Strategies for Reshaping Space:

Developing the foundation:

1.  Use design to identify the desired student learning experience.  Have you defined what the student learning experience is in your school or district?  Not a mission statement, not a vision statement, but a true declaration of what students will do and how they will learn.  You have to start there, because the experience has definite spatial implications.  

2.  Think experience, not things.  Think about learning and the student learning experience, not couches, bean bags, tables and chairs.  Move beyond the "stuff," focus on what students do.  Start with what they do, then focus on the stuff that will help them do that.

3.  Understand space vocabulary.  Your organization needs to have a shared, understandable language for space redesign.   

  • Flexible:  the space can be reshaped
  • Agile:  the space can be reshaped quickly
  • Intentional:  the space is designed to support the student learning experience.
  • Adaptive:  the space adapts to changes in the expectations of the student learning experience.
  • Technological:  the space supports a variety of technologies
  • Interconnected:  the physical and digital spaces for learning are connected.

4.  Do a space inventory.  Do you have the spaces to support the student learning experience?  How do you know?

5.  Talk to kids about where they like to learn and why.  Ask what they like and dislike about their school spaces.

6.  Visit "third places" to understand the social dimension of learning in a broader context.  Read The Great Good Place to understand the role of third places in society.

7.  Develop measurable goals with real metrics for understanding how spaces impact the implementation of the student learning experience.

Changing the classroom:

8.  Declutter, declutter, declutter.  You have too much stuff in and on your classroom.  Reclaim your walls as learning surfaces.  PLEASE READ THE FOLLOWING:  Heavily Decorated Classrooms Disrupt Attention and Learning in Young Children| Association for Psychological Science, and this, which includes a link to the research it discusses:  Scientists find physical clutter negative affects your ability to focus, process information.

9.  Say goodbye to the teacher desk.  Recapture valuable space and use it for something student-centered.

10.  Design microspaces in learning spaces.  Use the space reclaimed by jettisoning the teacher desk with some appropriate soft seating that promotes interaction:  teacher to student, student to student.  Use these spaces for conferencing, etc.

11.  Get yourself some tables.  Fast.  Push and pull into new arrangements that support the learning behaviors associated with #1.  

12.  Get some color.  Reject institutional cinder block beige.  Please.  See how color changes things here (from Lucy Gray, Morrill Math and Science) and here (from Rick Frens, Hamilton County, MI).

13.  Encourage movement.  Kids need to move.  Repeat.  Kids need to move.  And so do you.  Read more here about movement and how absolutely critical it is.  Get some furniture that promotes it too, like VS Hokkis or Steelcase Bouys.  Read Bodies in Motion, Brains in Motion.

14.  Encourage student ownership of the spaces they learn in.  How will you let them reshape space?  That's empowerment, and it leads to the deepest of engagements.

15.  Add digital spaces.  And digital spaces that are created through responsive design, so that any user on any device has the same experience.  Remember that digital spaces are infinitely re-configurable.

Supporting your work:

16.  Make a space playbook on space/learning strategies that helps teachers understand how to change and use classroom space.  Couple this with professional development efforts on learning space.

17.  Iterate, adjust and improve your ideas, your perspectives, and your use of space.  Iterate and improve, constantly.


Learning Space Research (coming soon)



Remake Your Class Part 1: Planning for a Collaborative Learning Environment

Remake Your Class Part 2: Building a Collaborative Learning Environment

Remake Your Class Part 3:  Exploring a Collaborative Learning Environment

Adding Colorful Panels to Your Classroom | Krissy Venosdale

The Gross Deadly History of Color | Co.Design

Color Palettes | Pinterest

The Role of Color in Branding | Entreprenuer

Hacking the Classroom: Beyond Design Thinking | Dr. Jackie Gerstein

Tiny Transformations: Six Remake Your Class Details to Celebrate | Melanie Kahl

Behind the Scenes: Favorite Memories of Remake Your Class | Melanie Kahl

Remake Your Class:  6 Steps to Get Started | Melanie Kahl

4 Lessons the Classroom Can Learn from the Design Studio | Steve Turkes and Melanie Kahl

8 Tips and Tricks to Redesign Your Classroom | David Bill

The DIY Dry Erase Workspace | Lifehacker

Are You Hacking Your School's Learning Spaces | Emily Vickery

Hacking Classes, Evolving Mindsets | The Third Teacher blog

Does Your Classroom Tell a Story | Stacey Goodman

Five-Minute Film Festival:  Classroom Makeovers to Engage Learners | Amy Erin Borovoy

4 Tips to Transform Your Space | Beth Holland

A Place for Learning:  The Physical Environment of Classrooms | Mark Phillips

Tips for Creating Wow-Worthy Learning Spaces | Todd Finley

An Invitation to Inspiring Learning Spaces | Mike Morrison

Learning Space Suggestions | David Jakes

Sketch Ideas | Space Oasis

Lovett School Playbook #1

Lovett School Playbook #2

11 Ways to Make Your Space As Collaborative as the Stanford | Fast Company

Digital Atelier Toolkit

Active Learning Spaces | Steelcase

Hillbrook iLab | Bretford