4 Tips to Design Learning Spaces for Middle School Students
- October 24, 2023
- Sean Downey
Middle school is a transitional phase in students’ academic careers, ushering students from elementary school into high school––and beyond. In middle school, students are often presented with a new schedule, different approaches to learning, and faster rates of acquiring new academic content.
During their middle school years, students build valuable academic and social-emotional skills that support lifelong learning. As students gain independence and agency, learning spaces must adapt to support student growth. Designing middle school learning spaces should be done with students’ cognitive and social development in mind in order to nurture academic success and social-emotional wellbeing.
Here are four factors to consider when designing middle school learning spaces:
To promote engagement, create flexible middle school learning spaces by utilizing various seating options, desks and tables, and learning zones. For example, offer standard-height chairs and tables, stools and adjustable-height standing desks, and various lounge seating options all in one learning environment.
Flexible learning environments encourage movement, promote collaboration, and ensure student comfort. As their levels of independence grow, middle school students benefit from having flexible learning options in the classroom. A range of different learning spaces empower students to choose areas that cater to their comfort and learning preferences, enhancing their engagement and focus.
During their middle school years, students are just beginning to develop their identities and explore their interests. Learning spaces should be designed with student voice and choice in mind, offering learners opportunities to express themselves by personalizing their space. Bulletin boards, lockers, and personal cubbies allow students to display their work, achievements, and inspirations, creating a sense of ownership and pride in their learning environment.
Additionally, modular, mobile, and adjustable furnishings allow students to interact with their environment, giving them a voice in determining the function of the space. This encourages students to create a space that reflects their vision for learning. Furthermore, it nurtures a positive attitude towards learning and school, which is vital for academic success and social-emotional wellbeing.
Middle school students are growing up in a world where technology is ubiquitous, so it is crucial for technology to integrate smoothly into the classroom––just as it does in their personal lives. Learning space design should include dedicated spaces for technology-based learning and the digital tools and resources that support students’ learning. Furthermore, areas where students will utilize technology should have adequate access to power supply and WIFI connectivity.
Incorporating collaborative media spaces, tables with integrated power supply, and technology storage stations ensures middle school students can use technology seamlessly. When students have access to these tools in a well-designed learning environment, they develop essential digital literacy skills, learning to use technology as an asset for their learning.
When designing learning spaces, it is important to consider the diverse needs of middle school students. For students with disabilities, it’s critical that schools find creative ways to meet ADA requirements and beyond––creating active learning spaces that are accessible to all students. Flexible, mobile, and adjustable furnishings provide benefits to students with disabilities, ensuring that every student can access and participate in their learning environment without feeling excluded.
In general, middle school can be a stressful time for students as they go through variety of social-emotional and biological changes. On top of this, students who struggle with mental illness, sensory difficulties, and academic challenges can quickly become overwhelmed with the demands of the school day. Provide students with a retreat at school with quiet zones and sensory spaces. These spaces utilize comfortable seating, soft lighting, and sensory tools to create an environment where students can manage their emotions, reflect, and refocus.
Designing flexible, personalized, and inclusive middle school learning spaces encourages engagement, collaboration, and student wellbeing. These environments empower middle school students to thrive academically and socially, helping to guide them through this impactful phase of their academic journey.
Dr. Christina Counts, ALEP, VP of Education for MiEN Environments, is a proven leader with a successful background in transforming learning spaces into modern engaging learning environments. Dr. Counts has worked in education for over 17 years with experience as a classroom teacher, district instructional leader, school administrator, and digital and innovative learning designer. In her most recent position, Christina leads a team of professionals that support schools making the transition to a flexible, collaborative, & student-centered learning space. She holds a doctorate in K-12 Educational Leadership, National Board-certified, and Google & Apple certified. Dr. Counts envisions a learning space in which educators are empowered to transform education through design, technology and innovative instructional pedagogy to create learners ready for any future!