Setting Up Shop…designing (or not designing) a PYP open-plan classroom

It’s that time of year again…time to leave holiday travels/memories behind and start getting ready for school to begin again.  Over these past couple of days I’ve met my students (who seem pretty great) and their parents and been busy in the times between talking amongst our team about how we want to begin our year.  I have just begun to work in a school with an open-space/flexible/open plan (whatever you would like to call it) design and as a team we’ve been trying to figure out how to use it to its full advantages.  Great ideas/thoughts/experiences/advice welcome!

The first thing I did, being a lover of Google search and looking things up, was head straight for the search engines to try and find out what other people had done, thinking that there would be plenty of amazing and wonderful ideas to borrow…but I couldn’t find that many things about classroom design ideas (open space or otherwise).  I tried a few different terms and just couldn’t seem to find the plethora of ideas I was looking for.  I did manage to stumble across information about how these designs were popular in the 70’s and then been turned back into traditional classrooms because of disturbing noise levels.  Obviously there are some disadvantages.  Which started me on a whole different search about the research supporting them (since many schools including mine have brought them back) which was a bit sparse.  The main reason – their success depended on how the teachers used the space.  Many teachers kept trying to use it in the same way as separate traditional classrooms while others changed the design of their teaching to better match the physical design.  We’re working on being the latter this year.

The golden nugget?  Looking through a plan for the first week by a fellow PYP educator made me realize that in order to really set up a successful PYP classroom in a flexible/open space classroom it really needed the kids’ input.  Not rocket science, I know, but sometimes the traditional teacher in still likes to have everything in a neat little ordered box so it was a good reminder.  I ran across an article where teachers actually put all furniture and equipment aside and had an empty room in order for the students to study space and how it is used.  While I enjoyed that idea and am sure the students learned so much, I didn’t quite feel comfortable with answering to the parents about that one…so we’ve set up a temporary plan at the moment (with areas for large group, small group and individual places and a variety of activities) but will be discussing with the students what types of areas they need in order to learn well and where those best fit/what they look like….I’m looking forward to hearing/seeing their ideas about how to use our spaces and the changes they make!

Interesting website and further reading I stumbled across along the way below from….

Six Essential Elements that Define Educational Facility Design at

Six aspects of best practice offer essential elements that support the requirements of any contemporary educational framework:

1. Supporting teaching and learning
2. Maximizing physical comfort and well being
3. Demonstrating environmental responsibility
4. Serving the community

5. Establishing design principles that make buildings work better, last longer, cost less to renovate and maintain, and inspire and adapt to changing needs
6. Applying open, transparent and collaborative processes that allows the school and community assume ownership of planning and design

Image: From ‘1 teacher to 25 students’ to ‘4 teachers to 100 students’ — Design Patterns for 21st Century School


Another interesting site with some things to think about…

25 Secrets to Design Every Teacher Should Know


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