We believe that in the 21st century, teachers are tasked with the job of preparing students for a future we can only imagine. Our children may someday work in fields and jobs that do not yet exist. The 4 C's of 21st Century Skills - collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity – are as integral to the future success of our children as phonics and math facts. Our initial plan to integrate the practice of the 4 C’s throughout our learning day was implemented with high rigor and relevance through a Science, Technology integration, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) piloted in 2nd grade in 2011-12. We immediately saw significant increases in student communication, creativity and critical thinking skills. Yet, so many opportunities for relevant collaboration were missed.
Collaboration was highly evident within the context of a single class, but it was difficult to accomplish across the grade level. Bricks and mortar made this level of collaboration impossible. The building was constructed in 1966 with a typical footprint for elementary schools in the 19th and 20th centuries. It consists of hallways connecting to a series of boxes that are very much alike. This set-up may have been "good enough" for students throughout previous decades, but its effectiveness is significantly diminished by the current need for students to engage in 21st century skills development. It became obvious that without flexible, collaborative space there would always be a missing piece to this puzzle. Hence, the Learning Studio was born.
To solve this problem, we employed the expertise of The Cuningham Group architecture firm to facilitate a design charrette with 24 of our stakeholders. While the process defined staff development at its best, the astounding results have provided the remaining ingredients for raising student and staff engagement significantly. With the removal of unneeded materials and the addition of copious glass and attractive, comfortable, child appropriate furniture, the feel of collective space was transformed from that of a dingy attic to that of comfortable home. There are now large instructional/collaborative spaces on opposite sides of a glass wall, filled with light, comfortable furniture begging to be moved into the formations needed for each learning moment. In our Learning Studios, we focus on learning skills that will help prepare them for this future world.
Our Learning Studios allow students to work on the 4 C’s and other skills with the teacher as a facilitator and guide. Students learn by doing things on their own, with other students, and with teachers in small groups. Instruction is personalized and focused on the needs of the students. There is a lot of choice from where students sit, from what they read to how they show what they have learned. Technology is integral. Students in the Learning Studios are experts at using digital devices to access content, practice skills, record observations, and create a variety of projects to share what they have mastered.
Our students have the opportunity to practice 21st Century Skills through hands-on engineering explorations and student-driven project-based learning. The Learning Studio allows for plenty of flexibility, movement, and choice during these projects. The structure of the programming and procedures in the studio allows for students to get help when they need it and they quickly learn that everyone is a teacher and their classmates are excellent resources. The Learning Studio prepares students for real-world work situations where they will need to collaborate with others, problem-solve by using critical thinking skills, use creativity, and communicate with others in a variety of ways. It is truly superior to a traditional classroom!
At North Park, we understand the importance student engagement plays in higher-level learning. Standards, curriculum, programming, instruction do not matter if children are not engaged with the work before them. In our primary classrooms we employ co-teaching, the purest form of teacher collaboration, to increase the attention available to each learner. We also provide work for our students in areas that are relevant. Our students begin to master technology in PreK 4 as projects are integrated with tablets and laptops requiring learners to log into their personal Goggle accounts. We believe technology will never take the place of dedicated teachers, but we use technology to gain learning and engagement advantages for our students. In our primary grades, students become readers, writers and mathematicians; they also practice the 4 C’s in preparation for the Learning Studio experience of the intermediate grades.
The level of student engagement in North Park’s Learning Studios is simply remarkable. The atmosphere in a Learning Studio is rarely quiet - learning is rarely a quiet activity. Students are given the freedom to make their bodies comfortable and to move around their learning space as needed. None of this causes distraction. When any adult other than the teacher enters the traditional classroom everything stops. All eyes are trained on the person entering. The teacher's next and most pressing task is to regain the attention of the students. For students in the intermediate grades, the traditional classroom - with desks arranged so that all eyes can be on the front of the room - is far more likely to be distracting than the Learning Studio where there is no front of the room.
Collaboration happens everywhere in North Park’s Learning Studios, we find this improves student engagement. Regularly, students in are gathered in small and large groups for short lessons. Invariably, groups are situated closely to one another, often facing one another through glass walls. However, students are not distracted by other groups - not even when afforded the opportunity to make faces at friends through glass walls. It simply does not happen. The Learning Studios were built around relevant programming - 21st Century Learning programming. When mastering the 4 C's, learners’ attention is on learning because the learning is relevant…and fun…and challenging…and student-driven.
North Park Guiding Principles
Our learners unlock their potential through a strong academic foundation.
Our learners use science and the design thinking process to develop new solutions.
Our learners create an environmentally-sustainable community.
Our learners discover their passion through creativity.
Our learners see challenges as an opportunity for growth.