Classroom design is not what it used to be. Learning spaces need to be highly flexible, interactive and tech-driven — with what can be an overwhelming array of options. How do you strike the right balance and make the right choice for your school before you make a significant investment?
Schools are finding the answer by first establishing pilot classrooms.
These new spaces allow schools to evaluate new ideas and products and put them into practice before doing a full roll out in an existing or new building. These pilot classrooms also support valuable professional development to better prepare teachers and support staff for new spaces that they will move into.
They are becoming a key practice for any new school building project. Both Sartell-St. Stephen School District and District 742 in St. Cloud set up pilot classrooms to help them make informed decisions during the building process for their new high schools that will open this fall. The experience led both schools to make meaningful and significant changes to their initial furniture and technology plans.
The results provide better learning experiences for students and a positive teaching atmosphere where staff feel more supported, prepared and empowered. The classrooms also help ensure schools are spending their dollars on the right items, which have even delivered cost savings.
How a pilot classroom takes shape depends on what the school wants to evaluate. In some cases, schools use an existing, more traditional classroom to try out new technology, flexible furniture and other elements. In other cases, schools build a pilot classroom in a media center or another area of the school to explore movable walls and building materials or a larger, more open learning space.
What are schools evaluating?
The short answer is everything. That’s what makes the pilot classroom so powerful. Here are the common elements:
- Type and Arrangement of Furniture
Schools now have access to a variety of flexible seating options and it’s common to have a mix of seating in a classroom. Trying to determine the number of chairs and tables is no longer simple math. Pilot classrooms help schools determine the right product and mix that will work best for the learning environments they want to create. Teachers can evaluate different types of desk arrangements for students. Teachers and administrators sometimes find that they have overestimated the amount of furniture they needed or the product they thought they initially liked does not work as they expected. In one recent case, a district’s change to the mix of desks led to a savings of over $20,000.
Some element of technology is a component in almost every learning space. Schools try out everything from touch screen projectors and large screen monitors to the control systems that run the technology. Pilot classrooms allow schools to effectively evaluate integration and functionality. In both Sartell and St. Cloud, the schools explored different control systems to run the technology in the classroom and ended up choosing to set them up differently, based on their individualized parameters and goals. One size does not fit all.
- Layout and Size
In pilot classrooms, schools implement varying flexible learning environment designs or evaluate new teaching concepts like not having a set front to a classroom. In one case, a district explored the concept of giving every wall the flexibility to be the front, depending on the lesson, and installed monitors on each of the walls that groups of students could gather around and connect to for collaborative work.
- Better Utilization of Space
More than ever, districts are evaluating their space utilization and working to optimize use throughout the day. That requires some planning so teachers have easy access to the tools they need and feel comfortable in the space. Teachers can use the pilot classroom to evaluate the types of storage and furniture they need to maximize the utilization of the space.
What is a concept that your teachers want to evaluate?
From student seating and teacher stations to technology and building materials, schools are using pilot classrooms to explore new ideas, try different products and learn new ways to engage and relate to today’s students.