The First Future Classroom School (Part 1)


In March of 2023, the first Future Classroom Lab-inspired school opened doors in Pirkkala, Finland. The Kirkonkylä school is the first one in the world to be designed and built entirely on the learning zones model first piloted by European Schoolnet in Brussels (Learn more about the FCL). The innovative and flexible classroom layout invites teachers and other education professionals to re-think traditional school environments and to imagine new ways of teaching and learning. Last year, the initiative celebrated its 10th anniversary, a decade which saw the opening of over 120 similar spaces (called “Innovative Learning Labs”) across the world.

In 2023, the FCL concept, originally developed for a single classroom, was first applied to a whole school, indicating the potential of the model to continue to respond to the needs of schools, teachers, students, and 21st-century education in general in ways that had not been thought of before.

The journey towards the opening of the first FCL school, the Kirkonkylä school, started back in late 2016 at Tampere University Teacher Training School (TUTTS) where the first Future Classroom Lab in Finland was in the making.

At the time, the school was going through an unexpected increase in the number of students which stretched the capacity of the physical space to the maximum. And then beyond it. The available infrastructure was just not suitable for the education of so many pupils and this was beginning to cause problems for students, teachers, and parents alike.

On the one hand, nobody wanted the pupils to lose in on their education due to infrastructure reasons. On the other hand, enlarging the school building by adding extra premises was going to be a costly and messy solution. Several weeks of intense discussions followed during which a consensus was beginning to form that a new approach was required. Something that had not been done before.

After the initial back-and-forth among the teachers, two of them, Mikko and Tuomo, were tasked with finding a workable solution. The situation was challenging but in it, the two teachers saw an opportunity to experiment with innovative ideas about “what else?” could education look like.

They started spending evening after evening poring over different potential solutions. It was in November of 2016 that they came across the concept of the Future Classroom Lab. The space wasn’t the typical classroom and it had that high level of flexibility which, by now, they were convinced was the key to accommodating many students from different grades in a limited space. “It was a big leap into the unknown,” Mikko reminisced .

The more they were looking at the different learning zones and the way that the education process was structured within them, the more confident they felt that an FCL was the most practical and workable solution for their specific circumstances. The next step was to present the idea to the rest of the team. Mikko and Tuomo contacted the head teacher and requested that a date be set for a general staff meeting.

In between the two of them, they were already discussing the details around the learning zones and the new ways of teaching and learning that these zones invited but in preparation for the staff meeting, they needed to zoom out of these detailed deliberations and go back to the very beginning. They had to walk the rest of the team through the concept starting from the most general idea and gradually going down to the intricacies of each specific classroom activity, other subject-specific needs, the new curriculum requirements, and a number of other major and minor aspects that had to be discussed before the plan receives the green light.

The meeting did not go according to plan.

It went better.

“Everyone was very excited! They started discussing what they could do differently with their students in this kind of learning space,” remembers Mikko.

The aspect that surprised Mikko and Tuomo most was that although their colleagues were not willing to take on the challenge of coming up with a solution themselves, they were more than willing to re-think their current pedagogical practices and try new things with their students. Hence, they were way more excited about the FCL concept than the duo had initially hoped.

Again, several weeks of intense discussions followed, but this time the mood was very different. In one corner of the meeting room, teachers of the same subject exchanged ideas about what innovative activities they can try in this new space. In another corner, teachers of the same grades were sharing ideas on potential synergies.

Eventually, the educators came together around a number of shared pedagogical objectives that later became the core of the new methodology practiced in their own Future Classroom Lab. They wanted their FCL to be a place where students take on an active role in their own education, own their learning and gradually come to see for themselves how learning is leading to self-improvement. Making students the key driver behind their own education was seen as an opportunity to encourage more autonomy in the pupils, a cornerstone of the entire process of growing up. On a different note, the FCL concept also offered a chance for project-based learning, collaboration, critical thinking, and exploration of different education technologies.

In early April 2017, the actual work began to turn the TUTTS’s old library into a Future Classroom Lab. By then, even the students were involved.

“We furnished and cleaned the space together with the students because our idea from the very beginning was to emphasize shared responsibility, to engage the pupils and instill in them a sense of ownership and understanding of the new environment,” says Tuomo.

And so, in early 2018, after a year and a half of preparations, the first Future Classroom Lab in Finland opened doors.

The Lab consists of 5 learning zones. “Explore” is the area particularly suitable for any sort of information gathering and retrieval. “Immerse” is the space for quieting down the mind, concentrating, reading, and reflecting on the information collected. “Influence” is for practicing presentations, critical thinking, argumentation, and defense of ideas as well as game-based learning and media education. “Express” is the space dedicated to physical exercises and theatre where students can act out their ideas. And finally, “Create” is where all of the previous steps come together in a tangible product. The last stop on the journey to finding workable solutions to practical problems.

“In a strange way, the journey across the 5 zones resembles the process which Tuomo and I followed to find a solution to the problem with the new curriculum.” - says Mikko.

The story could have easily ended here but people from outside Tampere University Teacher Training School had caught wind of what was going on. And they had ideas of their own…

- On to Part 2 -

Interested in exploring how the concept of the Future Classroom Lab can benefit your school? The Future Classroom Toolkit offers a collection of tools, guidance and resources for designing future classroom scenarios and using them to bring advanced and innovative learning and teaching to the classroom.