21st Century Learning Spaces that Work

21st century learning spaces are as varied as the different learning styles, but all seek to break out of the "business as usual" approach to provide unique experiences for their students. They aren't restricted to the traditional lecture format. Instead, they're designed to facilitate learning through student engagement and leadership.

These schools serve as examples of 21st century learning spaces that embrace tech integrations and facilitate hands-on learning tied to real-life challenges.

A makerspace breathes new life into the school media center

With the introduction of its makerspace, New Jersey's New Milford High School transformed its library from what had been called "a barren wasteland" into a place students wanted to be.

When launched in 2014, the makerspace included fixed stations where students could create, work and tinker. Those stations included "a Lego set for challenges, a Makey-Makey kit for redesigning technology, a Little Bits bar for robotics, a 3-D printer for designing and creating, and a take-apart station for dismantling outdated computers," according to a news account.

Most of the equipment to start the makerspace was donated, and existing furniture and supplies were repurposed to support it. The initial school investment was about $1,500.

The take-apart station quickly became the most popular area. It was designed to teach students the components of electronics, like computers, by taking them apart. However, students became so proficient at taking computers apart, that they began putting them back together, or building their own.

No longer a wasteland, students use the library's makerspace during free time, lunch breaks and independent study.

A blended learning school's flexible design promotes individual mastery

Founded in 2012, Nexus Academy of Cleveland, in Ohio, is a tuition-free public charter school. At Nexus Academy, students participate in some classes in-person, while other classes are taken online. Online coursework offers a variety of offerings while small-group in-person instruction allows students to take advantage of expert mentoring and peer-to-peer learning. Students attend school four days a week, in either a four-hour morning or four-hour afternoon session each day. They must complete 12 hours of additional weekly learning on a home computer.

Learning spaces are designed to support individual mastery and group collaboration. The entire school features an open design that allows for movement and group work. Classrooms are designed for mobility, flexibility and ergonomics with furnishings that include moveable desks, balance ball chairs, and even stationary bikes. Team Zones facilitate collaborative learning with café-style tables and common area seating in open spaces that give students room to move and interact. Private nooks are also available to allow students to focus individually.

The on-campus fitness center acknowledges the importance of physical fitness on cognitive performance. Each student has access to a fitness trainer, and they can participate in group classes like yoga and Zumba.

Project-based learning spaces make room for big ideas

An emerging robotics program at Jersey Shore Area High School in Pennsylvania drives students' creativity inside and outside of class. Students directly experience their STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lessons as they work with motors, gears, and circuitry. Going through the design process, they uncover physics lessons about power, speed and torque while they explore better ways of engineering more sophisticated units.

The learning space is an idea factory, with spacious pegboards and a multitude of spools that offer quick access to tools and materials needed for the construction work. Open shelves serve as display spaces and holding areas for projects in-progress. Long tables offer smooth surfaces that students can use to test the robots in trial runs across long distances. A separate area houses desktop computers to research and generate design ideas.

Students construct and manipulate remote-control robots using VEX software and hardware kits. Projects include the creation of robots that move items, traverse terrain and sort objects by color. The program is just a few years old, but students have already brought their work to off-campus competitions, including entries in the National Robotics Challenge, the Technology Student Association National Competition and the VEX World Competition.

(2014) "NEW MILFORD HIGH SCHOOL PUSHES THE ENVELOPE ON 21ST CENTURY EDUCATION" NJSPOTLIGHT. Web: http://www.christenseninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Innovations-Early-College-High-School.pdf

(2016) "Learning and Making with Laura Fleming - HoET036" YouTube
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0mwLUYM6kA&t=1536s

(2016) Nexus Academy of Cleveland "The Campus-Classrooms" Web:
http://www.nexusacademyschool.com/cleveland/school/campus/classrooms

(2017) Jersey Shore Area High School "Robotics" Web:
http://www.jsasd.k12.pa.us/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&ModuleInstanceID=1875&ViewID=7b97f7ed-8e5e-4120-848f-a8b4987d588f&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=1743&PageID=1163

(2017) "JS Robotics Team advances to world competition." The Express. Web:
http://www.lockhaven.com/news/local-news/2017/03/js-robotics-team-advances-to-world-competition/

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