From engagement to empowerment – redesigning learning spaces
With a solid track record of high performance on state assessments, the Byram Hills Central School District in Armonk, New York, has reason to be proud. Still, the district wants to do even more to prepare its students for the future. Under the guidance of its director of technology, Dr. Andrew Taylor, and Dr. Tim Kaltenecker, assistant superintendent of instruction, the school district is transforming the learning experience in its schools with redesigned learning spaces. Here’s how.
Empowerment by design
When Byram Hills first started to explore new ways to help students become “well-rounded citizens and leaders of tomorrow,” Andrew says it became clear the schools would have to rethink instruction and put a greater focus on collaboration and group work. That meant the traditional classroom setup of desks in rows simply wasn’t going to cut it. Learning spaces had to be reimagined and redesigned.
“Room design can be a catalyst for instructional change,” he says, adding flexible classroom spaces make it easier to create opportunities for problem solving and project-based learning.
With funding from the Byram Hills Education Foundation, four labs – one in each of the two elementary schools, middle school and high school – were transformed into flexible spaces where students and teachers could explore new ways to teach and learn. The rooms became incubators for innovation, providing space for whole-class and individual learning, large and small-group collaboration and student presentation.
Andrew says the goal of the redesign project was to create spaces that would promote the 4Cs of learning: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication. He says his district also promotes another C – community, which resulted in some of the redesigned spaces now enabling two classes to work together in a shared learning experience.
Although Andrew thinks technology shouldn’t be the “star of the classroom,” it does play an important role. The redesigned rooms in Byram Hills’ schools offer a variety of technology tools, including the Nureva™ Span™ visual collaboration system. The systems have transformed walls in two of the rooms into interactive digital workspaces, enabled by cloud-based software, for students to share ideas and work together.
In one of the elementary schools, two classrooms were combined to create a learning hub with a partial shared wall. Span systems were installed on both sides of the wall, and students can walk around and work on either side. “We wanted the kids to really work collaboratively and brainstorm and work with this design thinking philosophy,” explains Andrew. A large room in the high school has three Span systems installed along two walls to create a 30' 2" (9.19 m) wrap-around digital canvas used for large-group brainstorming and showcasing student work.
Andrew says he initially went looking for technology that would support whole-class engagement, collaboration and participation – plus work seamlessly with Chromebook™ laptops. He was impressed by the size of the Span system’s projection space and how well it worked for large-group brainstorming. But he’s now seeing other ways students can use it to contribute to discussions, even outside the large collaboration spaces.
Making changes that matter
Across the schools, students are collaborating more and seem to be genuinely excited about learning in spaces they know were designed specifically for them. Teachers are eager to explore and experiment with new ways to make learning more appealing and empowering to students. And the district is already planning the next phase, which will involve redesigning library spaces to fit the needs of digital learners.
To see the new Byram Hills learning spaces for yourself and hear more from Andrew and his colleagues, watch this video.