Paul Erickson

Student-Centered Learning (Part 2)

Oct. 3, 2022
Learning zones and specialty spaces that support student-centered instruction.

(This is part two of a three-part series)

Educators and architects are breaking new ground in best practices for teaching, learning and new types of school spaces. Let us go deeper into defining learning zones and specialty spaces for supporting student-centered learning.

Learning zone: A learning zone leaves behind traditional “classroom” teacher-directed instruction. It has varied small-group activities, activity-based student collaboration, teacher facilitation, and presentation and discussion. It will have flexible seating, portable worktables, mobile screens, operable partitions, and ubiquitous technology.

FTLA: A Flexible Team Learning Area is designed as an open space with a grouping of six to eight learning zones. It is designed for circulation and varied learning activities as an extension of the learning zone, with technology and transparency between spaces. Worktables, chairs, soft seating, smart TVs, and portable markerboards fill this space for group activities.

SMART room: A Stimulating-Maturity-Through-Accelerated-Readiness-Training room is an indoor playground to engage elementary students in physical movements to stimulate the brain. Through regular sessions and during classroom breaks, students burn energy to refocus as they move through their day. Spaces are equipped with balance beams, overhead ladders and creep/slap tracks for processing language cues.

Maker space: This space supports creating with hands-on techniques while learning concepts for real-world applications. Schools may provide a dedicated space or integrate it with a media center or STEAM lab. Equipment in the space may include worktables, chairs, stools, 3D printers, sewing machines, portable carts, sinks, and mobile storage.

STEAM/STEM lab: Through guided curriculum integrating science, technology, engineering, arts and math,  hands-on projects engage students in inquiry and problem-solving. The lab design optimizes collaborative project-based group learning. Technology includes virtual reality devices, portable datalogging equipment, coding and robotics tools, 3D printers, drones, and software programs.

CTE space: The resurgence of career and technical education, frequently supported by local industry, provides career-friendly learning in subjects like health care, design, construction, transportation, and culinary arts. Spaces may include a greenhouse and culinary arts commercial kitchen for “farm-to-table” programs, a high-bay automotive lab for automotive technology and fire-fighting programs, or a construction shop for carpentry and trades programs

FAB labs: Students design and build projects, often sponsored by industry experts. Replicating actual work environments, the labs may include workbenches, computers, 3D printers, scanners, laser cutters, routers, milling machines, tool cabinets, portable whiteboards and wire racks. Age-appropriate tools include saws, drills, ratchets, and glass cutters.

Science Research studios: Reimagined science spaces provide students opportunities to pursue authentic research driven by their interests. Programs connect students with leaders in academia and industry through guided communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration. Spaces may include wet lab benches, fume hoods, and flexible space for experiments. Each student may have a lab bench to conduct long-term experiments with specialized equipment.

Learning stairs: At the heart of the school, learning stairs are an amphitheater-type setting for socializing and studying – providing a vertical visual connection between floors. Learning stairs incorporate code-required risers and treads with deeper bench-type seating with electrical outlets, seat cushions, and task lighting.

Outdoor Spaces: During Covid, students and teachers pivoted to outdoor learning. This shift became more viable with portable teaching equipment. Open-air amphitheaters, along with portable indoor-outdoor furnishings including carts and whiteboards, support this learning experience. Adventure-type classes use the outdoors for learning survival skills, GPS, and camping. Areas for science and CTE provide hands-on learning experiences not found inside a building. For example, soil beds dedicated for gardening with tools storage and irrigation infrastructure provide students with real-world biophilic learning.

Erickson ([email protected]) is past president of ATSR Planners/Architects/Engineers, a firm specializing in school planning and design. Erickson has 45 years of experience in school planning, design, and construction.

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