School classrooms may soon look less like rows of chairs and desks and appear closer in design to start-up style collaborative spaces.

The Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District’s vision of a near-future education was revealed Wednesday night at a special board meeting that took place at district offices. The proposed future educational spaces would provide classrooms with many things, namely easily moveable and mobile furniture in order to integrate several interdisciplinary 21st-century learning models.

The goal is to future-proof both facilities and student learning, supporting individual, group, and all-class instruction, with indoor and outdoor settings.

SMMUSD Chief Operations Officer Carey Upton and assistant superintendent Dr. Jacqueline Mora led a presentation showcasing the modular, start-up envisioned future for the school district.

“As we think about 21st-century learning and our practice to engage our students with real-world problems, we have to look the environment,” Mora said. “How is that enriching their experience? How are educators maximizing their spaces?”

These spaces would eschew the traditional style of learning, consisting of rows of desks and a teacher as the focal point, and instead make students the focal point, integrating project-based learning (PBL).

PBL focuses more on student autonomy, an often interdisciplinary method of teaching that asks students to work alone and in groups, performing their own research and reviewing others in constant collaboration in order to enhance critical thinking and other intangibles.

An example given was educators using a “teaching wall” complemented by a “secondary teaching wall”, lecturing at one wall while the other may be in use by another teacher or used as an area where students can further research and discuss teachings with a small group of students.

“A student may start off [a lesson] reading a book, head to a group area to discuss a book, and then go to a digital wall to further research the book,” a staff member said. The staff member said the constant goal for this is to have students engaging as often as possible, sharpening each other’s minds.

Aside from the classroom, the presentation showed what other reimagined spaces could be, including cafeterias and school libraries.

Proposed open-spaced, high-ceiling libraries would become the central hub of student activity. The presentation described it as many things: classroom, resource center, social center, tech center, project teaming area and tutoring/special services. A staff member opined aloud about adding a cafe, as well.

Cafeterias would create fresh, daily meals and encourage students to learn more about their food, providing on-site cultivation and instructional learning labs.

Board reception for the discussion was warm to the presentation, with board members only pausing to note they didn’t want to lose sight of the achievement gap or disrespect teachers in the district working hard via traditional methods.

“We’re proud of the work that goes on here,” board member Craig Foster said. “We have a vision for the future. I think it’s best we hold respect for practices we have now while aspiring for continual improvement. That’s how we embrace this, we hold the duality.”

Drafting for the presentation included staff-involved focus groups. Tentative scheduling has Upton’s team holding community meetings and a finalized presentation for board review on November 15.

Superintendent Dr. Drati said community engagement will be key in crystallizing the district’s efforts in integrating this new plan.

“We need to involve the community in this process. We want this whole thing to be successful and our success will depend on how people respond.”

The board unanimously supported the discussion, saying there’s “nothing to hug out.”

For a fully detailed look at the future of Santa Monica’s educational spaces, click here.

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