Glenbrook team explores new learning spaces

Close your eyes and remember your high school classroom. What did it look like? How did it make you feel? What types of experiences did it encourage? Did it foster or suppress collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and engagement? Did it encourage or discourage focus, mindfulness, movement? And let’s not forget comfort. Imagine your comfort level in that environment for today’s 90-minute blocks?

Now, hear from today’s students and teachers about the current classrooms:

  • “It’s not creative. It’s boring, uncomfortable, and old-fashioned,” said a Glenbrook South student. “Our classrooms should be something where we can look around and be inspired by the way that we are surrounded.”

  • “As a teacher I feel as though the environment affects as much as how I teach as well as how students learn,” said a Glenbrook South teacher.

  • “The environment is a crucial element that is often overlooked. If you want to encapsulate a beneficial learning experience, the classroom environment and community comes first. It helps engage student and movement is important. The way the classroom [space] is setup and changed throughout a class period… is yet another element of teaching that could really harness student potential and growth,” said a Glenbrook North student.

  • “The resources in the classroom, including the furniture, determine the limits of what is possible,” said a Glenbrook North teacher.
In many schools, including GBN and GBS, the look and feel of classrooms haven’t changed much in past decades despite a shift in the experiences our teachers work to create daily.  
Today, the thought behind a classroom as just furniture has started to shift. From the design, layout, furniture, vertical wall space and color, there is a growing recognition that the use of space is a tool that directly impacts student learning and well-being. 
“This is a significant district initiative that has great potential to impact student learning and well-being,” said Superintendent Dr. Mike Riggle. “Transforming our current classrooms into learning spaces will help us take our student experience to the next level.”
But, what exactly is a learning space? This is where our study begins.

The Learning Space Expedition Team, a diverse group of teachers and administrators, spent the summer and fall researching the impact of spaces, neuroscience, ergonomics, design, color, and biophilia on student learning and well-being. The purpose of this team was to provide guidance in the design of new classroom prototypes that will be tested during the spring semester.
The team started by identifying five significant instructional drivers and six well-being dimensions to help guide the design process. Each draft prototype was assessed on its ability to reflect the following goals:
Instructional Priorities

The space:
  • Supports teachers in student-centric environments that reflect how students want to learn
  • Encourages peer-to-peer teaching and learning
  • Provides for student and faculty comfort
  • Inspires the free exchange of ideas
  • Supports diverse learning styles 

Well-Being Priorities

The space:

  • Optimism - Allows choice and control over where and how people work
  • Mindfulness - Designs for calm using materials, textures, colors, lighting and views
  • Authenticity - Creates informal, non-constricting spaces
  • Belonging - Designs individual and team spaces that are welcoming and inviting
  • Meaning - Leverages vertical space to make thinking visible
  • Vitality - Promotes movement. Build for range of sizes, needs and preferences

Three distinct classroom design prototypes were selected by the team. The first week of March, eight classrooms will be fully redesigned spaces for students and teachers to begin testing the impact on the learning and well-being. The study will conclude June 8 with recommendations on final classroom learning space designs based upon feedback from students and teachers.

Glenbrook team explores new learning spaces