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The Changing Structures of Education

When public schools were established, they were designed to train students for the labor force of the time: primarily factory work performing a minimal number of tasks. Today, we are seeing automation take over these jobs, resulting in a return to the renaissance principles of innovation and collaboration in the workspace. Entrepreneurs and employees alike are expected to perform multiple tasks using multiple sets of tools, whether working in the physical or digital space. This has driven a major change in the mission of public education.

ENCOURAGING MOBILITY

This shift in desired outcomes has caused districts to rethink the classroom structure and operations of the past. Instead of remaining seated and facing the chalkboard, students are encouraged to move about the classroom for a portion of the day. Educators have found that establishing zones within the classroom–as within the modern work space–teaches students to segment their workload and delegate activities to appropriate areas. Often, collaboration is encouraged with group zones and cooperation areas.

Real-world collaboration encourages us to go to the people we believe are the right fit for a particular issue we are facing. Work often begins alone when the needs of a project suit it, and this continues to be a staple of contemporary classrooms. However, it is common to seek out someone or some people who can help us move past later phases of the project. Successful innovation is not contained by arbitrary parameters like time limits or numbers of people or individual workspaces.

Ferndale Upper Elementary students sit at adjustable desks in flexible seating.

ENGAGING THE WHOLE CHILD

Flexible classrooms go hand in hand with a change in the methods or practices of teaching and learning. Flexible spaces alter the fundamental dynamics of teaching and learning: giving students more control and responsibility to increase academic engagement. It is this agency along with a dynamic use of the space by the teacher and students where we see positive results.

In Ferndale Schools, we repeat the phrase “Whole Child” learning. This model combines direct instruction–using sequenced, structured materials–with cooperative learning –including student interaction as the basis for learning. We build our curriculum around this mode of thinking because intelligence is multifaceted, and research clearly shows that using more of the brain makes learning more effective. Engaging more parts of the brain requires a variety of instructional methods and environments. This variation also engages a diverse group of students with a broad range of learning needs. The curriculum approach of providing learners with greater choices and pathways of learning in alignment with students’ intelligence levels intends to make learning more meaningful and authentic.

IMMEDIATE IMPROVEMENTS

Rising enrollment trends have allowed us to make a sizable purchase of new, flexible furniture for Ferndale Middle School. This purchase will continue a pilot program to test and consider multiple available alternatives to find the right fit for different class types and age groups, as well as multiple vendors. Additionally, temperature and light control will be added to the south-facing FMS classrooms with new window covers. (See the next page for more on these improvements and the research supporting our plan.) These two improvements will reshape the FMS classrooms to better fit the needs of the students. Additional funding is being sought with a March bond proposal to make further improvements at FMS and district-wide. In addition to flexible furniture, this 10-year funding stream would be used to improve building infrastructure to better control environmental factors and adapt classrooms and technology to meet the needs of our visionary teaching staff.