What would it take to have an extreme makeover for learning in your school? Schools that are focused on project-based learning and personalized learning face the challenge of providing students with a flexible environment that facilitates collaboration and creation. Our traditional classrooms with desks facing the front of the room are a reminder of the industrial age and this traditional setting can be a hindrance to learning. Where do you go when you want to learn something new or focus on a project? Think about your ideal learning experience. Does it involve sitting in a desk facing the front of a room? We shouldn’t expect our students to do their best work in an environment that doesn’t facilitate collaboration or movement.

When thinking about redesigning classroom space for learning, teachers face many challenges. Classroom space is limited and funding isn’t always available to purchase new furniture. There is also fear that students will be off task if they’re not visible to the teacher at all times. These challenges can be overcome by thinking differently about your space. Do you need all the desks? Are there other spaces in the school where students could work? Letting go of some control is key to getting started with a makeover.

In a recent workshop with David Bill from Notosh, David reminded our group that the learning experience defines the environment. We need to think about our users and design space that will accommodate their learning needs. What is the learning experience that you want for your students? Interview and survey your students to find out more about their learning needs. How do they learn best? Would they sit at a desk by choice? Use this information to brainstorm ways to improve their learning experience and then have students help you design classroom space to meet those needs.

Rapid prototyping will help you to redesign classroom space to meet the needs of your students. Look at your user profiles and get to work with craft materials to create a miniature classroom. Pick something from your new design to implement immediately. If you know that students need to have space for independent learning, use bookshelves or crates to make a private area for students. After implementing your new idea, observe and interview students to find out how they feel about the new space. Don’t worry if your first prototype is a failure. You haven’t done anything on a large scale yet and can easily make adjustments with your next iteration.


When you feel confident about your first attempt at designing space, keep on going. Add a new feature to your classroom and continue to ask students for feedback about the change. Once you’re on the right track, go for an extreme makeover. What would it look like if you moved everything out of your room and re-imagined your room for the learning that you want to occur? Would there be a front of the room? Do you need that big desk? Empty out your room and bring back the items that fit into the learning experience that you’ve designed. You may find that you don’t need desks for every student which will open up more space for collaboration.

By looking at your classroom through a new lens, you can redesign your classroom into a space that transforms the learning experience for your students. What will you do tomorrow?


A recent blog post, “Looking at the Numbers in Education: What Scales, Anyway” by Alex Hernandez, intrigued me. In the post, Alex talks about the things that scale in education and wonders if those solutions actually help students learn. He notes that “scale” is not good or bad but that we should define what we mean when we talk about scale. NCLB, textbooks and homework have reached the largest scale in education but we know those things aren’t having the biggest impact on student learning in our schools.

It’s the schools and districts that are trying many solutions, using data, and then scaling those initiatives across the organization that are getting results. A 10x solution for a district may come from putting five 1% ideas together in a remix that has a big impact. So how do we scale the right solutions in our schools and use data wisely to inform next steps?

Here are a few suggestions to get started:

  1. Ask the “why” about what you’re doing and focus on student learning while acknowledging from the beginning that no one solution will fix your challenges.
  2. Build a culture of innovation in your district to encourage teams to explore solutions to existing problems. Provide substitutes so that teams of teachers can get away for an extended time to collaborate. If possible, provide seed funding so that teams can purchase supplies, books and classroom resources.
  3. Use the design process to work with groups to explore multiple solutions for a problem. A great resource is Ewan McIntosh’s new book, “How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually Make Them Happen.” The Notosh design approach emphasizes finding the right problem to solve and using a variety of team activities to develop a solution that will bring the most value.
  4. Use the business model canvas to plan how you’re going to implement. The business model template can assist you in identifying all the necessary components of your plan.
  5. Try your solutions on a small scale with a first and second iteration. Rapid prototyping allows you to quickly deploy and receive feedback to inform your next steps.
  6. Gather quantitative and qualitative data and create a case study of the results to share with all stakeholders including your local school board and community partners. People will invest in your idea if they see the value.
  7. Use the “yes and” mindset to find ways to grow or pivot your initiative. We sometimes have too many “yes buts” in education. We use excuses like “we don’t have time,” “the administration won’t support it,” and “the students aren’t ready” to stall initiatives. When you discover a new challenge, brainstorm solutions that will allow your initiative to move forward and grow.

It’s very easy to continue the status quo in education by implementing programs on a large scale before discovering if your solution will have a positive impact on student learning.  By using the startup model, your organization can get to those results much more quickly. The rapid feedback process will help you to build a successful and lasting initiative that will scale across your organization.


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