Burke's Strategic Plan in Action: Exploring Different Learning Spaces in 4B

It may seem counterintuitive to move desks out of a classroom, especially in one of the foggiest corners of San Francisco. But this spring, it was all part of an experiment to investigate how changing the physical landscape of a classroom affects the learning of the students inside of it.
And now, one of those rooms — 4B, with teachers Nayo Brooks and Antona Stanley — will extend that experiment throughout the 2015-16 school year. This prototype of a changed learning space could end up informing larger changes across campus, which is part of Goal #2 of the Burke’s Strategic Plan.
 
At first, the changes in 4B were geared toward solving a space issue — the desks were arranged in two big squares with one main passageway — which made it difficult to transition between different types of group, and it was cumbersome for anyone to move around the room.
 
Instead, the desks came out and were replaced by large tables with a variety of seating options. A bank of five desktop computers were also removed — they were no longer being used thanks to a portable bank of laptops — which also freed up additional space. Students did have to part with the stacks of possessions they tended to store in their desks, but that cleanup process proved that most of those items didn’t need to be at school anyway.
 
The result? Not only did the classroom become visually cleaner and more streamlined, but students could also go from small groups to full classroom work more quickly and with less distraction. The variety of seating options also allowed fourth graders to find a setup that fit best with their learning styles — if they needed to fidget, they could fidget, or if they needed to sit perfectly still, they could do that too.
 
The ideas that informed these setups came from careful research by our Learning Spaces Committee, jointly headed by Director of Lower School Alice Moore and Laura Brugger, an architect and member of the Board of Trustees. They visited other institutions such as The Cove School in Corte Madera and Hillbrook School in Los Gatos to examine their work in this area and create the plan for 4B.
 
After the success of the initial spring experiment, the 4B classroom is now committing to a full year with the new arrangement. When the new fourth graders walked into their classroom on the first day of school, they saw new cubbies and a more open floor plan with groups of tables and a teacher “kiosk” instead of a stationary desk. Additional furniture has just been added to the mix, including soft seating like “noodle” chairs and tables with white-board tops.
 
After all, if we’re creating a more dynamic, nimble curriculum that represents the cutting edge of education, the environment in which the learning is taking place needs to adjust right along with it. This prototype will help us pinpoint just how to do that across the Burke’s campus.
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Burke's mission is to educate, encourage and empower girls. Our school combines academic excellence with an appreciation for childhood so that students thrive as learners, develop a strong sense of self, contribute to community, and fulfill their potential, now and throughout life.

Katherine Delmar Burke School

An independent K–8 school for girls
7070 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94121
Phone: 415.751.0177 Fax: 415.666.0535
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