Wednesday, March 19, 2014

If I Had A Sledgehammer - Thoughts on Learning Spaces #EdChat

During my time in Los Angeles this past week, I had an amazing opportunity to visit a couple of spaces that made me drool. I was given a tour of YouTube Space LA and Soulpancake offices. After seeing how they design their work areas and why they designed them that way, I just want to take a sledgehammer to my 80 year old room and start from scratch. (Don't worry South, I would never do that. I just wish I could.)

I've actually written about Learning Spaces before on my blog after I visited Evernote's office. Check this post for some similar thoughts.

Sadly, I do not have any pictures to share because I did not take any. I was so blown away by the spaces, I got lost in the tour and was just soaking everything in. I will do my best to share what I saw and explain the value I see in the design for classrooms.

First, I want to talk about the YouTube Space LA. This is a large aircraft hanger that was converted into a workspace. It was gutted and space was created for all aspects of video creation. Rooms were designed for filming, hair and makeup, viewing rooms, post production equipment, and anything else you might need to produce a top notch video. The lobby is something that stood out to me. It was a general meeting area filled with chairs and couches of all shapes and sizes. Everyone could just get together and connect. There is a large video wall that is showing social media mentions of the Space and featured YouTube content as well as a large screen opposite that can be used to show other videos to larger groups. The space is designed to be flexible. They do not know what they might need to use the space for on any given day, so everything can easily be moved or shifted based on a specific need.

This is not how schools are designed and they should be. Too often, teachers are stuck designing lessons based around a very rigid physical environment. Student desks are not conducive to collaboration. Have you ever tried to work as a group in the single module desks? It is awful. Rooms need to be designed in such away that allows for students to work solo if they need to or work in groups. I have desks that are separate from chairs, so students can easily move them around when they need to get to work on various projects. The more flexible the classroom can become, the more creative students and teachers can be because they can now create in environments that foster that innovative spirit.

The office area of the Space was designed in a similar fashion to Evernote's offices. Cubicles cannot be found in these areas. Everyone shares an open room with their work stations. They have desks that can be adjusted that allow people to stand and work or sit when needed. There are smaller conferences rooms that people can use for meetings or some quiet space. Again, the space allows for people to make it what it needs to be for them and their current situation.

The common room is the kitchen that has all of the snacks that a person could need to keep them going through the day. This is a great place for those informal gatherings that can lead to amazing creations and ideas. I would love to see these spaces created for teachers. I know there are some lounges for teachers to meet in schools, but are they fully stocked with snacks and drinks for teachers? Are they designed to be inviting for teachers to have impromptu collaboration? Can you bring your laptop to get work done or jump on a Google Hangout to connect with another teacher across the country to collaborate on a project?

I also saw the idea of collaboration spaces at the SoulPancake office. YouTube Space LA and the SP offices are very different in many ways. Size alone stands out as the biggest difference, but the philosophy of work spaces was still there despite the fact that the scale was different. There is a space for the big meetings and there were some work stations scattered around the small office, but the central hub of the workflow as the main table next to the kitchen area. My friend Georgia said that she had a tiny area in the corner that was her desk, but she mostly worked at the table to connect with everything going on in the office.

When I first arrived at the office, all of the energy was centered around this table as final plans for a project were being sorted. At the end of the visit, for different people were sitting around the table working on various projects and sharing stories and ideas. It was a place for free flowing communication and collaboration. While the size of the SP offices could fit into the YouTube Space LA over 20 times, the idea of what is important in a workspace is still there.

There is so much more I could go into about the value of a green space and incorporating natural elements to breathe life into a work space. The draw for teachers to leave the classroom for startups and other companies that embrace these ideas makes sense when you spend just a few hours in these offices. Their is a great energy and feeling when people are passionate about their work and have an environment that supports that passion.

Space needs to be set aside to allow people to create and collaborate. The majority of the classrooms around this country were built to support a now antiquated style of industrial education. I hear time and time again about the need to change the way students approach problems and the value of collaboration. Yet, schools still give the same environment that does not support those goals. While it can be very difficult to change some schools due to their age, conversations need to start about how to support environments that foster creativity and collaboration. Here's a thought, why not ask the students?


  1. I completely agree with the impact having flexible and collaborative working spaces can offer students and teachers alike. I had a vision for the space outside of my classroom and finally got up enough guts to pitch that idea to others. The result was a transformation you can see here:

    I think many teachers don't ask for this because they don't think it is possible or they don't believe someone will say yes. I am thankful I was able to finally find the courage to get this for students because it has been a fantastic addition to my end of the hall.

  2. You really hit the nail on the head! This is the first year of our new school. We are aiming to accelerate learning in order for students to reach college courses for dual credit in their junior and senior years. Our very first discussion in developing this school was regarding space. We considered having teacher offices together in one of our transformed elementary school rooms and having spaces defined by their function. Logistically, for a first year school, we couldn't swing it. However, we are doing exactly what you suggested with asking the kids and really considering space as we seek our new building!

  3. I love the idea of redesigning classroom spaces. One of my favorite write-ups is from Edutopia (be sure to watch the videos!) Some ideas seem really far-fetched and I understand that money is an issue, but there are a lot of things we can do that might make a big difference. Why aren't more people talking about it, do you think?

  4. I totally agree with your comments... I'd love to see workspaces like the one's you mention above. Last September I was doing some teacher PD in a brand new school (just opened in Sept). Coincidentally the PD was on transforming classrooms from the "rows of desks" traditional structure, to a more collaborative layout. As I presented the session the first time that day, I became aware that although I was in a classroom in our NEWest school, it was really no different from those built 50 or 100 years ago... desks were in rows, facing the "front" where the teacher center (desk) was located along with white boards, etc. It made me sad to realize that although there were many other wonderful new things in that school, the design process really didn't address classrooms (though they did rename them - they are now called "learning studios"). Sigh.

  5. Nice post, its help me alot.
    waiting more from you...

  6. Love what you've written here. I've been trying to slowly redesign my media center to create more collaborative spaces. Heavy wooden tables, hard chairs and crowded book stacks don't exactly make good collaborative environments. Piece by piece, I'm getting the space to work, but there are days when I'd love to tear everything down and start from scratch.


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