Matching learning spaces to physical and online spaces.

Posted by:

June 10th, 2011

Tagged with:

Checking in Down Under with our DIY Teacher, Bianca!


I’ve been interested in the role that physical spaces play in learning since I made a visit to SCIL late last year. This school’s innovative approach to learning spaces is inspiring, and I was keen to see how I could (re)organise my classroom space to better match my students’ learning.  Of course, I work for the public education system, so my ability to dramatically alter the physical learning spaces available to my students is quite limited. I had to be creative and being an English teacher, this led me to metaphor for the answer.

If you’ve read my blog, you’ll know that I am interested in what I call the archetypal or mythic learning spaces – a term borrowed from a couple of wonderful edu-thinkers, Steve Collis (director of innovation at SCIL) and David D Thornburg. These ‘mythic notions’ of learning spaces were discussed back in the ’90s in an article by Thornburg entitled ‘Campfires in Cyberspace: primordial Metaphors for Learning in the 21st Century’. They have been adapted by architects responsible for designing new educational spaces, and images of these designs can be seen on the DesignShare website:

Campfire: a place to learn from experts or storytellers. A place for whole-group discussions.

Watering Hole: a space for small group discourse and collaboration.

Cave: a space for individual study, reflection, quiet reading and creative flow.

Throughout the last 6 months I have had great success introducing my students to these archetypal learning spaces and helping them to learn how to match their learning space with the physical space. Like I mentioned earlier, I am a DIY teacher on limited resources, so I had to be creative and really had to embrace the ‘failure is the road to success’ mantra. Ultimately my students have learnt that their physical learning environment is flexible as they rearrange furniture each lesson (and often during the lesson) to ensure it meets their specific learning needs.

Here is a picture of my classroom when it is in the ‘campfire’ mode:

Here are my students working in the ‘waterhole’:

When students need to move into the ‘cave’ I allow them to listen to quiet music on their iPods, sit on the floor, sit outside in the hallway or move their tables and chairs somewhere solitary in the room

My prac student Lauren Forner even created these beautiful posters as reminders to my students of the expected behaviours within each ‘space’:

Thornburg was interested in how these mythic notions of learning can be replicated in ‘cyberspace’. And I can happily testify that (not surprisingly) edmodo has facilitated this shift from physical to online space. My students often use the small-group function on edmodo as their virtual ‘waterhole’ – a place where they discuss and collaborate on projects. Posting to the class group facilitates whole group discussion for an even larger ‘waterhole’. Students wishing to work independently in the ‘cave’ can read and view posts made to the edmodo group or write and create posts of their own that can be shared privately with their teacher. Edmodo is also a wonderful presentation tool for those ‘campfire’ sessions where the teacher or student adopts the role of ‘storyteller’ or ‘expert’. Files, videos and other learning objects are easily accessed and larger group discussions can occur in ‘real time’ by students interacting with polls or responding to group posts.

It’s true, my kids did think I was a big dag when I started saying, ‘Alrighty, everyone into his or her cave for some quiet reading!’ … but after a while they just ‘got it’ and they now happily move their chairs into the campfire position for ‘story-time’ or into bunches for ‘waterhole’ chats.

Go on, be a dag and help your students develop an appreciation for the need to alter our physical space to match our learning space.


6 responses to “Matching learning spaces to physical and online spaces.”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I love the campfire, watering hole, cave metaphor for learning spaces whether speaking of physical spaces or virtual spaces. I will keep this in mind when setting up my classroom next year. Using Edmodo for virtual campfire or watering hole activities is something I already do, but I need to work on our physical learning space. Thanks for expanding my knowledge. 

  2. Liz Castillo says:

    Great ideas!  I can see how kids would appreciate and understand the metaphor of each learning space.  Thanks for sharing!

  3. Adla Couré says:

    Great blog post Bianca! I love the creative and purposeful thinking around the use of space. I think there is real value in showing students how working in different configurations can bring about different ways of learning. Just wondering, is this something that other teachers at your school have adopted? I can see huge benefits! Well done! Love the pictures as well! The posters are so bright and colourful and the space is so inviting.

  4. Imelda Judge says:

    Bianca, This is so impressive! I would love to have my own classroom. This year has been really hard. Either way this can be used for shared spaces as a psychology anyway. Thanks for your inspiration!!! As of Wed I will lose all my junior classes but I can share the ideas with the other staff!! 🙂

  5. Liam Stakelum says:

    Great idea Bianca! I have used similar structures to group students but i love the names of this. Im going to steal it and see how it goes!

  6. info says:

    Thanks a lot for sharing this with all folks you really understand what you are speaking approximately! Bookmarked. Kindly additionally talk over with my website =). We will have a link alternate arrangement between us

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *