Holt Think: Ed, Creativity, Tech, Administration

Apr 8

You Don’t Have to be Here to Present Here. Five Ways to Present Virtually

I just put out a Call for Presentation for a conference that will take place in El Paso in September 2014. This year for the first time, I am going to actively encourage that my out of town professional learning network members try to attend and present virtually.

I like the idea of having virtual presentations taking place at the same time that face to face presentations are happening. But where do you start? How do you present if your audience might be1000 miles away? Here is a short list of five possible ways to present in a virtual environment:

Skype/ Facetime:

Probably the first thing that most people think of when they get the idea that they could present virtually is to use Skype. Skype is great for allowing one to one presentations. You need to have a Skype premium account to do any type of document sharing.

There are simple ways to overcome the Skype for free limitations: Use Today’s Meet for the backchannel chat that both sides can access and if your conference does not have a place where files are stored online, set up a public Dropbox where they can access all of your materials.

If you have access to Apple equipment, you might consider FaceTime which I think has superior video and audio than Skype. Sadly, neither one of these can easily show your presentation if you have a Powerpoint or Keynote.


Webinars allow you to not only present virtually and live, but they also, in most cases, allow for slides, chats, video and more. We use Adobe Connect for a lot of our webinars and it is perfectly serviceable. (There are a lot of webinar packages available. You can host your own, or you can ask the conference organizers if they have access. Either way, webinar is a nice way to present virtually.

Most webinar software allows for recording, another feature that is great for conferences, especially if someone could not make it to your session. AND most allow you to embed handouts right in the webinar.

Prerecorded Video:

The first time I saw this was when David Warlick created a prerecorded Keynote address for the K12 Online Conference back in 2006.

It was not so much the content that he spoke, but how he did it that got my attention. He took his webcam with him all over the place and recorded his keynote. That showed me the power of being able to present from anywhere and at anytime. (I think back then he had to have a wired mic and his laptop in order to make the movie.)

Since then, there have been tons of tools created such as iMovie and lots of devices such as iPads and iPhones that really allow you to create a “keynote on the go.” You can record when the spirit moves you. Put it all together into a movie and send it off!

There are also lots of examples of how to make a prerecorded presentation as well. TED TALKS are probably the gold standard, but all you have to do is pretty much look at any pre-recorded keynote from the K12 Online days to get a good idea of how to do this.

Both Keynote and Powerpoint allow you to pre-record your presentation straight from the slideshows which is another option, especially of you have a slide-heavy presentation.

Video Conference:

If you are lucky enough to have access to high end video conference equipment, by all means use that! You have to make sure that the other end has the equipment as well, but a good VC set up can handle HD cameras, screen casts of your presentations, and usually have excellent audio as well. A good VC set up can make the audience think you are actually in the room, and the advantage is that you can actually interact almost face to face with your audience.

Google Hangouts

Perhaps the newest of the bunch is Google Hangouts. Google hangouts allows you to connect up to 10 connections at one time (if you are presenting this would make an awesome panel discussion!). I have done a couple of hangouts and they work pretty much as advertised.

Grab some friends and do a panel at a conference using hangouts.

A word of advice however: If you have handouts, you still have the same problem that you had with Skype and FaceTime. You will need to make them available via Dropbox of some other web site.

There you have it! If you want to present, you don’t actually HAVE to be there to do so! Consider presenting virtually. Ask the conference organizers if they would allow you to do so. If they are an ed tech conference, chances are they will. (And actually, pretty much any conference with a decent wifi set up should be able to handle a virtual presentation.

Why not start by trying it out at miniCAST 2014? You can present in El Paso Texas from your dining room in your pajamas and no one will be the wiser!

Here is the Call for Presenters:
Apr 7

Guiding the Design Process: The Holy Cross Learning Center in Perth Parts I-III

Peter C. Lippman, author of Evidence-Based Design of Elementary and Secondary Schools: A Responsive Approach to Creating Learning Environments graciously wrote a three part series on Guiding the Design Process in School. This series look at how he and his architectural team goes about doing a single project.

Even though the series looks at a single project, the idea of school design process applies to all educational facilities.

This is a fascinating look at how schools should be designed. Those of my readers that have been interested in The Third Teacher or the works of Prakash Nair will feel right at home reading these entries.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Guiding the Design Process: The Holy Cross College Early Learning Center in Perth (Part III)

I am honored to present to my readers Peter C. Lippman, author of EVIDENCE-BASED DESIGN OF ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOLS: A RESPONSIVE APPROACH TO CREATING LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS in multipart series. This is part three. Enjoy, and please come back for the entire series. —TBH

Part 1 Here

Part II Here

Peter C. Lippman

The Early Learning Centre at Holy Cross College in Ellenbrook, Perth

During the schematic design phase, EIW presented the concepts for creating breakout rooms, hollows, niches and nodes to Holy Cross College (HCC). Given that HCC welcomed these ideas, we were able to develop a parti that provided these activity settings. The parti for the plan was a pinwheel. This form connected the wings where the classrooms are located to the central multipurpose space (Fig. 12). Furthermore, the goal of the parti was to create spaces that would inspire, motivate, and transform the learners.

For this reason, this Early Learning Center learning was planned with settings:

  • of varying sizes to support the diverse ways that teaching and learning would occur;
  • which had more than a singular function; and
  • planned to encourage learners to negotiate themselves in space and manipulate the space(s) as they worked independently or cooperatively on a project; and
  • that would evolve in relationship to Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten and Grade 1 learners.

Classrooms/Learning Studios:

Building on these ideas, the learning studios were designed to support between 25-32 learners. Since these spaces had to support a variety of social groupings, fixed elements as well as moveable features (furniture, furnishings and equipment) were introduced into these spaces. Hence, the studio spaces were planned for six differentiated activity settings, which can expand and contract as needed to support the learners as they work on the task-at-hand.

Conceptually, the six activity settings were created for each room. These were: a block corner; a painting corner; an area for creative play, reading corner; science area, and reflective area. Whereas, built-in cabinetry was used to define the reading and block corners, a trough was placed near the toilet room (in the Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms) to create an art corner. Tack boards were placed over the cabinetry, and idea paint was used as a finish on different wall locations in the rooms. This feature is planned to encourage teachers and students to display and share their reflections and notions about the activities in which they were involved. Lastly, moveable tables, chairs, and soft seating were used to differentiate the areas between the corner settings (Fig. 13).

(Fig 13)

Salient Features of the Early Learning Centre—Sliding Doors, Corners, Breakout Spaces, Glazing, and Technology:

Sliding doors between classrooms and breakout spaces, which are lockable, were used rather than folding walls. The decision to use sliding doors was based on research; for, folding walls are neither user friendly nor do they offer the spontaneity of use that is often believed to be best practice (Lippman, 2013b; PEHKA, 2012). Furthermore, symbolically, doors reinforce notions about integration and differentiation; when open, they can connect spaces; when closed, they separate spaces. Sliding doors allow the teachers to take ownership of the spaces. Because they can easily open and close the doors, the teachers can choose, at any given time, how they want to use their spaces. Whereas folding walls when open eliminate corner activity settings, the sliding doors, whether open or closed, maintain these areas as work spaces (Fig. 14a & 14b).

( Fig 14 a) (fig 14 b)

Corners result from creating demising walls between spaces. They are defined areas, which have been utilised throughout the plan to afford as many potential breakout/activity settings as possible. Because these spaces provide refuge and prospect (Lippman, 2013b; 2010), learners are able to focus on the activity at hand, and are still able to view and hear what is going on around them. Hence, these specific features of the classrooms defined block building, reading, and painting, to name a few, while connecting the actions of the learners to everyone in the classroom (Fig. 15a & 15b).

(Fig 15 a) (fig 15 b)

Glazing was thoughtfully integrated throughout the school spaces. Along the exterior perimeter walls of the classrooms and breakout spaces, aluminium framed windows were used as a feature to provide natural light into the spaces. Furthermore, the sills were installed approximately two feet above the finished floor. This was done intentionally to provide a height that was suitable for this age group. Lastly, the height of the sills allows the children unimpeded visual access to the world beyond the walls of the centre (Fig. 16a & 16b).

(fig 16 a) (fig 16 b)

Not only was glazing used along the perimeter walls, but this element was introduced into the demising walls and sliding doors between the classrooms and the breakout spaces. By doing this, natural light streams in from the outside into the more interior breakout spaces and multi-purpose area. Glazing has been employed at varying heights to encourage learners to explore the world of the center from a variety of vantage points. This approach builds on the Reggio Emelia concepts that provide visual connections between the spaces (Lippman, 2010). This feature also personalizes the learning environment; for, no matter where you are in the centre the learner is in all ways connected to others (Lippman, 2010).

Lastly, becomes an informal teaching tool. Glazing provides a sense of safety; for, staff is able to view the transactions that are occurring between the spaces (Lippman, 2010). Furthermore, this feature becomes a modelling tool for the learners, since they can see into other spaces and view the accepted and preferred behaviour of their peers and teachers (Arndt, 2012). Hence, the glazing reinforces the culture of the learning environment. This not only encourages young children reinforces the culture of the place.

Technology is overlaid in these settings to support the activities. Classrooms and breakout areas feature LCD Screens (Lippman, 2013b; 2013b). In some breakout settings, there are moveable tables with chairs as well as soft seating and rugs located in front of them, while in other spaces fixed cabinetry has been built to encourage learners to use them (Fig. 17).

(fig 17) The Early Learning Center was planned with a variety of Breakout/Push Out Areas. We featured a breakout room, hollows, niches and a node (PEHKA, 2012). These spaces were realized as differentiated while at the same time integrated with one another. Furthermore, these spaces were understood as places that reinforce the learning that is occurring in the instructional spaces. Given this, these spaces were attached to the instructional spaces.
  • Located between the kindergarten classrooms is a breakout room. Currently, this breakout room features a round table with chairs, a LCD monitor and interior windows. These windows allow viewing into the Kindergartens. Furthermore, this room provides a place where staff can have scheduled meetings, where staff can meet with parents, and when needed a place where staff can meet with a learner or small group of learners (Fig. 18a & 18b). (fig 18 a) (fig 18 b)
  • Breakout Hollows were integrated into the built-in cabinetry. These features (holes) occur along the breakout niches (Fig. 19). (fig 19)
  • Rather than designing corridors linking the different learning studios, these spaces were also designed as Breakout Niches. Each breakout niches is connected to a classroom and are intended to promote opportunities for independent and small group activities. Separating the classrooms and the breakout niches are the sliding doors. When the doors are open, the breakout niches become part of the classroom; however, when the doors are closed these spaces are defined areas that can be used for specific student and teacher, student and student, as well as teacher and teacher activities. The defining features for each of these spaces are aluminium framed windows and doors along the perimeter walls, TV monitor, cabinetry (for sitting standing, leaning against, and climbing into) along the classroom wall, and the ceiling approximately 8’-0” (2400 mm) above the finished floor (Fig. 20a, 20b & 20c). (fig 20 a) (fig 20 b) (fig 20 c)
  • The Breakout Node is a multipurpose space. While it may be understood as a large gathering space, conceptually, it was planned with a variety of activity settings to support the different ways that people work. The concept was to design for the activities that will occur in the space eighty percent (80%) of the time rather than design the space for the twenty percent (20%) use. The defining feature of this space is the skylight (turret), TV monitor, cabinetry for performance and the storage for books, and a ceiling approximately 10’-0” (3000 mm) above the finished floor. Having a ceiling at this height provides a sense of place to this activity setting. If the ceiling had followed the rakings of the pitched roof this sense of place would have been lost (Fig. 21a & 21b).
(fig 21a) (fig 21b)


In addition to the features described, much attention was given for determining the most appropriate finishes. Rather than using bright primary colors, the team chose a more refined (subdues and restrained) approach for the interiors. Muted colors (blues and greens) were used to define areas in the classrooms. These were integrated in the vinyl floor and into the tackboards. Lighter color wood finishes were used for the cabinetry, the sliding doors and the vinyl flooring in the breakout nodes and niches. Lastly, the walls were painted white. The effect has been a building that is warm and bright. Teachers and students alike have taken ownership of the spaces by:

  • Arranging furniture to support the different activities that will occur daily;
  • Placing resources, tools, and books in the various shelving throughout the spaces; and
  • Finally, displaying learning tools and children’s work on the walls.

By taking this approach for the finishes, one of the goals of this project was to provide spaces where the building could be rediscovered in a variety of ways from different vantage points anytime throughout the day. Depending on the time of day, size, and age of the learners, they will be able pick-up different features of the spaces, resources and displays of their environment that might have always been available but had never been perceived (Gibson, 19XX). By exploring the spaces, learners develop a better understanding of their spaces. From a neuroscience perspective, the hope for these settings is that the stimuli will prompt them to explore their surroundings. From their transactions in the environment, elements will unfold and provide them with a new schema affording them knowledge and awareness of their settings. Hence, the building was designed to encourage brain development.

For us, creating this alternative learning environment which would motivate, inspire, and engage learners as well as stimulate brain development was a moral imperative. To do this, we recognized that the role of the design professional must evolve. We had to recognize the value for having a foundation in child development and learning theory. We made a point of understanding the actions that would occur routinely in the settings, and, finally, we needed to understand the culture and context of this place.

The Holy Cross College Early Learning Center in Ellenbroook, Perth offered us a unique opportunity to design this building as a vehicle for learning. This responsive approach is an architectural cultural shift in thinking, from making buildings to questioning the reasons for creating them. For this reason, our process begins with:
  • “Why are we creating this place?”
  • “What is the purpose of this place?
  • “Who will be using this place?”
Once these questions are answered, we can embark on the task-at-hand of creating a place that inspires learning.

End of Part III

References for Parts I-III

Arndt, P.A. (2012). Design of Learning Spaces: Emotional and Cognitive Effects of Learning Environments in Relation to Child Development. In Journal Compilation, International Mind, Brain, and Education Society and Blackwell Publishing, Inc. Volume 6, Number 1 (pp. 41-48).

Giangreco, M. F., Clonigner, C. J., Dennis, R. E. & Edelman, S. W. (1994). Problem solving methods to facilitate inclusive education. In J. S. Thousand, P. Villa & A. Nevin (Eds.), Creativity and collaborative learning: A practical guide to empowering students and teachers (pp. 321-348). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing, Co.

Greeno, J.G. (1998) The situativity of knowing, learning and research. In American Psychological Association, Inc. Volume 53 (1) No.1, 5-26.

Griffin, P., Belayva, A., Saldatova, G. & the Velikov-Hamburg Collective (1993). Creating and reconstituting contexts for educational interactions including a computer program. In E. Forman, N. Minick & C. A. Stone (Eds.). Contexts for learning: Sociocultural dynamics development (pp. 120-152). New York: Oxford.

Gibson, J.J. (1979)

Harper, G. F., Maheady, L. & Malette, B. (1994). The power of peer mediated instruction: How & why it promotes academic success for all students. In J. S. Thousand, P. Villa & A. Nevin (Eds.), Creativity and collaborative learning: A practical guide to empowering students and teachers (pp. 321-348). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing, Co.

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T. & Maruyama, G. (1984). Interdependence and interpersonal attraction among homogenous and heterogeneous classrooms. In N. Miller & M. B. Brewer (eds.). Groups in contact (pp. 187-213). New York: Academic Press.

Knowlton, D. S. (2000). A theoretical framework for the online classroom: a defense and delineation of a student-centered pedagogy. In, New Directions for Teaching and Learning. Principles of Effective Teaching in The Online Classroom, (Eds) R. E. Weiss, D.S.Knowlton, B.W. Speck. Vol. 84 (Winter): 5-22.

Lippman, P.C., Randall, R., & Turkes, S. (2014). Thinking outside the box. http://viewer.epaperflip.com/Viewer.aspx?docid=775ccad7-ced5-489b-af94-a2e000d68319.

Lippman, P. C. (2013a). Collaborative Space: Thoughtfully designed learning environments to help students work together more effectively (Part 1) http://online.qmags.com/TJL0113? sessionID=77E1C328BEE910DE5DF631F71&cid=2347860&eid=17935#pg32&mode1

Lippman, P. C. (2013b). Collaborative Space: Thoughtfully designed learning environments to help students work together more effectively (Part 2) http://www.qmags.com/R/?i=1548a0&e=2347854&doi=42329425&uk=2FE1161B162107DD1314460F111623D3542FF14BEB0.htm

Lippman, P. C. (2013c). Designing Collaborative Spaces. http://online.qmags.com/CPT0513?sessionID=A2489313BEEA9C741EFE5D411&cid=2347

Lippman, P. C. (2013b). Collaborative Space: Thoughtfully designed learning environments to help students work together more effectively (Part 2) http://www.qmags.com/R/?i=1548a0&e=2347854&doi=42329425&uk=2FE1161B162107DD1314460F111623D3542FF14BEB0.htm

Lippman, P. C. & Betz (2013). Driving Value in Tech-Rich Spaces. http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/stratton/learningbydesign_2013fall/index.php

Lippman, P. C. (2010). Evidence Based Design for Elementary and Secondary Schools: A responsive approach to creating learning environments. Hoboken, NJ, John Wiley & Sons.

Lippman, P. C. (1995) The Meanings of the Constructed Objects. Unpublished Manuscript. The Graduate Center, The City University of New York: New York.

Lippman, P. (1993, April) The buttressing of ideas. In Connect Magazine,Vol. 6, No. 7. 1-3.

Moll, L. C., Tapia, J, & Whitmore, K., (1993). Living knowledge: The social distribution of cultural resources for living. In G. Salomon (Ed.), Distributed Cognitions. New York: Cambridge University Press, (pp. 139-163).

PEHKA (2012). Unpublished Responsive Research Report. Projects for Environmental Health Knowledge and Action, inc. http://pehka.org/.

Proshansky, H.M. & Fabian, A.K. (1987). The development of place identity in the child. C. S. Weinstein & T. G. David (Eds.) Spaces for children. NY: Plenum, 21-39.

Proshansky, H.M. & Kaminoff, R.D. (1979). Environmental quality and developmental outcomes. M.J. Begab, H. Garber, & H.C. Haywood (Eds.). Prevention of retarded development in psychosocially disadvantage children. University Park Press.

Rivlin, L. (1975) Buildings for children. Paper prepared for the Conference Ecological Factors in Human Development, University of Surrey, England.

Slavin, R. (1983). Cooperative Learning. New York: Longman.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

It’s all about the narrative.

“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” - Indian Proverb

Have you been watching Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s excellent reboot of Carl Sagan’s classic television series Cosmos? If not, you should be. This is non-fiction television at its finest.

Every episode has a theme that is generously interspersed with the historical background of the topic. For instance, in one episode, A Sky Full of Ghosts, the host used animation and historical storytelling featuring Isaac Newton, William Herschel, Michael Faraday, and James Clerk Maxwell to explain how science came to understand the nature of black holes and how far light travels in a year, thus understanding how big the universe is and where we are in it.

William Herschel, the great English physicist, when asked if he believed in ghosts, explained to his son John, that the light we see from stars today are actually light of the stars from millions or billions of years ago. We are, he said, in fact, seeing ghosts of something that is no longer there.

The story is powerful. It is coded into our genes. We are a people of the story and our species is a species of storytellers; from the cave paintings El Castillo in Spain to The Grand Budapest Hotel to our family dinner table, we tell stories. And we learn from stories.

The producers and writers of Cosmos understand that story trumps facts and figures any day. Cosmos could have been a terribly boring retelling of science theory and formula. Instead, by weaving the story into the science, the concepts come alive. I bet you still remember what you just read about the ghosts of stars.

And the writers of Cosmos are not the only ones that know the power of the story in teaching science.

A 2010 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed an intimate connection between the brain activity of speakers and listeners in conversation, demonstrating how the brain of an engaged listener “syncs up” with a speaker. By engaging students with compelling stories that impart important material, teachers reach students both emotionally and biochemically, increasing the potential for rich learning experiences.” (source) A 2004 article from the Association for the Psychological Science broke down three reasons why storytelling in teaching is important:

  • Stories Provide a Structure for Remembering Course Material
  • Stories Are a Familiar and Accessible Form of Sharing Information
  • Telling a Story From Experience Can Create a More Personal Student-Teacher Connection

Yet the narrative is sadly missing from most teaching that we do. In our efforts to cover as much academic territory in as little a time as possible, we have thrown out or maybe even lost that trait that all of the great teachers of old had: storytelling.

So how do we get the story back into the teaching and learning? How can we make the connection to the future if we do not understand the past?

Roy C. Owens (1899-1973) in a speech to the Vancouver Club in 1958 said "We cannot know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve come from." That has been quoted many many times, most famously by JFK. We can only know where we come from if we know our story. We can only understand where we are today if we understand how we go here. The story is important. You cannot understand how you got to where you are without story.

I am not suggesting that we add the historical narrative to everything we teach. However, there is enough evidence to point out that the narrative is a superior way to get students understand concepts.

The narrative is a good way to make things “stick,” as the Heath Brothers would say. One of the six ways that they have for making an idea stay with someone was the Story.

In their companion piece "Teaching that Sticks," the Heath Brothers say “The stories don’t have to be dramatic, they don’t have to be captivating, and they don’t have to be entertaining. The story form does most of the heavy lifting—even a boring story will be stickier than a set of facts. And that’s comforting to a lot of us who don’t consider ourselves great storytellers or dramatists. Woody Allen said, “Ninety percent of life is just showing up,” and that seems to be true of storytelling. Ninety percent of the value is just trying.”

Authors as diverse as John Medina in Brain Rules and Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind understand that the story, or storytelling does something to the brain that tumors on multiple areas that all connect. Pink says “Story represents a pathway to understanding that doesn’t run through the left side of the brain.” The story stimulates all portions of the brain. The more neurons firing, the more learning taking place.

Doug Stevenson wrote in his blog about the relationship between brain science and storytelling: "Now is the time for leaders to become wisdom sharers – synthesizers – storytellers. Simply “getting through the content” is not only ineffective; it wastes everyone’s time. However, simply telling a story will not make you a better leader. It has to be the right story, crafted strategically to make the right point, delivered at the right time, and in a compelling way."

Change the word leader to teacher and you now understand how story becomes important in class. What is your story and how are you telling it in your classroom?

ON FILM: EPISD Digital Film Festival

Charles talks with Karen Wright-Balbier, Instructional Technology Specialists with the El Paso Independent School District, and coordinator of the EPISD Digital Film Festival. All students in Region 19 in grades K-12, regardless of district, are invited to submit 3-minute films for inclusion in the festival. Films can range from animation to documentary to instructional to a newscast. Learn more at http://episddigitalfilmfestival.weebly.com/. Selected films will be screened May 16 at Bowie High School, and the deadline to submit applications is April 18.

Pros and Cons of BYOD Infographic

Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

From the series I do called “10 in 10” here are 10 things an reader can do.

Just some of the many uses for mind mapping software.

Apr 6
If charter schools are allowed to push out existing public schools, they should, at the very least, be subject to the same accountability measures for enrollment, attrition and disciplinary procedures, to ensure that the neediest students are being treated fairly.-Gabor

Charter School Refugees

If charter schools are allowed to push out existing public schools, they should, at the very least, be subject to the same accountability measures for enrollment, attrition and disciplinary procedures, to ensure that the neediest students are being treated fairly.-Gabor

Charter School Refugees

(Source: recitethis.com)

Call for Presentations is now open.

Call for Presentations is now open.

Apr 4
Does the web resource pass the CRAAP test? Nice tool to test a website for use in class. 

Click here for a PDF version.

Does the web resource pass the CRAAP test? Nice tool to test a website for use in class.

Click here for a PDF version.

Apr 2

Guiding the Design Process: The Holy Cross College Early Learning Center in Perth (Part II)

I am honored to present to my readers Peter C. Lippman, author of EVIDENCE-BASED DESIGN OF ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOLS: A RESPONSIVE APPROACH TO CREATING LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS in multipart series. This is part one. Enjoy, and please come back for the entire series. —TBH

Peter C. Lippman

Research on School Design

This research from the early 1990s informed and influenced my thinking about the design of place. Therefore, Practice Theory became the framework for guiding my design process; for, Practice Theory recognizes that both the learning environment and the learner are active. The actions of the learner influence the learning environment and the learning environment, the social and physical, in turn, transform the learner. Building on this perspective, the designer must consider the situations that take place in the learning environment. Once the actions are considered, activity settings can be thoughtfully incorporated into the design (Lippman, 2010).

Examples of elementary school buildings that best connected these ideas, for me, are:

  • The Montessori School in Delft designed by Herman Hertzberger;
  • The Apollo Montessori School designed by Herman Hertzberger; The Prototype Schools in Lincoln Nebraska (Maxi, Cavett, Campbell and Roper) designed by The Architectural Partnership;
  • The Community Charter School In Paterson New Jersey by Design Ideas Group (Fig. 5); and
  • The Gateway Schools in New York City designed by AB Studio (Fig. 6).

(Fig 5)

(Fig 6)

Each of these precedents was designed with activity settings adjacent to the classroom spaces. These activity settings are generally organized around a larger disruptive element. This disruptive element, sometimes a grand stair, supports these activity settings. While the grand stair provides a place where learners can gather in smaller and/or large social groupings, this element also affords activity setting around it where learners can work independently or meet in smaller social groupings. In addition, these spaces have been designed with fixed cabinetry that informs learners how these smaller spaces might be used. Hence, these projects suggest that the designers investigated how the spaces might be used by the learning community and then planned them to support the intended activities.

Research on Learning Environments

Since my work in the 1990s with the elementary school, I have primarily worked as an educational facility planner. As a planner I have also participated in other research projects that reinforce the ideas about spatial design. These ideas have led to the development of a theoretical perspective on spatial design. This perspective recognizes that the spatial design of learning environments is composed of connected and differentiated learning zones/activity settings. Generally, teachers/facilitators control how the furniture and equipment in the room is arranged. Activity settings can be created to support independent, one-to-one, small group and large groupings. This, however, is not generally the case with the areas outside the instructional spaces.

These spaces take the forms of corridors and/or are organized around common open central spaces. In either case, the spatial design of these areas is disconnected from the activities that occur in the instructional spaces. The reason for this is that:

  • Corridors and are designed with a singular purpose which allows learners to move between instructional spaces (Lippman 2010); and
  • Large central, open, and common spaces, on the other hand, are programmed to support multiple activities. Generally, this approach has greater limitations. The limitations are governed by the need to support too many activities with no areas clearly articulated or defined. Furthermore, the design relies on the placement of furniture in the space to assist the learners, rather than differentiated activity settings associated with specific classrooms. Furthermore, this approach for creating common shared spaces does not consider the applicability or practicality of unfixed or loose furniture in the setting; for, it either is removed or requires oversight to support the diverse actions that can occur simultaneously. The open spaces become compromised, because it cannot be designed to support independent, one-to-one, small group and large group gatherings. Unfortunately, it is unsuccessful as multi-purpose area; for, it, essentially, becomes a space that supports a singular activity. Generally, this function is for having large group meetings. This singularity of function becomes ineffective for extending learning beyond the instructional spaces.

Building on the research, these singular function and, essentially, disconnected spaces must be rethought (Lippman &Betz, 2013). To become effective and offer opportunities for optimal learning experiences outside the classroom, these spaces must be purposefully designed to encourage independent, one-to-one and small social groupings (Lippman, 2014; 2013a; 2013b; 2013c; PEHKA, 2012). First and foremost, connect instructional spaces to differentiated push out/breakout areas.

While these may be viewed as disruptive to the larger common space, these zones, in fact, assist the learning process. By creating these activity settings attached to instructional spaces, teachers and students alike will develop a sense of ownership for them and as such will be comfortable knowing they can extend learning opportunities outside the confines of the classroom. Hence, these settings assist the educators, who can at any time allow small group work to occur outside the room during scheduled class time (PEHKA, 2012). Furthermore, to encourage the use of these places, they can be arranged with fixed elements (cabinetry—seating and/or countertops) and movable tables and seating to support independent, one-to-one, or small social groupings of 3-6 students (Fig. 7).

(Fig 7)

Based on the findings from my research, the following concepts for collaborative spaces outside the classroom were developed:

  • Breakout Rooms;
  • Breakout Hollows;
  • Breakout Niches; and
  • Breakout Nodes (Lippman 2014; 2013a; PEHKA, 2012).

Breakout Rooms:

These activity settings may be described as small meeting rooms. They are private and are generally planned to support 1-6 learners. These spaces can support independent, one-one-one and cooperative social groupings. Additionally, these meeting rooms may have glass walls and maybe furnished with moveable chairs, a table, TV monitors, and vertical writing/display surfaces (Fig. 8).

(Fig 8)

Breakout Hollows:

These are semi-private settings that support activities for 1-3 people. Basically, they are push-out zones that are connected to classroom spaces. These learning zones may be openings in walls, along corridors, outside classrooms, within the instructional spaces and waiting areas. These spaces may be built-in cabinetry planned to support self-directed and cooperative learning activities. Additionally these spaces may include TV monitors, and vertical writing/display surfaces. Lastly, these settings allow learners to revisit and extend their activities during scheduled and unscheduled periods (Fig. 9a and 9b).

(Fig 9A and 9B)

Breakout Niches:

These are semi-public settings that are designed to provide opportunities for formal and informal spontaneous interchanges. Learners can work independently as well as in small groups. Furthermore, these spaces provide opportunities for a few small social groupings to work simultaneously adjacent to one another. Furthermore, these activity settings may be recesses/alcoves/corners at intersections in hallways and are furnished with both fixed cabinetry seating and countertops, moveable seating, TV monitors, and vertical writing/display surfaces. Since the furniture can be moved, this means it can be re-arranged immediately. Hence, a social group can expand or contract their activity setting depending on their activities (Fig. 10).

(Fig 10)

Breakout Nodes:

These are public areas that encourage a range of organized and spontaneous interchanges. This type of space promotes opportunities for independent, one-to-one, small group and large group transactions to occur simultaneously. These spaces might include a sunken floor under a grand stair. Essentially, this type of space is a salient feature of the setting around which are breakout rooms, niches, and hollows. Given that these spaces can be used formally, consideration should be made to outfit them with the suitable technologies such as sound systems, TV monitors, and vertical writing/display surfaces (Fig. 11).

End of Part II

Part 1 here