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Revamped middle school space offers students and teachers new options for engaging and learning

February 2, 2018

MS flexible learning spaceRoom 213 at Oliver W. Winch Middle School used to be a computer lab where students went to well… work on computers. But now that all middle school students in South Glens Falls have a Chromebook that travels with them throughout the day, the middle school no longer needed a dedicated room for desktop computers.

So what did the building leaders decide to do with the “newfound” space? Make it a new, flexible learning space—complete with moveable furniture, technology hookups and an atmosphere that welcomes creativity and curiosity.

“Since space is always at a premium in schools, having a classroom that can be used in multiple ways with a focus on meeting the needs of learners now and in the future was very appealing,” said OWWMS Principal Tim Dawkins. “The vision is for it to become a flexible space that allows for large and small group work in an environment that gives students control what the room looks like.”

Dawkins says that allowing students to make decisions around classroom design gives them the opportunity for them to be fully engaged in all aspects of the learning process.

“It’s amazing to see how a simple change of seating, for instance, can quickly invigorate a typical classroom and make it feel like a brand new space,” Dawkins said.

Classrooms designed to support learning where students are active participants, actually increase student engagement, as opposed to traditional classroom rows, according to a research study by Steelcase Education called How Classroom Design Affects Student Engagement.

Dawkins also sees the new learning space as a place for multiple classes or groups to come together to work on shared learning goals, something that English Language Arts teachers Vicki Leroux and Olivia Sutton recently did.

“This space was open, welcoming and incredibly conducive to meeting the goals that we had set for the students,” said Leroux, who brought students for a Writer’s Workshop lesson. “The space lends itself perfectly in regards to efficiency and work completion.”

MS flexible learning spaceLeroux said that because students are not used to learning in this type of environment, when we move into a space like this to conduct a lesson, it becomes exciting, new and fresh.

“The interest in the students is peaked and the desire to learn is amplified. This space creates energy; period,” she said.

Home and Careers teacher Ashley Tarello used the new room as a place to debate whether or not soda manufacturers should be required to put a warning label on their products, a culminating activity for our class lessons and discussions about the added sugars in our foods and drinks, and she believes the physical space helped students feel comfortable to express their ideas, even at a time of life when peer conflict may make some students uncomfortable.

“I think having the opportunity for them to choose where and how they formed their discussion groups gave them a certain degree of comfort to discuss their ideas,” Tarello said. “Many middle school students don’t like to go against the grain and have different opinions from their peers, but I had students who rarely participate really express themselves and share their ideas with their classmates.”

“That room was just a cool place to be in,” said seventh-grade student Melina, who describes it as comfortable and calm. “I felt if I were to have a study hall in there, I would be able to get my work done. I wasn’t distracted from listening by trying to readjust myself in the chairs. Usually in a regular classroom chair I get uncomfortable after a while and it didn’t seem the case with the place we were in.”

Since the space was finalized in early January, students have also spent time in the space with the district’s technology integration specialist learning how to organize their Google Drive files, and the new space is also being used as a training space for South Glens Falls staff, as well as visitors from other schools.

“Our hope is that the success of this space, along with the strong positive student and teacher response we have had to our four 21st Century classrooms, will continue us on a path of re-designing more classrooms to appeal to the students of 2018 and beyond,” Dawkins said.

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