|Teachers and students can project with their iPads, MacBooks, Chromebooks, or Windows machines
using Air Parrot.
Outside of our schools, we have
seen an increasing intersection
between the virtual and the
physical world, yet our classrooms
have largely remained unchanged
for over 100 years. This problem
spurred Laguna Beach Unified School District
in California to embark on an ambitious journey
called the “4Cs Learning Environments”
(4CLE) to re-envision how to improve learning
by creating inspiring learning spaces.
DECISION BY COMMITTEE
To begin the 4CLE project, the district
formed a committee comprising principals,
administrators, classified staff, and teachers. This
committee used the book, The Third Teacher,
written by an international team of architects
and designers, who explore the link between the
school environment and how children learn as a
foundation for their discussion. The input
from all of the groups is vital, but teachers
in particular feel the power of group
Part of the exploration of inspiring
spaces was visiting some of the high-tech
companies in Irvine, CA, as well as innovative
schools. By looking at businesses, the district
saw the importance of smaller collaborative
settings and visual displays. The workers’ desks
were not in cubicles, but arranged to allow for
additional seating and multiple displays to help
communicate in smaller, informal learning
“We designed our company work area to
be highly collaborative, with ‘hotel seating'
so that anyone can informally create a group
discussion,” says local business owner Lane
Rankin of Illuminate Education. “Allowing for
all levels of our team to communicate efficiently
helps us maintain a vibrant and living work
space. We have multiple displays that give us
the status of the company but can be instantly
switched wirelessly to a presentation from
anyone’s iPad/iPhone or computer.”
The committee decided not to wait to make a
comprehensive plan. They knew that this would
be an iterative process, so they began by testing
ideas in nine incubator classrooms.
FUNDING REDESIGNED LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS
|Much of the furniture is on wheels and students can move from circles to rows to groups in less than a minute per
switch. (Pictured: the Steelcase Node desks.)
The 4CLE project was funded through a
general fund, parent donations, and donations from vendors willing to use the district as a test
site. Often vendors like to get in on the ground
floor of pilot programs that they can use to
showcase their products in a school setting.
To keep the program going and growing,
districts will need to look toward grants and
garner support for local bonds that can be used
to support ongoing efforts toward rethinking
learning spaces. Many districts have passed
bonds that help with updating infrastructure.
Modernization funds can also be used to retrofit
classrooms. It is also important to try to leverage
your ideas with existing funding. If you want
to move your classroom to LED lighting, for
example, check your local energy company for
rebates and incentives.
CREATING INSPIRING LEARNING SPACES
Creating inspiring learning spaces within
the context of a single classroom can be very
challenging. The space of a typical room is
usually less than 900 square feet. Here are the
main changes Laguna Beach made to re-invent
their learning spaces:
■ Removing Clutter: Studies show that
removing clutter increased time on task and
improved test scores.
■ Purchasing mobilize furniture.
Laguna Beach classroom designs became
“transformer” classrooms that could morph
from didactic teaching to collaborative
groups then back to a Socratic circle in
less than a minute. Everything has wheels,
including some of the teacher desks. In many
rooms, they removed bulky cabinets and
replaced them with floating file cabinets that
students can sit on.
■ Adding multiple display systems in each
room to maximize the classroom stage.
There is no longer a front of the classroom. To
encourage immersive presentations, Laguna
Beach has added as many as three 70”-80”
LED monitors to a classroom, all with ability
to show the same screen wirelessly through
Apple TV. These displays are brighter than
LCD projectors so more natural light can be
allowed in while the displays are on.
■ Adding color: Studies have shown that
different colors have an impact on classroom
activities. Reading may be better with a
calming yellow, while collaboration is
encouraged by blue. Perhaps the question
is not what color to paint the walls but what
color to light the walls. Laguna Beach has
been experimenting with HUE lighting by
Philips to change the color of their walls.
Teachers point LED lights toward white
walls and then use an iPad app to change
the color of the walls and the mood of their
classrooms with just a click of a button.
■ Adding amplification: Studies show that
using audio amplification can decrease
teacher stress levels at the end of the day.
Audio amplification and microphones can
also be a way to increase collaboration.
Each student group has a microphone and a
speaker at their desk. Using a FlexCat system
by LightSpeed, a teacher with an earbud can
listen in remotely to groups working together.
The teacher can also speak directly to any
individual student or groups of students from
the microphone without interrupting the
■ Plants: Studies show that the introduction
of plants in classrooms with few windows did
not improve test scores, but they did increase
the students’ positive perception about the
■ Air conditioning: The AC was set as a
standard in all classrooms because studies
showed 72 degrees was the optimal learning
temperature for most students.
■ Sit and Stand desks: These desks were
deployed in some classrooms and are not
only popular with students, but the added
engagement of leg muscles in active learners
allows them to focus.
■ Stools: Buoy (Steelcase) and Hokey (VS
furniture) stools were deployed to increase
movement while sitting. This has been
shown to decrease bad posture and stagnant
positions, making the focus on learning easier.
■ Whiteboards: The district deployed Verb
desks with attached hanging whiteboards
that can be assembled on an easel or a board
to facilitate process planning and checking
The Laguna Beach committee has tried
things that haven’t worked, but they are
encouraged by the thought that they are “failing
up” and that this collective learning makes
them better at identifying what is critical in the
classroom. An added benefit of this redesign
is that teachers are enjoying their work spaces
more. Empowering teachers to change their
classrooms can be the spark to encourage and
enable our students to change the world. How
will you embark on your journey to create
inspiring learning spaces?
Michael Morrison is the chief technology
officer of Laguna Beach Unified School District
in California. He has been awarded the Gold Disk
by CUE. Follow Michael on Twitter @MyTakeOnTech or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.