Three Takeaways from Learning Spaces Symposium

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The following article is contributed by Robert Talbert. A professor of mathematics at GVSU, Talbert is on a year-long sabbatical working at Steelcase as a scholar-in-residence.

Steelcase Education, a project sponsor of the Innovative Learning and Teacher Change (ILETC) at the University of Melbourne, hosted their Transitions North America symposium at the Grand Rapids Learning and Innovation Center on September 14, 2017. This day-long conference, also sponsored by DLR group, featured research on learning spaces by graduate and early-career researchers and reports from the field by seasoned practitioners. Over the course of the day, the full scope of how space affects learning was on display through a combination of both rigorous scholarly research and compelling stories.

Active learning environments make a difference in students’ lives.

The one-day symposium, followed up with a “think tank” of conference participants and interlocutors the following day, produced more big ideas and good questions than any one person can process briefly. However, here are three primary takeaways from my experience at the symposium:

Several talks at the symposium highlighted moving personal accounts of active learning spaces enhancing students’ lives. Dr. Julie Marshall, teacher at Saluda Trail Middle School in South Carolina, gave an emotional keynote on how her Steelcase active learning classroom gave her students — many of whom grow up in poverty — a place to call home. For Julie’s students, she said, “the classroom is like the family dining room table” and provides them a place where they have agency and freedom to choose their paths.

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