by Bart Verswijvel, Future Classroom Lab Pedagogical Adviser
The International School of Brussels is a private K12 school, located in residential Brussels. The school, built on a hill next to the Boitsfort Ponds, is surrounded by the beautiful old trees of a small forest.
A few years ago the school decided to rethink the learning spaces of the school. The idea was to promote active and social learning and to give the students the possibility to develop themselves according to their own learning styles, needs and strengths.
Year by year the school does some investments to reshape the different floors of their Middle School building. The idea is to transform the complete building into one space for learning. Glass walls have replaced the blind walls next to the corridors. The corridors and the in-between-spaces have been upgraded and integrated into the overall learning environment. Each of floors hosts a different subject section and groups classes for e.g. maths, languages, science, etc. The students work in the classroom with their teacher but quite often also individually or in groups. At that time they can spread out in the open spaces outside the classrooms. At first sight you might think that this concept is messy and distracting, but when visiting the school I saw that the kids were all focused on their work and felt at home.
The open space provides comfortable furniture where the students can sit together and collaborate in an informal way. Some spaces and cubicles made of sound-proof glass, are reserved for students who want to work in complete silence.
The school has a 1:1 policy and the students all have the same laptop, included in the school tuition. The school also encourages that students bring their own smartphone to be used for mobile learning or as a tool to connect with the outside world. The students and teachers of the ISB Middle School use the hashtag #mslearns to share learning outcomes and views on Twitter. In the school building there is a screen with a Twitter wall displaying the feed of tweets sent by the students.
The school wants to invest in the well-being of the students. The light in the open spaces comes from SAD lamps. According to the school management the light therapy has a wonderful effect as it gives an energy boost and as it brightens dark winter moods. In the school I saw happy kids.
They did not at all abuse the freedom they were given in the open space. They were committed to their tasks, spoke with tempered voices or were very concentrated and silent. When visiting the science maker space I saw the pupils really enjoying the learning activities. At the wall the students had painted their learning mantras. One of them was Embrace Failure and Success.
The International School of Brussels is well aware they are in a privileged position, but according to me the view on learning can also be adapted in schools with less funding. With a minimum on investment, steps can be taken to reshape the building into a place where students can build 21st century skills and… enjoy learning.