Discovery as Insight: Learning Space Differentiation in 8 spaces

In September of 2014 we at the ASFM Tech Integration department embarked upon the journey of redesigning experiences such as STEM, Blended Learning, and Spaces. We took a group of educators on the on a week long tour of the possible through various schools and innovative organizations in California. I had previously been on trips of a similar nature when we were rolling out the 1:1 program at Seoul Foreign School and found it to be highly valuable as a new Tech Integration Coach. You don’t know what you don’t know and that trip broadened my horizon of what was possible so I thought we could do the same in Mexico.

 ASFM Design team at the d:School 

ASFM Design team at the d:School 

Now while the insights compiled on that trip still serves as a valuable insights and was also a great team building event, what often happens is schools go on trips to other schools or search the web for insights and end up adopting someone else's solution. The trouble is that their solution works for their community and when we are talking about space as a Third Teacher, you want to make sure that teacher knows your students. Therefore, I would encourage you to approach insight into concepts rather than tangible solutions. It is the essence of the resources below which have guided us to positive results with the development of spaces.

Learning Space Differentiation in 8 spaces I had been exposed to the 6 spaces of Social media a while back from Ewan McIntosh but have since modified the list to serve as a reference to the status of spaces pre and post redesign. This is an element which has resonated with educators who have attended my “Classroom by Design” workshops and often give them something to put into action now.

1. Hidden Spaces: These are spaces yet to be revealed, reading corners, book knooks, etc which offer an unexpected escape for students. Elementary students love these just as much as middle or high school students. When we don't have these spaces the need to escape manifests itself in hiding out in stair wells and alcoves, which teachers and admin love. 

2. Collaboration Spaces: These are spaces where 2-6 students can come together to collaborate for a short or long time with the “Just in Time” resources to work now. These may include prototyping materials, writable surfaces, a monitor, etc. Agility and flexibility is essential to maximize use and effectiveness. This can be low or high tech as your community needs.

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3. Publication Spaces: This is where is the story of the space told and to what extent the students can freely post, will indicate the authenticity of the space. These are anchor charts developed by teachers, or store bought displays. These are writable and pegable walls with a democratic ethos of showcasing learning in action. Something we at ASFM have been prototyping is a solution where students can store, display, and gain feedback on a prototype of learning in action, thus going beyond a single function response to a “Participation Space”.


4. Performance Spaces: These are the types of spaces where students can showcase their talents, be someone new, or challenge themselves. Traditionally in schools these are playgrounds, stages and fields but in 2018 we can go broader with this concept. Production studios, mini stages, skate parks, recreational areas, student lounges, open studios, and more can encourage performance, 

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5. Participation Spaces: Spaces where you the start, end, and entry points are vague but the invitation is compelling. Participation is essential the learning experience in these spaces. These are ideal spaces for what we call “Sparks” or “Stumps”, installations or items without a clearly defined purpose but what users can use for bringing inspirational ideas to life.

6. Data Spaces: These are spaces which share the data of various elements in the community. These can be evolving, analog, or digital and raise awareness, build community, inform a movement, etc.

7. Watching Spaces: Spaces where someone can be alone in comfort and not feel isolated. Diners and airports have great installations for Watching Spaces. There is a major difference between being alone at a table for four or at a bar or hoteling feature and people watching seems to be much more acceptable from these vantage points.

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8. Hacked Spaces: This is the last of the 8 to be added and came as a result of spending hours observing classes and noticing that students loved to “Hack Space”. On the spectrum of rough to refined, these spaces are on the rough scale as they are perpetually in beta and allow students ownership over the space. An agile mindset and climate is essential for this to flourish. The question becomes then, how might we create the conditions for students to hack the space to meet their needs in real time?

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This is a quick tour through the 8 spaces of learning which I hope you can use as a reference when looking at learning spaces. I am not suggesting that all these spaces need to be present in classrooms, depending on the size of the classroom that may not be possible. What I do propose is that you consider these spaces and the behaviors they encourage. For example, if your lesson and unit plans call for collaboration but you have no Groups Space, space may actually be a constraint to the learning experience you are trying to achieve. Driver towards alignment of space with learning and watch the experience transform.

Data that tells stories with Gapminder Tools

There is a big disconnect between perception and reality in a world of click bait driven media, profit driven news, and an overwhelming amount of content at our fingertips. Fortunately we are seeing more and more massive collaborative efforts to make data live, public, and easily accessible. You may recall Hans Rosling’s TED talk: Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you've ever seen from over 10 years which wowed us with data and the ability to delineate historical events, impact and similarities between between nations which once seemed so different.

Sadly since then, Hans has passed away but graciously he left us a legacy and his work lives on and continues to grow on through the efforts of this son, Ola and his daughter in-law Anna through the Gapminder website and their newly published book Factfulness.


Gapminder Tools puts the data that wowed us a decade ago into the hands of anyone. Users can select from a from a large variety of datasets ranging from life expectancy to literacy rates, to energy, to name some from any country on earth over the past 100 years in various forms including maps, bubbles, ranks, or graphs, etc. Data comes to life, can tell a story, or unearth new truths for students. 

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Hans Rosling's FactPod: If you dig deep enough might be fortunate enough to stumble across the 18 part Factpod Series which addresses some of the world's most pressing issues such as Ebola, refugee crises and how Mexico is closing the gap on the US. What a gift for students and teachers. This is an amazing showcase of what his possible with data. I wonder what stories we will tell.

Discovery as Insight: The Third Teacher Book

In his book Change by Design, Tim Brown frames Discovery as Insight, Observation, and Empathy which has really resonated with our team. For now I am going to expand on "Insight" and reconnect with Observation and Emapthy in a later post. Insight goes beyond traditional research especially with the internet. Today insights are everywhere in digital and analog form and are free. For example, the thoughtless act of a student hacking a space to create a visual learning board offers a priceless insight into how they want to learn and can  transition into an installation in a redesigned space. 

Another great resource for Insight is the book The Third Teacher:  “79 Ways You Can Use Design to Transform Teaching and Learning” which was developed by international team of architects and designers concerned about the failing state of education. Loaded with amazing interviews, case studies, facts, and research to support the transformation of all learning spaces. Featured contributors include, James Dyson, David Suzuki, Sir Ken Robinson, Raffi and Loris Malaguzzi who anchors the publication in the belief that “There are three teachers of children: adults, other children, and their physical environment.” The environment is the “Third Teacher”

At ASFM we have used this resources to gain a pulse into the current status of our spaces as well as invite our team of teachers to a conversation about thinking about spaces differently . A useful activity has been the creation of a collaborative Google Slide Deck which summarizes the 79 ways design can transform teaching and learning, highlights what this looks like on our campus, explores where else this in action, and connects us to an additional resource for further info on he topic. What a great way to start thinking differently about space by being collabortivly creative and active.  

If you are unable to get your hands on the book, The Third Teacher Flashcards are a great jump off point when working with your community to redesign your space. We like to print them out, divide them into their 8 chapters, then have participants select the 5-10-15-etc which resonate with them the most. From there we can launch into ideation and creation of prototypes which bring these concepts to life at our school.    

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When starting the process of redesigning learning spaces a few things are critical.  Firstly, a local community to share, learn, and bounce ideas off of. Secondly, if you are able to connect with an outside expert to assist as a mentor, guide, or consultant this is just as valuable a resources as the money you are going to spend on installations. For us David Jakes has been a invaluable asset, guide, and friend who has now become less of a consultant and more of a colleague/friend/mentor. Lastly, resources such at the Third Teacher Book are great to have on hand to spark new ideas, refocus direction, and to invite others to the conversation. I am going to be sharing more of these over the coming posts , I hope you find them as useful as we here at ASFM have. 

Inspiring Spaces: The Possibilities



Sometimes it's hard to know where to start or what is possible while sitting in our 30 year old classrooms of desks in rows, fluorescent lighting, and beige paint. To be fair, anyone would struggle for imagination in that environment. Therefore we find it useful to preview the process with teachers before going full on into the Design process which takes a lot of time, is an intensive process, and is often unfamiliar to teachers.



The Edutopia video series below showcases a relatable middle school classroom which is transformed over the weekend with the help of a team of designers and community volunteers, all for $1000. It’s important to understand that a classroom redesign is not going to other schools or on Pinterest to see what other spaces look like and what solution you can import into yours. We are redesigning an experience and the space is a resource/tool to enhance that. Therefore the important thing we need understand is the current reality and future preferred state.

Critical to the redesign of a space is the understanding and execution of the Design process. While watching this video, do so through the lens of a designer and watch for the various stages of the process.

 Courtesy of the d:School at Stanford

Courtesy of the d:School at Stanford


Discovery: Gaining insight into the user experience, divergent in nature. Central to this is gaining empathy for all members of the learning community of that space, students and teachers. We are redesigning a space to reflect the learning aspirations for learnings in 2018. The 19th century classrooms were build for direct teaching and classroom management and paid little or no attention to the student experience or how these environments made them feel.




Interpretation: Grouping the data from Discovery into Drivers and Constraints, convergent in nature. In this sample the drivers of collaboration, movement and ambience are translated into spatial concepts as drivers to support learning and you can see the impact immediately.




Ideation: Bringing the drivers to life and creatively solving for the constraints, divergent. In this example I like how the Christian and Melanie anchored the Solution Session to collaboration, comfort and movement as well as aspects such as storage, entry and furniture, each with a unique provocations. As result their ideas are directly focused on solving for the experience.




Prototyping: This is a tough aspect for schools to be able to really dive into. The goal is to bring to life various installations for the drivers and constraints but most schools do not have the resources to bring in various pieces of furniture nor have a construction crew to continually modify the space. Hence the importance of experience and low fidelity installations. The space needs be a living space, a space in progress, responsive to the needs of the learning experience.



Evolution: You can see immediately the impact the space has on the faces of the students. Capturing those initial reactions is important. If they reflect the your drivers, you are on the right track. The initial buzz will wear off and a more indepth evaluation is essential but the reveal reaction is what you strive to replicate.



Hopefully this gives you insight into the what is possible and the process necessary to redesign a learning space. The more you commit to the process, the more of a positive impact the space will have on the learning experience. Redesigning spaces is not going through the Ikea catalog with the teacher. It’s spending the time in the desk with the students, facilitating group empathy activities, listening to understand, and including the community in the process to create the optimal climate for your community’s learning aspirations. Think climate control, not command and control.

Collaboration Tools: Don't Forget to Hit Save.

Yes the “Save” button still exists. Who knew? Of course I knew that when publishing with Squarespace I needed to hit “Save”, but I didn’t really believe that you if you forgot to, that you would lose all your work. Well, you do and will if you don’t. Even tech support coldn't help, how demotivating. 

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Yes this still exists

For those of us who grew up in the pre-Google Docs world I am sure you can understand my frustration when I went to publish a new blog post and suddenly half my writing went missing. I was immediately transported back to 1999 when I pulled the plug on enrollment in Computer Sciences because of a similar frustration. Oh, how we forget.

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Now how does this relate to education? For me, this just reinforces the need for schools to give kids platforms which are easy to use and as stress-free as possible. I cannot believe the number of schools still not using the almost “Save Button Free” Google Suite for Education. When I think back to my pre-save button free teaching experience in the early 2000s, I recall with great clarity the student panic when they “forgot” to press send or save. Now I fully understand that this was a commonly acceptable and used excuse but I also understand the frustration and deflating feeling you get when it really happens.

Therefore, if we are going to ask students take risks, be creative, and solve real-world problems, let’s do our best to create the optimal climates for these experience and not lose them because of dated or obstructive technology. Especially when it’s free.

P.S. I know someone from my Google tribe is going to point out the places where Google has the Save button. Let’s hear it. I can only think of one places.

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e-Portfolios: Why Blog?

Over the past four years my blogging game has steadily declined and it’s usually one of two obstacles which get the better of me. My own perception that I don’t have the time and the what I have to say is of little value.

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I believe we make time for the things we value and that the “lack of time” argument is really a lack of value statement”. I haven’t missed more than a handful Manchester United games in about 25 years. This dedication to supporting my favorite football team has resulted in me dragging my friends and family in the doggiest of pubs in various corners of the globe.

Seth Godin is one of my favorite authors, bloggers, and podcasters and all around thought provocateurs. Almost daily we have Akimbo on in the background and it always offers food for thought. As a writer I love Seth's approach in a couple of ways. Firstly, his done is better than perfect mindset. Secondly, his "ship daily" challenge. But it is his clip on blogging below which nudged me to pick up my blogging game. 

Why Blog by Seth Godin and Tom Peters

To summarize, It doesn't matter who reads your blog, what matters is the humility that comes from writing it. As you can see from the analytics from this blog below, no one has been reading it over the past year. The main purpose of has been an as a resource site for sharing at events and an online resume of sorts.  As Seth continues, it is the metacognition of thinking about what your going to say, about summarizing your thought, decisions, interests into a few paragraphs that matters. What I love about blogs such as Seth Godin's, is the everyday frequency of the posts and the variety in length and investment. He posts every day. Some posts are mere couple sentences while others are paragraphs with images, links, media, etc. As a Designer this really reinforces the belief that to have good ideas, you need lots of ideas. 

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Ain't nobody got time for

I've had course sites, personal and student blogs for ages and it seems that people did once find them useful, see below, but I think what has changed has been the frequency of posting. So that's what is going to change. I'm going to do my best to embrace the "Ship Daily", "Done is better than perfect", Quantity is better than Quality" mindset, and commit to posting multiple times a week. So it begins. 

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People had time for

in 2013