RSS Feed
Dream big, start small

Design for learning – Blog task #1

August 1, 2014 by meghastie   

“Every committed educator wants better learning and more thoughtful students. ”

Harvard Project Zero


Fundamental changes in the way we educate, the way we perceive the acquisition of knowledge has meant that educators must engage with new ways of thinking about space. As we have moved away from the “teacher-centred 20th century factory model” of education (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development 2011) , we must face the challenge that the crucial role our spaces play in influencing the affective domain of learning  (Brown 2008).

With this in mind I have approached my first adventure into designing a learning space under the impetus “Find [a space], take it and transform it, quickly”


Needfinding or inspiration

(Seidel  & Fixson 2013, Brown 2009)

So, I chose a space at the back of my classroom.

The room itself is cavernous and looks outdated.  This year I have been teaching Year 7 for the first time in many years.  In a class of thirty students, I have a wide range of abilities and issues – from two students with moderate intellectual disabilities who are integrated into the mainstream classroom but on individualised “Life skills” programs, 5 more on the Autism Spectrum, and another four who are extremely bright.  I have limited assistance from teacher’s aides – I have one for about 70% of my lessons.

As Head of the English department in the high school, I have been working with my staff on differentiation over the last few years, and integrating a range of pedagogical approaches from Harvard’s Project Zero, The Marzano Project and Hattie’s work on Visible Learning.

So to summarise my “design pillars” (Kuratko, Goldsworthy and Hornsby 2012):

  1. Highly diverse group of students
  2. Need for breakout spaces for Learning Enrichment – both extension and support
  3. Desire to stimulate in all students inquiry and metacognitive skills


My desire was to “interpret” the classroom dynamics, and the cultural shift (Kimbell 2011), both in terms of the particular group of students within what has mainly been a classroom for senior students (and still largely is), as well as the broader pedagogical paradigms that I was trying to implement. I needed the space to be dynamic and able to be used in multiple ways concurrently (Jamieson et al., 2000: 6-7).



Watching student movements, activities and relationships in two of my classes with this group this week was crucial in helping form a plan (Brown 2009).  I utilised divergent thinking and then a basic prototyping process of shifting objects around the space helped me first brainstorm a range of options then choose what seemed to be the simplest solution, conforming to the concept of “doing more with less” (Brown 2009).  Whilst acknowledging the importance of using a multipdisciplinary group as well as group ownership of  the design process  (Seidel & Fixson2013, Brown 2009), it was not feasible for the nature of this task. Similarly, acknowledging the pragmatic constraints – financial (ie a budget of $0), and time (the parameters placed around the project itself) all the resources had to quickly and readily sourced (Kuratko, Goldsworthy and Hornsby 2012).



I have shifted the tables around to allow students to work in range of configurations –  as part of a small group, with a teacher’s aide (if appropriate), or individually.
Using preexisting pinboards, I created a “wonder wall” to help inspire deeper thinking, mainly for the students working in this area.  The questions are taken from the visible thinking routines (Hardvard Project Zero 2011). The unit’s inquiry question is at the centre and a range of visual / textual prompts that had been used for provocation at the beginning of the unit were also displayed, along with one of the units supplementary focus questions about poetry.

I played with positioning at the back of the classroom and looked at the balance, the colours, and also some of the things that would upset some of the children (eg posters being placed not quite straight – deliberately crooked is considered OK!).  Taking photos helped me get a more objective sense of what it looked like and led to further changes, as did sitting in the actual student seats and checking for visibility etc.


This current set-up may only last for this term, or a few weeks. Whilst the broader educational paradigms will stay, how they “take form” will continue to develop as we test how it actually works.  It will continue to “loop-back” and evolve.

Bring it on!



Brown, T. (2009) Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. Summary by Get Abstract. Retrieved from:; also

Education Policy and Research Division, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, 2011

Research into the connection between built learning spaces and student outcomes: Literature review

Paper No. 22 accessed via

Harvard Project Zero, 2011 Visible thinking routines accessed via <>

Hattie John, 2008, Visible learning, Routledge, London

Jamieson, P., Fisher, K., Gilding, T., Taylor, P.G. & Trevitt, A.C.F.2000, ‘Place and space in the design of new learning environments’, Higher Education Research & Development, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 221-237. Available at:

Kimbell, L. (2011). Rethinking design thinking: Part I. Design and Culture, 3(3), 285-306.

Kuratko, D., Goldsworthy, M., & Hornsby, G. (2012). The design-thinking process in Innovation acceleration : transforming organizational thinking. (pp.103-123). Boston : Pearson.

Seidel, V., & Fixson, S. (2013). Adopting design thinking in novice multidisciplinary teams: The application and limits of design methods and reflexive practices. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 30,



  1. Ronnie says:

    Hi Megan what a difference you’ve made to that corner! I love the use of colour and the ‘wonder wall’. We sometimes forget that Year 7’s are still at the stage where those kind of visual clues and prompts are still fresh in their mind from Primary School. Why do our classrooms get more drab as our students get older I wonder? I’m wondering (with your $0 budget) if there isn’t a room divider or two tucked away in a cupboard somewhere – the kind they only bring out when an exhibition of children’s work is on – maybe you could use one to further compartmentalise the space and give bit more privacy for ‘wondering’
    I really like the way you’ve put yourself in the students place here

  2. meghastie says:

    Thanks for the suggestion regarding the room divider, a great idea! WE have a storage area, infamously known as “the pig shed” where old / unwanted classroom furniture goes to die. I will have a scout around!

  3. Ewan McIntosh says:

    I like the simplicity of this, and the testing/prototyping cycle that you went through by seeing it from students’ perspectives as well as your own. One thing I’d love to hear is how it’s changed things in the classroom when students are in the thick of their learning. Could you give us a follow-up?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar