by the CI Editorial Committee
Back to school season is in full swing, but it inevitably feels different than in years past. With school districts, students, teachers and families all practicing social distancing and other public health protocols, the mindset of “safety first” is front and center. Versatile strategies for learning are part-in-parcel with safety concerns. Interestingly, several of the 21st Century Learning trends we see being utilized in classrooms can positively influence learning outcomes of our students and enhance their experience simultaneously.
Flexible Seating Arrangements
One of the hallmarks of a forward-thinking classroom is flexible seating. Easily rearrangeable, and often on casters, these mobile chairs and desks provide teachers with a variety of options or give students the autonomy to self-select the place where they do their best learning. While pods that are grouped too close together aren’t currently possible, the versatility does allow teachers to comply with 6 feet social distancing requirements while still having the option to seat students in a collaborative, engaging way.
It’s no secret that the use of technology in the classroom was growing prior to COVID-19. Even beyond the classroom walls, technology was showing up in media centers, maker spaces, robotics labs, innovation centers, and more. Now, our schools are centers for learning whether or not you are within the building’s walls!
Perhaps the most influential 21st Century Learning trend is outdoor classrooms, and this continues to be true as our schools reopen. Despite our cold New England winters, there is still time in the fall to gather students safely outside to learn in nature. Beneficial for both body and mind, outdoor classrooms are now also being considered an essential asset for districts’ COVID-19 response.
The one hurdle to overcome is that not every school has an outdoor classroom in place – nor perhaps the funds to build one. If this is true for your school, then Green Schoolyards America (GSA) might have an answer. In an August 2020 article published on the ASLA Professional Practice Networks’ Blog, GSA promoted a new pro bono landscape design assistance program called COVID-19 Emergency Schoolyard Design Volunteers, which matches schools with landscape architects. Their success so far has been extremely positive, with over 130 designers from 20 states and four countries signed on to assist. As for their school applicants, 70 schools signed on as the program was still in its prototype phase. Now, as the Outdoor Learning Initiative toolkits are refined and promotional marketing is increased, the numbers are expected to grow.
GSA is still looking for volunteers and schools to participate, so if this cause resonates with you as a design professional, or if your school could benefit from an outdoor classroom, you can learn more here: https://thefield.asla.org/2020/08/11/a-call-for-landscape-architects-to-assist-schools-in-creating-outdoor-classrooms/.
While this year certainly won’t be like the rest, the foundations in 21st Century Learning already established can help students and teachers through the challenging days ahead. Accompanied by a “safety-first” approach, these trends that have already been proven to enhance student health, thinking and performance in schools can continue to aid the educational mission of our districts. With the assistance of our local, regional, and national community networks, we can do our best work together to help our students succeed.