Designing an Effective Learning Space

Making classrooms more brain-friendly impacts student outcomes

by Dr. Rob Berger

While working as an interior designer before going into teaching, Erin Klein recognized the importance of first talking to clients to accurately determine their wants and needs. As Erin shifted gears into her role as a teacher, she realized the largest consumer of the learning space - the students themselves - had the least voice in the learning environment design.

“There's one teacher in the classroom but a tremendous amount of students,” she says. “But the teacher was the one kind of holding all the power in terms of the learning space or environment.” When she started altering her classroom to be more of a brain-friendly learning space, some of the engagement issues that she was having with certain students began to dissipate. “I was able to focus a lot more on meeting their educational needs because they weren’t distracted.”

For nearly a decade, Erin has been balancing her work as a classroom teacher, her mission as a renowned and sought-after school design presenter, and her role as a mother. When I sat down to talk with her recently, she had just started to re-engage as a presenter after taking a couple of years to concentrate more on her classroom practices and update her teaching toolbox with the latest methods and processes.

She’s going to be a featured presenter, leading four sessions during the 2019 Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando from January 27th through the 30th. “The work that I'm going to be sharing (at FETC 2019) is some of the things that our fourth graders, in particular, have done this year surrounding the concept of design thinking that have just been earth-shattering,” Erin says.

Erin feels that her ability to be in both worlds professionally, as a classroom teacher and as a presenter, gives her credibility with the teachers and educators she’s trying to reach. “It’s really empowering because I hear a lot of comments from teachers across the country that I get to work with that appreciate that I'm still a classroom teacher,” Erin says. “When you share something great that the students are doing in your practice, it's powerful to share it with as many teachers as possible to benefit the most students.”

Erin has the rare talent and ability to take something that worked well for her and her students and deconstruct it, decipher the inner workings, and translate the philosophy in such a way to pass it on and make it work well for the masses. “Teachers look at my ideas and say, ‘She's actually doing this with real students every single day. She's tried it at different grade levels in public and private. So this might actually work for me because it seems very authentic,’” she says.

Erin says the students are the majority stakeholders in their education and the primary users of the space, but their voices were never being heard regarding what they wanted in a learning space. There is so much conversation about personalized learning and differentiated instruction, yet no one considered that the learning environment itself is equally important as different pedagogical approaches, which is backed up by research.

Redesigning learning spaces in a more brain-friendly, aesthetically pleasing manner truly does have an impact on student learning outcomes. “With our design thinking in the classroom, our students have had such incredible opportunities to move beyond the classroom and work in collaborative ways and partnerships by seeing what businesses are doing within the community. They see how the learning approaches that they're attaining in the classroom are truly authentic and really are what businesses are doing,” Erin smiles. “I get goose bumps just thinking about it.”

About Erin Klein

Erin Klein is an award-winning educator, national keynote speaker, author, and mother who serves on the Scholastic, Inc. Top Teaching Team based in New York. Her recent publication, Amazing Grades, was a collaboration with experts from 13 countries around the world. She travels the country speaking about the power of student voice, how meaningful technology integration can enhance learning experiences, and the impact classroom design has on today’s learner.

Some of her articles and interviews on design for education and technology tools for the classroom can be found on Smartblogs for Education, MindShift, Scholastic, Edudemic, Edutopia, EdSurge, and EdReach. Her work can be found on her award-winning educational blog, Kleinspiration.com, and you can follow Erin on Twitter @KleinErin.

FETC January 27 - 30, 2019

Erin Klein will be a featured presenter, leading four sessions, at the 2019 Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) from January 27th-30th in Orlando, Florida. The conference will bring together thousands of educators and technology leaders for an intensive, highly collaborative exploration of new technologies, best practices and pressing issues. Registration is now open.

Erin will be presenting the following sessions:

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