Google gives students design inspiration

Issue: Volume 97, Number 5

Posted: 21 March 2018
Reference #: 1H9i3C

Google plays a big part in modern life in many ways but an Auckland school has taken that a step further and created a learning space for senior students based on the students’ research about Google’s offices in California.

Instead of the traditional school desks and chairs, they chose office furniture, pods and couches in an unstructured learning area which is spacious, flexible, digitally-based and has fluid options for collaboration.

The senior students at Riverhead School were given the opportunity to design their own space on the top floor of the school’s new modern classroom block that’s been built by the Ministry of Education, and which opened last year. They used what they’d seen in online photos and videos of the Google site.

Google Classroom is an integrated part of the learning, and so are other Google products, such as Docs.

“The learning is driven by students’ interests and needs, so it makes sense to give the learners a say in what the new environment would look like,” says Principal Kris Hughes. “They chose ‘adult’ cabinets, a board table, and couches. It also reflects the workplaces they are going to be in once they leave school. The old days of separate cubicles and piles of paper documents in workplaces are gone.”

Year 7 student Ella Smith loves the space – and Google Classroom. “It means you can click on your assignment and you’re away. It’s very easy to use and helps us work collaboratively.”

Eleven-year-old Quinn Oyston says she had the choice to go to intermediate instead of staying at Riverhead. “But I like the way the teachers interact and how we have so many opportunities. It is easy to learn and improve.”

 Each week, the Years 7 and 8 students make a two minute video about what is happening at the school, called “What’s Up At Riverhead”. It’s a team effort taking one hour to produce, and three teams work on the interviewing, filming and editing. The video goes out on the internal portal and will also go on the school’s new mobile app.

The new block also has a grandstand, a round room and a ‘cheese wall’ of cubbyholes, all of which help learning.

The grandstand is a series of steps for sitting or lying on while studying, like a lecture theatre, and it’s a big hit with children. Above it are screens connected to their laptops, so they can easily share learning from their devices.

The height variation amongst the different levels appears to be the key factor. Kris says, “It’s turned out to be the most collaborative space. They have the ability to spread out while still being connected to each other.”

A round room for Years 5 and 6 students was inspired by a Danish model, and has proven very effective. Up to 16 children can use it at one time, and it allows close collaboration, as well as the ability for students to be in a private space whilst allowing others to work independently. “It’s remarkably quiet,” Kris says, as the wall covering material (autex) effectively diminishes noise.

Part of one wall in one learning area is a mass charging bank for devices such as laptops. The bank can handle 250 devices at once, which is useful as the students all use digital devices to enhance their studies which include robotics and coding, so keeping their devices powered up is vital.

The various small nooks and crannies include a ‘cheese wall’, cubbyhole-like areas with seats for quiet study or reading in a private, enclosed space. The cheese reference is due to the doors resembling a block of Swiss cheese with holes in it, and the holes let in light.

The whole new teaching block is an innovative learning environment that allows flexibility and connection, and has enabled collaborative teaching in sync with the new flexible spaces. However, teaching in this style is nothing new at Riverhead and Kris has been a pioneer in its development in New Zealand. She has researched the pedagogy extensively but says it is challenging.

“For teachers to move towards collaboration, they have to give up ownership, which can be difficult, but it’s essential to get higher achievement by students.

“Everyone needs to ensure they are on the same page, planning together, and aligning their principles and practices to meet the needs of the kids. Collaborative teaching is not co-teaching – they are different things.”

She has visited many schools overseas that are models for best practice to explore what would be best for Riverhead. Even though it has only been a short time since the changes were introduced with the opening of the new block last July, she says it has been much more successful than she expected.

Her advice to other schools introducing flexible learning spaces is to make sure parents and the wider school community understand the new environment, and why the changes are happening.

“The three most important things are - communicate, communicate, communicate. You can’t explain what is happening to parents too much,” she says, “And do it by every means possible - meetings, face to face, newsletters, online - use every channel you have, and well in advance.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 2:00 pm, 21 March 2018

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