An inside look at Stonefields School’s innovative learning spaces
It’s no secret the rise of digital technologies is transforming teaching and learning practices across the globe, with education providers realising the importance of providing and supporting an innovative learning environment that fosters collaboration, creation and curation with educational technology.
And as the classroom of today continues to evolve, it has never been more important for schools and universities to identify the best ways to implement new technology and design new learning spaces in a way that will improve learning outcomes and the overall student experience.
According to Sarah Martin, Principal at Stonefields School, the key to achieving this is creating purposeful learning environments which allow students to flourish.
“An important element of learning spaces is they should be quite purposeful and provide opportunities between learners to engage with other learners,” she says.
Built within the last decade, Stonefields School is internationally recognised for their highly innovative facilities in terms of learning space design and accompanying pedagogy.
With a vision for collaborative and autonomous learning, Stonefields also serves as a research and teaching platform for universities and the higher education sector.
Ahead of New Generation Learning New Zealand 2016, Higher Ed IQ caught up with Sarah to find out what other schools and universities can learn from Stonefields unique approach to learning design, and the strategies her team is using to create personalised and innovative learning curriculums and how this is improving teaching and learning outcomes.
Creating purposeful learning spaces
“Stonefields School is a series of nine Learning Hubs, each which facilitate innovative learning. Each hub is an open modern learning space that accommodates the equivalent of 3 classes of learners and 3 teachers.
For example, in one of our hubs, there are 15 classrooms within one big space, each of which are joined together with doors, that are more often than not, open. This creates lovely opportunities between spaces for learners to engage with other learners.
Another important element of the learning hubs are that each has been designed to foster purposeful learning. For example, the lino where arts and crafts take place are wet to facilitate a different type of learning in comparison to other classes.
Another unique element is the layout of these spaces – there are a lot of interesting corners and spaces within the larger learning hub. For example, each hub has at least two smaller spaces where children can opt into a quieter space or do other learning activities which might require a quieter environment. These kinds of designs create purposeful spaces for children to learn.”
Facilitating a collaborative teaching approach
“One of the most important decisions we made before any teachers or learners came on-board, was that teachers would not have their own class. Different teachers have different strengths, so the collaborative approach is removing the ‘I and my’ from teaching and replacing it with ‘we and our.’
As a result, we use a lot different frameworks which underpins a highly synergetic team. We have a function that supports the team’s effectiveness but it all begins with being comfortable in the ‘we’ space and being incredibly self-aware. We have come to learn that collaboration is the supersizer in what is possible and it certainly optimises organisational culture.
The other capability we work intentionally hard on, is people’s ability to make sense with one another. When people are engaging in transformational conversations, it is important to understand and hear other people’s perspective – it’s not always about agreeing to disagree if we are going to move things forward. So when it comes to innovative and collaborative learning, people’s sense making is a big part of what we do.”
Integrating new tech into learning and teaching
“Stonefields is one-to-one learning from six years old. Our year two and three students all have iPads that the school owns – families can purchase a device for their child or they can buy it outright. We also have digital printers, GoPros and even IMAX recording and video-making facilities throughout the school. We embrace and utilise technology that will enhance kids’ learning outcomes.
When it comes to rolling-out new tech in learning spaces, it is important to consider student wants and needs. A great example of this would be a letter I received recently from a couple of students who wanted DJ boards to be able to mix and create their own music.
Based on student feedback we bought these tools that the kids needed. The lesson learned is digital or not, it’s important to be very open to the student voice and student-led initiatives. They provide the ideas; we provide the funding to put those ideas into action.”
Measuring the impact: analysing data to understand the impact innovative learning has on student and teaching outcomes
“Since rolling-out new innovative learning spaces, we have seen an increase in student achievements through the data we collect. For example, a cohort at the beginning our journey were 48 per cent below the national standard. After three years, that same cohort is now 100 per cent above the national standard.
Another important result has been staff satisfaction – we have highly engaged staff and our staff retention rate is quite high. Through staff surveys we have discovered staff feel they have an opportunity to pursue their own strengths in our workplace.
It is difficult to quantify improvements purely being about space, but when we look at the shift in our graduate profile, both soft and hard data points demonstrate our learner quality over time having positive effect around a child’s ability to reflet or connect through learning.
We also have national standard data which is gained digitally and we are able to use these data sets to see how a child is progressing and we can highlight the next steps for their learning profession.
We also have online progression available as well, which involves an Anytime Reporting tools which allows parents to see how their child is going and what their next learning steps are. This is highly beneficial, especially when children want to engage at home, as it provides parents with the information and tools to support their child’s learning experience at home.”
The challenge: changing the mind shift to a new style of learning
“The biggest challenge we’ve faced on our journey to date has been the mind shift. We have all been to school and we’re all experts when it comes to parent expectations. But this is challenging because we’re asking teachers to straddle two paradigms: a 20th century one and a 21st century one.
Being courageous and knowing future predictions about the workplace our children will reside in is important. We need to abandon some of the soft skills we have ‘always done,’ because it is going to be quite redundant in our children’s future. It is a big challenge bringing parents on board with this type of thinking and the key is to communicate the benefits as strongly as we can.
Another challenge is sometimes our mental models can constrain what is possible in a more open, collaborative environment. As a result, we have done work on brainstorming ways to embrace new ideas and new ways of teaching and learning when those inadequate mental models might get in the way.”
Interested in learning more?
Join Sarah at New Generation Learning New Zealand 2016 where she will further explore:
- Personalising learning by designing non-prescriptive curriculums tailored to each student’s strength, needs and interests, thus developing self-motivated and self-managed learners
- Strategies for creating future-proof spaces that enhance teaching and learning outcomes
- Interconnected learning hubs and the benefits of having composite classrooms
- Creatively leveraging technology, and its impact on staff, students and parents
- Complete incorporation of technology through online platforms to eliminate a paper trail and increase flexibility, connectivity and transparency
For more information download the agenda here
If you found this article interesting, you might like to also check out our recent article with Krisy Ryan, Academic Director at Monash University, which explores the strategies Monash is using to design a new paradigm for learning and the steps they are taking to design multidisciplinary learning spaces that cater for new student learning styles.
Read the article Creating a multidisciplinary learning and teaching building at Monash University here