This semester, students and teachers at The Glenbrooks are beta-testing three innovative classroom designs that will dramatically impact the high school learning experience for years to come.
During the first week of March, D225 administrators unveiled a total of eight new classrooms – four at GBN and four at GBS – each constructed using one of three design prototypes across four subjects, including math, language arts, social studies and world languages. Students and teachers will begin testing the redesigned spaces to assess their impact on learning and wellbeing.
The prototype- testing period will conclude June 8, when recommendations on final classroom learning space designs will be delivered to D225 administrators based upon feedback from participating students and teachers. The new classroom designs would then be rolled out across a broad spectrum of academic disciplines over the course of three years.
“This type of redesign is happening across all industries, not just education,” said Ryan Bretag, Director of Instructional Innovation for District 225.
When Glenbrook North High School first opened its doors to students in 1953, followed nine years later by Glenbrook South, standard high school classrooms across the United States were built in the classic 6 x 5 grid: five rows of six desks.
“Teachers were positioned at the front of the classroom where information was delivered to students to consume,” said Bretag. “Today’s schools are now shifting to a different learning model. Classrooms are highly collaborative… they’re more student centric, active and engaging.”
According to Bretag, high school curriculums and student learning experiences are vastly different than they were sixty years ago, and yet the look and feel of the classroom has remained static.
“We’re not looking to take the 1950’s classroom and create a newer version of that model,” said Bretag. “You’re not going to see thirty of the same chairs with thirty of the same desks.”
Rapid advances in digital technology also require that today’s high school students prepare for a future that’s difficult to predict.
“Technology is another layer… another facet,” said Bretag. “We need to be flexible and agile.”
The project is being led by D225’s Learning Space Expedition Team, comprised of a diverse group of teachers and administrators, which spent the summer and fall of 2017 researching the impact of spaces, neuroscience, ergonomics, design, color, and biophilia, on student learning and wellbeing.
“This has been a two year process, “ said Bretag. “The Team has been working within the two high school buildings to select the four test departments as well as a group of teachers who were willing to take this journey.”
The Team ultimately identified two design objectives: meaningful learning and student wellbeing.
Each draft prototype was designed around identifiable learning goals, including supporting a student-centric learning environment; encouraging peer-to-peer teaching and learning; accommodating diverse learning styles; and inspiring the free exchange of ideas.
Student wellbeing also played a large role in the conception and design of new classroom prototypes. The new classroom configurations, said Bretag, will allow choice for where and how students work over the course of a 90-minute block.
“Each academic department will have different spaces with different experiences,” said Bretag. “You may even see multiple types of learning spaces within the same classroom.”
The new classrooms will incorporate materials, textures, colors, lighting and views that encourage calm, welcoming, individual and team spaces that promote movement and “make thinking visible.”
The eight fully redesigned prototype classrooms are already making an impact, just one week into the testing period.
“We had one student walk in, look around and say, ‘This looks just like Google… we’re just missing a slide,’” said Bretag.