Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Space Matters

Our new team visited Columbus Signature Academy a New Tech school in Indiana this week. I want to reflect on some of the amazing things we saw there.

The first thing I noticed was the architecture. We almost drove past the building because it is a fairly small storefront building with a small sign attached. As soon as we walked in we could see that it was much larger than it looked from the outside and continued down a long hallway back from the front. Turns out it is a converted warehouse which you can see in a 2 minute video here 

The design was modern with exposed ceilings in the hallways. The classrooms all had large glass panels on the interior walls so you could easily observe any of them. Some of them even had the complete walls made out of glass. 

They were designed large enough to house 50 students and 2 facilitators. Most of the furniture was on wheels so any room can easily be reconfigured for any purpose.

The hallways were spacious with numerous meeting spaces for students like you might find at a restaurant or coffee shop. 

Students were working independently or in groups everywhere. You had to really search to find the facilitators (teachers). Students were busy and engrossed in their learning.  I think this space really speaks to the values of this school.

They believe in transparent learning that is shared openly with the community so nothing is hidden. 

They assume students will be responsible so they trust them with varied spaces rather than controlling them in rigid classrooms. Students have to prove that they are irresponsible rather than vice-versa.

There were less rules and more principles of responsibility such as this sign encouraging appropriate gum-chewing.

In the large class above students were practicing debate with topics such as Trix vs. Coco Puffs and Oatmeal Creampies vs. Swiss Rolls. At the end of class all of the students put all of the furniture back in its "regular" position with zero instructions from the facilitators. Students take care of their school because it is theirs. Every space has behavior expectations created by students even bathrooms!

Anyone entering this school could immediately "feel" that this school was different from a traditional school by its design. It is also obvious that the students and staff embrace it to become motivated learners in their group projects. The design fits the emphasis of collaborative problem solving.

To top it off my principal told us that this is what our school will look like. It is being re-modeled currently and I have seen the prints but have not been in the building yet. 

Does what your school looks like represent / accommodate / facilitate / encourage student learning?
Most of us do not get the opportunity to design a school, but how can you re-design your classroom so that it is student-focused and student-friendly?

Part II of this visit about the students is posted at the TeachPaperless blog.


  1. This is the stuff I saw down in Indiana. This is really cool and I'm excited for you Mike.

  2. Mr. Kaechele,
    I am a student in Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama. I have always liked the idea of Technical Schools, and I wish we had more of them. I too liked the open idea and the setup they have that encourages student learning and creativity. You can find more comments on this at my EDM 310 class blog.

  3. Thanks Greg, we'll keep in touch.

    Thanks Lee for stopping by.

  4. Mike - Thanks for sharing your thoughts on your visit. I was just talking with a colleague about the difference environment makes in our learning environments.

    Even more important is how we need to default to trust our kids to do the right things versus build systems with inherent distrust.

    Building positive messages, as you illustrated, goes a long way to ensuring that school feels more like a place to learn - a learning environment - versus just a warehouse full of kids.

  5. I am going to be the technology teacher at a New Tech High School in South Bend, IN. We are beginning with 100 freshmen this fall. Our team of teachers are looking forward to this adventure. We are visiting a New Tech Academy at Wayne HS this week.