Common spaces in 21st century schools are areas that exist in virtually all buildings, but have never been utilized for learning. And, they can be as different as the school buildings they're in. From hallways to stairwells, what was once dead space is being put to work in innovative new ways.
Often outfitted with lounge seating mobile furniture and tech functionality, common spaces are designed to accommodate learning wherever and whenever the mood strikes. For instance, at Yorkville High School in Illinois, "hallways were widened from 16 to 25 feet, adding space for lockers and computer bars and 'fishbowls - quiet, glass-enclosed rooms where groups of up to six students can focus and work together." In this way, the school has taken a place we often give no regard to, and turned it into a functional, effective space for impromptu discussions, breakout sessions and social activity.
Where did common spaces come from?
Today's common spaces are a result of advances in education. In embracing the idea that learning involves more than facts and figures, educators are looking for ways to bring 21st century practices into every aspect of their schools - including unused or under-used physical spaces. The idea is to make the entire school a space for learning - to encourage collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving wherever students may gather. As educational concepts like flexible learning and project-based learning take shape in schools, educators are seeing the benefit of a diverse variety of spaces in which learning can take place.
Additionally, putting unused spaces to work makes logistical sense. The Boston architecture firm Arrowstreet notes that "over 35% of the average school's square footage is in use less than 5% of the typical school day." By putting as much space to use as possible, schools are able to do more with less - thereby cutting down on the need for costly expansions and/or large pieces of real estate.
How do common spaces benefit students?
Collaboration is both a goal and a result of common areas; even the word "common" has a root in sharing and togetherness. And as EdTech Magazine explains, "the benefits of collaborative learning have been clear for almost 30 years - the National Education Association cites research from 1989 that shows cooperation leads to higher achievement and productivity and an array of social benefits. But technology, for all its benefits, sometimes can have an isolating effect. By making collaboration the default mode of learning, schools can activate the advantages of both."
Being comfortable in collaborative settings and the ability to work well with others are increasingly valuable real-world skills. By fostering them at every chance they get, schools are setting students up for success in the future.