Flexible learning spaces
Harbord Public School in Sydney’s northern beaches, home to 1152 students and 45 teachers, recently underwent a major capital works program to upgrade school facilities.
“FROM THE VERY BEGINNING OF THE PROJECT, WE UNDERTOOK TO DEVELOP A SET OF SCHOOL SPECIFIC PRINCIPALS TO GUIDE THE PROJECT DESIGN.”
THE New South Wales Government’s $13.5 million upgrade of Harbord Public School consisted of constructing 18 new classrooms and library facilities, reducing the number of relocatable classrooms and supporting contemporary teaching and learning practices.
Work commenced in November 2015 and the construction of the new facilities was completed in time for the first day of school in January 2017.
“From the very beginning of the project, we undertook to develop a set of school specific principals to guide the project design,” Harbord Public School principal Craig Davis said.
Project architect Cathy Kubany and her team incorporated and translated these principles into the building design.
“Our senior students were asked what they wanted from a classroom environment and informed the design team of three essential aspects they to be central to the build; natural light, comfortable seats and space to learn,” Mr Davis said.
“We reviewed research around contemporary learning and built pedagogy (physical space). In retrospect, our flexible learning spaces were influenced by the research around ‘built pedagogy’ shaping teaching and learning,” he said.
“In this way, flexible learning spaces, coupled with flexible furniture, were a clear signal of our intent to do things differently in this environment.”
The majority of the flexible furniture was designed and manufactured by Australian educational furniture company Norvanivel. The school was hopeful that such a flexible space would influence the way in which teachers and students interacted; allowing for increased creativity, student engagement, support differentiation, and collaboration and communication among teachers and students.
Prior to the upgrade, Harbord staff had been experimenting with modifying the learning environments, de-cluttering and removing some of the unnecessary furniture, and staff encouraged students to be flexible in their approach to learning.
Mr Davis said the two school deputy principals, assistant principals and teachers established a focus network to disseminate and share professional reading around current research, built pedagogy, and contemporary teaching and learning practice.
“One of our assistant principals undertook the lead in change management plotting our course as to the changes staff and student might expect and how to negotiate this change. Discussions around student management, teaching methodology, management of resources to how best to manage the transition of some 500 hundred students and 18 members of staff into the new facilities,” he said.
“Generally, the students have really adapted exceptionally well to the new structures. Like any shared working space we have clear and specific expectations established to maximise learning behaviour,” Mr Davis said.
“The furniture is designed in such a way as to allow the learning environment to be manipulated making it changeable and fluid.”
With flexible learning spaces purpose built for students’ engagement and teacher’s learning technique; Harbord Public School is well placed to be providing excellent education in the community for years to come.
“The students are thoroughly engaged with the learning environment and appear to enjoy the opportunity that the learning commons provide. From my perspective, the students appear much happier at school and levels of student engagement levels are improving,” Mr Davis said.
“The new facilities have provided a fantastic opportunity to reflect upon and even challenge our teaching and learning practices.
“The NSW Department of Education has designed and built an innovative and modern facility that reflects the educational principles expressed by the school.”
Flexible furniture at Harbord Public School.