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Innovation in the Space of School David Jakes Blog Graphic link in bio

Innovation in the Space of School

David Jakes

When I taught Biology, I learned quickly that using visuals during instruction positively impacted student learning.  In 1986, that meant taking photographs from a textbook, sending them to be developed as slides, and then using them in a slide projector.  The process took several weeks.  Today, a similar approach could be done in a prep period.  When I got my first laserdisc, which gave me access to thousands of images, including videos, my use of images in instruction dramatically increased, and the access to videos gave me new options to design experiences for kids.

The laser disc improved what I did, enabling me to step into new innovative methodologies with video that weren’t possible before.  The laserdisc enabled me to improve my process, and it enabled me to be innovative and use media in ways that I hadn’t before.

To me, innovative approaches in education create new conditions for teachers and students to thrive.  There are other interpretations, and you most likely have your own.  

A part of my work with schools is to help them reimagine the things they see daily and create interesting and new approaches to using learning spaces.  Sometimes, they are simple improvements but sometimes, they represent innovative new ways to approach how teachers work with students and how kids learn. 

Here are several examples of design strategies for learning spaces that encourage improvement and innovation.

Kindergarten storytelling:  Every kindergarten class I have been in has a rug in the front of the classroom. During storytelling time, children sit attentively, often at spots designated by their teacher, while stories are read to them by the teacher. Now, envision transforming this familiar scene by introducing Fomcore’s Lily Pads and Lil Explorer furniture. These blocks invite children to design their gathering spaces, turning a simple rug into a creative canvas. By integrating such flexible, modular elements, teachers can encourage kids to explore personal and shared space and empower them to craft on-demand environments tailored to their learning activities. This approach shifts a key aspect of the classroom dynamic from teacher-directed to student-centered, fostering a sense of ownership and autonomy from an early age. In doing so, teachers can lay the groundwork for students to recognize and value their ability to influence their surroundings, an essential step in nurturing innovative thinkers and proactive learners.

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The classroom teacher's presence:  most classrooms still contain the traditional teacher desk in the front of the classroom, along with many file cabinets, technology equipment, storage, and other things.  It’s been my experience that teachers typically take up ⅓ of the available classroom space.  What if we recaptured that space for other purposes by reimagining how the teacher interacted in the classroom?  What if the teacher’s space, like other spaces in the classroom, could shift and be reshaped according to a particular need associated with teaching and learning?  What if teachers could connect from anywhere in the classroom to the technology display, eliminating tethering at the front of the space?  How would the answers to these questions improve how teachers interacted with students, and what new conditions could be created by shifting a static teacher zone into a flexible and responsive presence that supports student engagement and learning?

Flexibility and agility of furniture:  In the schools I visit, I still see classrooms with rows of uncomfortable steel-frame desks, a front of the classroom, and a teacher's desk with a laptop connected to an interactive display.  When asked, teachers admit that the space rarely changes.  It’s not their fault; the desks are heavy, cumbersome, and difficult to move.

Adding furniture that encourages classroom flexibility and agility is a first step in helping teachers rethink the relationship between space and learning.  What happens to the learning experience when the environment can now assume five to six different configurations, all supporting a different instructional need?  What happens when the space can be reshaped within a 50-minute class period?  What happens when students reshape the space according to their needs?  What would happen if the space was filled with different furniture resources and students used these to build their own classroom in the moment?  Such a design would improve the conditions of the current classroom and likely generate new and creative ways to link space, pedagogy, and learning together.

Creating new conditions for teaching and learning is a balance between improvement and innovation.  Focusing on improvement can mean fixing something that is not working or honoring something that does by making it even better.  Creating new conditions in schools, such as new classrooms with enhanced capabilities, opens the door for teachers to think creatively.  There is no shortage of good ideas in schools. With the right approaches and resources, focusing on improvement and innovation becomes a powerful combination for advancing the experience that teachers and schools offer.

David Jakes

David Jakes’ career as an educational designer has been influenced by the variety of roles and positions that he has held over 35 years. As a classroom science teacher, David developed a deep understanding of teaching and learning that has served as a foundation for his entire professional life. As a school administrator, David provided leadership on a wide variety of school opportunities and issues, including the application of educational technology to the school experience. During his time as an educator, David developed an interest in design and learning spaces and joined The Third Teacher+ Design Studio of CannonDesign, an international design firm. David served as a digital learning strategist and had an opportunity to work across the United States on a variety of K-12 and higher education design projects, all in the service of designing contemporary spaces for teaching and learning. Today, David serves as the founder and lead designer for David Jakes Designs LLC, a design studio dedicated to reshaping education through the creation of inspiring learning environments.