.
Know the Verbs
Design requires a human-centered lens that allows you to understand the true purpose of a space. When teachers and leaders know the verbs of their space, they have a deeper level of intentionality. Is your space designed to explore, investigate, and discover? Is your space designed to create, make, and tinker? This clarity makes decoration seem like frosting instead of missional.
Declutter the Parameter
Too many design initiatives move straight to the furniture, but the parameter of the room can have a greater influence on student learning. Posters and clutter can be distracting and lead to less engagement. Students rarely consciously notice the mess, but it impacts their comfort in the space. Having too much in a classroom can limit its flexibility as well. Try removing ten or more items from the space to let it breathe for students and their learning.
Focus on Student Feedback
So many spaces are designed FOR students as opposed to WITH students. Even if students aren’t a part of the initial design, they can be a part of the next iteration. Students need to be asked about the space. What is supporting their learning? What is inhibiting their learning? We often solve for problems that aren’t issues for students, and no matter the age, we have to drive changes into the learning space that are based on feedback.
Create a Maker Culture
If we keep designing makerspaces, isolated from classroom learning, with no plan to close them in lieu of a maker culture, we are building this decade’s computer lab. We need to instead think about creating a culture of making in every classroom. This doesn’t mean that we are putting 3D printers in every classroom, but maybe we are adding cardboard and low-tech creation items in all spaces. Allow students to showcase their learning in a variety of ways. Don’t limit making to space or specific time of the day.
Develop a Color Palette
Research continues to emerge that an intentional color palette enhances learning. Too many spaces look like a bag of skittles exploded with every color of the rainbow represented in the rugs, furniture, and items on the wall. Designers are looking for a base color with a couple of accent colors. Classroom decorators, though, are adding flare and pop, and this rarely helps with the focus or calm of a space.
Provide Choice with Coherence
Twenty-five of anything is the wrong answer. The idea that we would bring 25 yoga balls, 25 pedal bikes, or 25 desks into a modern learning space definitely lacks the level of design that we should be seeking. It is essential that students can choose the seating that meets their learning task and their learning style, but adding neat items to the classroom for novelty will get the undesired effect of students focused on furniture instead of their future.
Mind Brain Research into Space Design
The more decorated classrooms that appear on Instagram and Pinterest as model spaces to pursue for teachers, the more we wander from what we know about best practices in learning. Research may not get us likes and retweets, but it is essential that we are considering the principles of design that promote learning. Only with this information in the forefront of our efforts can we truly build student-friendly spaces.