September marks back to school for many communities across the nation. HMFH, too, went back to school to research and learn how our design of a learning commons is working for elementary schools that recently opened in New Hampshire.
The physical outcome of the design process was a learning commons in the core of each of the three new schools. Each commons was a collection of interconnected spaces:
Project areas equipped with sinks, storage areas, and flexible seating could be used for large-scale activities (book making, science projects). These works-in-progress could be left up for several days at a time.
Amphitheaters for student skits, guest speakers, or large-group discussions.
Storytelling rooms to host quiet reading or “buddy reading,” where older students read to their young charges.
Breakout spaces for individual students to catch up on work, or for small-group work under teacher supervision. Special needs teachers could use these spaces for isolated one-on-one support with a child. The breakout spaces are located between every pair of classrooms and also open into the learning commons.
A media space, a book-collections room, and spaces with dedicated resources for reading, speech, and other special needs were also provided. Traditional classrooms surround the commons.
HMFH also relied on research that showed physical movement to be integral to learning. Providing a variety of spaces would get students up off their duffs and moving around.
A change in environment for loud, hands-on activities would, it was believed, help students recalibrate on a topic and find a new focus for the work at hand.
The three schools – two K-5s and a PreK-2 — opened in 2013, but HMFH was not done with them. Last spring, the firm hired an outside research firm, Community Circle, Lexington, Mass., to conduct a post-occupancy evaluation to determine what was working well, what could work better in the learning commons — information that the firm hoped would help it design even better learning commons in the future.