Rethinking Learning Spaces for 21st Century Schools

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The school environment is often referred to as the third teacher, yet many schools continue to construct their facilities with traditional, and arguably outdated, classrooms and resources. NIST began shifting away from this several years ago as we incorporated current research, student and teacher feedback, and expert consultants into the design process. From the bright multi-purpose spaces in The Hub to the open, engaging Mechai Learning Commons, many of the areas in the school’s buildings now resemble workspaces of cutting-edge companies rather than classrooms.

Over the coming summer, NIST plans to undertake an ambitious new project: the renovation of our counselling and learning support area. Located in the school’s Secondary Building, this floor provides a wide range of services for students, including social and emotional counselling, college and career counselling, and enrichment and support services. In rethinking the layout and structure, we imagined a space that would visually showcase the diverse pathways and learning opportunities that our high school students experience on a daily basis.

The new counseling suite aims to support efforts to best serve learners in an increasingly competitive university environment. Top universities no longer focus solely on academic success in the admissions process. They seek out prospective community leaders with a passion for service, multilingual learners who can bridge cultures, and creative problem solvers who take risks. The challenge of developing these traits – combined with dropping acceptance rates, often in the single digits – means that schools must focus more on preparing students with a broader range of skill sets, while also cultivating emotional, social and ethical intelligence.

This space will include purpose-built areas for hosting college fairs and welcoming university representatives, as well as engaging with the community by inviting parent speakers, professionals and other experts to bring real-life experience into the school. Beyond the many spaces on this floor that reflect the need for collaborative learning and social development, students will have access to small study pods and larger teaching rooms for the school’s learning support and enrichment programmes. As we further investigates different pathways for its students, this will allow the school to partner with universities, NGOs and other organizations in investigating innovative programmes.

By developing its facilities in a manner that parallels and complements its educational approaches, NIST aims to further transform the traditional mold, providing students with a progressive education that instills the skills needed to tackle the challenges of the innovation age. The call for change has been articulated by universities, entrepreneurs, politicians and educators themselves for decades. It’s time that we all start paying attention, and rebuild our schools to reflect the realities of a new world.