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April 5, 2017
Rethinking the Classroom
Branksome is trying out new kinds of learning spaces—including 'campfires' and 'watering holes,' plus tables you can write on.

What's more important in modern classrooms: the amount of computer power students can access, or the chairs on which they sit? The answer may surprise you.

New technology is changing the way students learn in the classroom. But it's not the only factor.

The research on good classroom design is pointing to the importance of different options for seating--from wobble chairs to treadmills—to keep students active and engaged. Features such as adjustable-height tables and interactive white boards are also revolutionizing how educators teach or "roam and interact" with students in these spaces.

"Teachers have traditionally worked in one-size-fits-all environments with rows of chairs and desks," says Amanda Kennedy, head of the Middle and Senior Schools. "But the classroom of the future will be much more flexible and learner-centric."

Branksome will create two pilot classrooms.

The model classrooms will look and function differently from what teachers and girls are used to. At "campfires" and "watering holes," they'll engage in more active work, where they can choose to break off into groups. Alternatively, there will also be "cave" areas that serve as outlets for personal reflection.

"The potential impact on our girls is huge," says Kennedy, who predicts all girls will start seeing the benefits of the classroom research in two to four years.

Some elements of these classrooms of tomorrow are at Branksome today. They include the Grade 9 and 10 Hub, the Junior School Makerspace and the Senior and Middle School Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) Studio. These spaces use new furniture, such as moveable adjustable chairs, as well as glass, whiteboard tables.

"The Hub is amazing," says Grade 9 student Lauren Armstrong, "I especially love the new tables you can write on. They're great when we are working on group projects—one person in a group can take notes that everyone else can easily see and add to."

Add Francesca Johnson and Ryley Fowlder, both in Grade 10, add their approval of the space's flexibility. "We spend at least an hour a day in and around the Hub and use it for socializing, working in groups and just relaxing. The furniture is the best part because you can move it around easily, depending on how you are using the space."

Of course, technology still plays a critical role.

Michael Ianni-Palarchio, Director, Technology and Innovation, says the new spaces seamlessly merge classroom set-ups with new tech.

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