- I learned that children choose themselves where they want to work on an assignment. For example, a child chooses whether he / she wants to work / learn at a single table or at a 2-person table. During a learning period of about 1.5 hours, I saw more students changing places – shifting between work at a single table and work at a 2-person table.
- During the math assignment “36 + 28”, I observed that children used methods of their own choice. For example, one student used the method 36 + 30 – 2. Other students used other methods with which they felt more safe.
- During a reading task, I noticed that children read in books of their own choice. For example, one child read a Lucky Luke book, while another child was reading a Guinness world records book.
- A parent told me that her children find learning materials / education materials themselves on the Internet. For example, a parent explained that her children found learning materials on YouTube made by people, who live in Australia, and experienced that these learning materials helped them understand a particular topic well.
- From one teacher, I learned by observing how she does classroom management that changing between tasks helped children stay motivated. During one learning period, which had a duration of about 1.5 hours, the teacher changed relatively rapidly between work on math, geography as well as reading, speaking, writing, and singing in German and English.
- Observing how a teacher educates, I learned that mixing up work on various subjects with movement exercises such as walking through the room, stretching and clapping rhythms that the children repeated helped the children to concentrate.
- I noticed that ringing a bell helped a teacher to create silence and create awareness among students that a new task is coming up.
- From one teacher, I spoke with in the morning, I learned that she is – together with students – testing / trying out different kinds of learning environment design. For example, I noticed that there were both single tables, 2-person tables and 4-person tables in the room. Also, there was a free space in the middle of the room for everyone to come together.
- I learned that room dividers such as book shelves and things attached to and hanging down from the ceiling helped children to concentrate.
# 4: Teachers and students ask questions to and help each other
- I learned that questions asked both by teachers and students triggered some highly valuable discussions as well as reflections among everyone. For example, when a teacher asked the question “How is it possible that it can snow in St. Moritz and during the same period of time not snow in Zürich?”, there was significant thinking and discussion activity going on. This and other questions asked by the teacher as well as by students was, to me, a highlight of the learning sessions I participated at during during open school day.
- During an individual assignment, I noticed that when there was a problem / challenge / task, which children had difficulty finding a solution to, he or she asked questions to a teacher or to another student. It was wonderful to see how everyone wanted to help each other to learn.
- During more learning periods, I noticed that one teacher helped out coaching a couple of children who needed help, while the other teacher was helping other children in the same room. I learned that the coaching done by an assistant teacher helped everyone – including the person wanting coaching, the other children, the lead teacher as well as parents.
- In a highly interesting conversation with a very experienced teacher, the teacher explained she is learning that work using various social media / platforms / artificial intelligence is replacing craftsman work with physical materials such as knitting. For example, drawing tasks using AI tools such as this is more interesting for children, for example because they are given constant feedback from technologies.
- It surprised me that a relatively large amount of work / learning was done using paper, pencil and physical books – and that relatively little work / learning was done using Internet / tablet / smartphone / laptop and / or other technologies.
- I saw no children with smartphones / tablets or other mobile, electronic devices.
- There was no open wlan / wifi available.
# 6: An additional short story
A grandmother, who was at open school day with her grandson, told me a story from when she was young. She explained to me that when she was young, practically all children had lunch with their families at home. Reflecting on that time, she realized that it was possible for example because families had home based businesses such as farms and/or because grandparents cooked lunch for the grandchildren.
Testing a swing at Herrenberg, Bergdietikon near Zürich in Switzerland triggered this question in my mind: If you place a swing in an office environment, how will it affect the working culture? Judging from feedback I have gotten in projects related to workspace development, a relatively simple initiative like this can help move a culture towards values such as play, creativity, openness, testing / experimenting and collaboration.
Visiting the Umweltarena in Spreitenbach just outside Zürich, I learned a lot testing various products and services. Top experiences: Testing a segway and a Renault Zoe. The home made cream soup in the climate restaurant tasted very well. The saying on the last slide “Zwischen Reden und Tun liegt das Meer” means “Between talking and doing is the sea.”
Additional research added / included in this blog posting.
What are examples of advice for architects / designers of better learning environments?
- Pages 13, 29 and 123: It is important that architects work on discovering needs users have and involve users in creating / designing learning landscapes that meet the needs of users. To involve users, workshops and various social media platforms can be used.
- Page 17: Use relevant designs and colors, so students will love their learning environments / school buildings. Create / develop school building façades in ways that make them become interaction partners for people.
- Page 24: Create green areas, cafes, babbling brooks, theatre rooms, libraries and versatile rooms that are comfortable for people to work / learn in.
- Page 26: Natural wood usually appears warmer than glass and steel. In addition, the wall colors red and or yellow appear warm, blue and white or gray rather cold. Plants, curtains, carpets and furniture also help create a warm environment.
- Page 64: Encourage people to use their own electronic devices and decide where they want to learn. That creates ownership which is important.
- Page 76: Place a “wonder tree” in a central location at the school / university. Invite all students and teachers to “hang up” questions and answers to questions in the tree.
- Page 103-104: Learning strategies and teaching methods suggest the need for a new form of learning environment characterized by both individual and small-group activities in different physical locations using different media.
- Page 105: Ideas by students and teachers from a school design challenge included a more colorful environment, extensive use of the outdoors and garden areas, space for tutors and an environment that was open and inviting.
- Page 106: An “L” shaped room provide flexibility for teachers in managing space and setting up learning centers. It is also useful for allowing a variety of teaching methods – including team teaching and encouraging small groups to work independently. An “L” shaped room also encourages increased teacher movement resulting in more teacher- student contact, more positive student attitude and enhanced learning.
- Page 116: Flexibility is increasingly important. Use, for example, furniture that can easily be moved around and combined in new ways. Also use mobile walls / whiteboards.
- Page 129-131 Think of the school as a small city and the city as a big school. Open up the school to the community. Invite people across communities to learn with students and teachers.
- Page 148: Reduce noise in rooms, for example by placing noise reduction panels on walls and ceilings.
Does it pay off to invest in the development of learning spaces?
- Page 27: Coloring, lighting, air quality, sound quality, furniture and food supply significantly impact moods, well-being and learning performance of people.
- Pages 28 and 123: Studies show that school environments, which have been positively experienced by students – including architecture, coloring, schoolyard design, decorations etc. – are associated with less school-vandalistic activities.
- Page 28: Classrooms with windows and “warm” lighting lower the rate of illness of learners.
- Page 33: Variety, flexibility and open learning spaces are assumed to afford individualized or student-centered practice.
- Page 43: Teachers view spacious rooms, digital projectors and flexibility as important to improve teaching.
- Page 55: Beautifully designed rooms have positive effects on attention and the feeling of group affiliation, thus facilitating participation.
- Page 56: When a teacher plans and arranges the design of tables and chairs prior to a learning event, he / she can facilitate individual work and / or work in groups – thereby increasing learning efficiency.
- Page 117: A building, which is not rectangular, does not cost more than a rectangular building. The important question is how creatively search for new solutions.
Earlier this year, I participated – along with many other people from across the world – in the very interesting and highly interactive learning initiative The active citizen in a digital age. Finding the topic strongly relevant for increasing the quality of our lives, I searched for possibilities to learn more about how digitization changes democracies.
Participating at this event, for example, I learned more about the growth of open organizations. As I understood it, the growth of open organizations is being fueled by several exciting technologies – including social media and other platforms on which people can learn from each other. At this event, I discovered that there is a large potential to involve more people to develop and communicate ideas on all kinds of topics as well as vote for / select which ideas to test / try out. In this regard, I learned by participating at this event that Internet voting has a high approval rate among people, and that pilot tests are being done.
Reflecting on the events / learning challenges mentioned above, there are more initiatives which I find very useful. For example, I experience it as a value adding initiative that learning events are open for everyone – meaning that external people have the possibility to participate / get involved / contribute. Also, I find it helpful that social media are being put into service, for example by using hashtags such as this one. I experience that using hashtags can help people to learn from / with each other.
Thinking about other initiatives that could be beneficial for involving people more before, during and/or after a learning event – and thereby strengthen the learning experience – I came to think of these three ideas:
Idea # 1
What about making Internet access open to everyone? In several spaces, I experience it is uncomplicated for people to access the Internet. At facilities of the Zürich University of Teacher Education, for example, I experienced that to get access to the Internet, you simply enter your mobile phone number on the start page and then enter the code you receive via sms. And at train stations across Switzerland, I experienced that getting access to the Internet is even more uncomplicated. Once you connect to the relevant wi-fi network under settings / connections / wi-fi on your mobile electronic device, you are online.
Idea # 2
What about using the poll functionality on Twitter to ask event participants to vote on various topics related to the particular learning event?
Idea # 3
During a learning event, what if the moderator facilitates / moderates one or more exercises among event participants? Here is an example of a short 2-person exercise example that the moderator could initiate when an invited expert has spoken for about 20 minutes: “Please turn to the person sitting next to you. During the next 3 minutes, please share with each other what is important to each of you in what has just been presented.” After this 3 minute chat exercise in 2-person groups, the expert continues her / his presentation.
Additional event exercises: