- The Hellerup School in Copenhagen, Denmark, serves more that 650 K-9 students in a three-story facility built without walls, according to the Hechinger Report. The school places a focus on personalized and project-based learning in an environment where students have a great deal of freedom in determining where and how they study.
- In some ways, the school is traditional: It has grade levels, and students begin each day in homeroom clusters to get their initial instructions. Students have a variety of assessments, including projects, portfolios and standardized tests, and they follow a national curriculum.
- However, the school differs greatly in other ways, as students have greater autonomy – especially as they get older – teachers can monitor one another and collaboration is encouraged to offset the isolation that naturally accompanies highly individual computer-based learning.
This open-plan concept touted looks attractive, and it very conducive to collaboration and student-led learning. However, it is not a new concept. It has been tried before in the United States, and it's gaining some popularity again in countries like Finland and Norway.
However, the idea has its share of critics. East Baltimore’s Henderson-Hopkins school, which opened in 2014 at a cost of $43 million, was modeled on a more open design. However, the design has proven not to improve educational outcomes or teacher turnover rates, and the noise levels have proved to be a distraction to many students. The acoustic issues, including distraction and strain on teacher voices, have been common complaints in many such designs and proved to have negative effects, especially for younger students. Many teachers struggle to adapt to not having their own defined spaces and adjusting to gaining student attention in an open plan. There is also a great deal of doubt as to whether the open plan benefits students academically in the long run.
What the plan does offer is a greater opportunity for collaboration among students along the lines of common interests and skill levels, and it allows teachers to collaborate more as well. Allowing teachers and students to each have a greater degrees of autonomy in the learning process is also valuable. These settings also tend to be more attractive and less stifling than many classroom settings and build a strong sense of community. As school leaders consider these options, they may find ways to bring some elements of the open-plan concepts to their schools without tearing down all the walls.