Gone are the days when one teacher would stand in front of a blackboard and speak to a sea of students seated behind individual lift-top desks. These days, classrooms revolve around ‘flexible learning’ which is reflected in how the classroom works, what it looks like and how children learn.
Innovative Learning Environments
The Ministry of Education calls these ‘innovative learning environments’, or ILEs. These are flexible learning spaces that use the ‘right acoustics, lighting, technology, heating and air quality to support learning’. Classrooms can be moved around easily depending on what’s being taught and what the kids are doing, and the concept works for the traditional single-teacher / whole-class teaching technique right through to the increasingly popular multiple-teacher / multiple-classes teaching technique.
What Design of the Average ILE Looks Like
Step into an ILE and you’ll immediately notice the absence of desks. Rooms are split into learning hubs that encourage creative learning in a way that suits a particular child. Kids might work around tables or sit on casual seating like benches or bean bags, while others might choose to take their work into a more private spot. Desks haven’t been completely outlawed though; they’re still available if kids want them.
Learning in Numbers
It’s becoming increasingly common for classrooms to be the home away from home for significantly more children than, say, 15 years ago. While you might have had 25 students and one teacher in your classroom when you were at school, these days you could expect the average classroom to house 60-90 children and 3-5 teachers. Obviously, rooms are much bigger and children are encouraged to take a more self-directed approach with their learning. Teachers collaborate and roam their classroom to assist with children on a more intimate level when required.
There is mixed feedback from parents and students about this model. Some relish the independence while others worry that kids could slip through the cracks. More teachers in a space with more children are said to help them group more effectively, provide a larger skill base and enable more inter-staff learning. Conversely, students with learning difficulties might not get the one-on-one attention they need, smart kids might not be challenged enough, and ‘at-standard’ kids might not actually be achieving.
Schools Merging into ‘Co-Locations’
Some schools are taking modern learning an extra step by joining forces. Earlier this year the designs for a combined Christchurch secondary school were released and the 11.5-hectare campus is set to open in time for term two in 2019. Birthed out of a necessity created by the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, the combined Avonside Girls’ High School and Shirley Boys’ High School will effectively continue to operate independently but share their state-of-the-art facilities including an electronics lab, a 2D and 3D printing room, science lab, fitness centre, library, café and commercial teaching kitchen. The schools’ 750-seat performing arts centre and 100-seat theatre will be available for community use too.
Of course, education doesn’t stop at the end of high school. More than 400,000 tertiary students attend eight universities and a number of other tertiary institutions throughout New Zealand. Spaces are becoming less about being taught to and more about being taught alongside. This is reflected in smaller, more interactive learning environments that enable students to learn more directly through the likes of labs and tutorials. That’s not to say that large-scale auditorium-type teaching has fallen by the wayside; most students learn using a combination of the two styles. Plus, with libraries becoming much bigger, broader and technologically-integrated, 21st-century universities in New Zealand are leaning more towards equipping the modern employee.
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