Innovative learning spaces: More than just fancy classrooms

Blog

At Wesley College our students, staff and community have access to state-of-the-art learning spaces. Our Junior School sustainability garden is a living learning environment that transforms into a bustling market garden. Inspired by Reggio Emilia, our Early Learning teachers deliberately design their classroom spaces as the ‘third teacher’. They use natural materials, nature play spaces, and a combination of inside and outside spaces, for learning.

 

Many other buildings, such as Middle School Transition, Ward and Kefford, have flexible and breakout spaces, and furniture that provides a range of micro learning environments for students. Additionally, 2017 saw us open the refurbished Languages Centre and the Mildred Manning Science Centre, which was recently presented with the Architects Institute of Australia Western Australia ‘Award for Educational Architecture’. In Term 2 of this year, we opened the refurbished Clive Hamer Wing, which houses Technologies on the ground floor and other subjects, such as Humanities and Social Sciences, on the top floor.

 

Students learning in the Clive Hamer Wing

 

These spaces resemble the collaborative, dynamic spaces that our students will enter in their future work lives. They are based on the best learning and working spaces around the world, the result of staff visits to cutting-edge schools, universities, corporate offices, and centres of research, science, engineering and medicine. Head of Languages, Claire Leong, explained that it was her visit to CERN—the European Organization for Nuclear Research, based in Geneva—that solidified her vision for the Languages Centre as a plurilingual, pluricultural and collaborative environment of collective learning and cultural intelligence. Staff have attended conferences such as the School Learning Space Design conference and the recent Transitioons18 conference, in which staff connected with the Melbourne University scholars running the longitudinal Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change (ILETC) research project. As a result of careful research, collaboration and planning, the spaces are immersive, allowing Wesley students to live and ‘do’ a subject as they learn.

 

Planning for the Languages Centre, Science Centre and Hamer Wing involved the teachers who would be teaching in each space. That is because our learning spaces are more than classrooms and buildings; they are places of learning, teaching, collaboration, and the embodiment of Wesley’s Seven Capabilities (the 7Cs): critical thinking, creativity, commitment, communication, collaboration, citizenship and continuous improvement.

 

These spaces allow students and staff to live the pursuit of excellence, lifelong learning, and our motto ‘By Daring and By Doing’. Head of Science, Ian Simpson, has noted how teaching practices have evolved since opening the Science Centre, though the introduction of team teaching and the explosion of opportunities to do real science and to deal with real scientific problems. Technologies staff, too, have noted how students are calmer and more autonomous in the new Hamer space. Professor Stephen Heppell has worked with staff in the development of user manuals for their learning spaces. Each Learning Area has designed a pedagogical handbook that outlines its purpose and the shared practices that will help them achieve their vision for their students.

 

Our spaces are based on balancing flexibility and agility (capacity to change the space according to need), with deliberate zoning in which different spaces are designed with particular types of working and being in mind. The Languages Centre has signed zones for talking, collaboration, creation and quiet work. The Science Centre is a living science experiment, with the building itself echoing foundational science concepts, and providing examples of science concepts in constant action.

 

Students working in a Miya at the Languages Centre

 

For example, the Science Centre’s drop zone, living wall, and pulley systems allow observation, data collection and data tracking, using sensors, cameras, data probes and monitors. The ground floor of the Clive Hamer Wing accommodates a range of prototyping lab zones for building, 3D printing, model creation, construction and deconstruction. The first floor of the Hamer Wing provides multiple-purpose classrooms, plus a small lecture theatre.

 

As I noted earlier this year, after Eric Sheninger’s presentation to Wesley College leaders, not only are our learning spaces visually appealing, comfortable and flexible, but they have been painstakingly designed with pedagogy—that is, the science of learning and teaching—in mind. Our learning spaces are resulting in an evolution of teacher practices and student learning behaviours, underpinned by Wesley’s strategic impacts and capabilities. However, a change in teacher pedagogy or in student autonomy and self-activation does not happen by accident. Learning Areas, teams and teachers are working deliberately, with a knowledge of best practice and a view towards ‘next practice’, in order to make the most of the spaces in which they teach and their students learn.

 

This year, we have a staff Professional Learning Group based around Pedagogies of Learning Spaces. This group of nine staff from across the College—including Junior School, Middle School, Music, Languages, Technologies, English, and Humanities and Social Sciences—meet together, visit one another’s classrooms, and discuss the possibilities and challenges of teaching and learning in different learning environments. This group is part of our whole-College commitment to teaching and learning that best serves our students, and to developing the collaborative expertise of our teachers.

 

The value Wesley places on teachers and teaching is demonstrated through the naming of the Science Centre after Biology teacher Mildred Manning who taught at Wesley for forty years. Our learning spaces are not just beautiful buildings and spectacular classrooms with the latest technology. They are brought to life by the students and staff who use them with ingenuity and intentionality.

 

Dr Deborah Netolicky – Dean of Research and Pedagogy