Flexible, Modular Classroom Spaces Designed for Teachers and Scholars
- August 28, 2020
- Anthony Bowie
Focused on providing education and experience in career fields, Boone County Schools’ Ignite Institute is creating a reality where industry and education work together to ensure that students have the skills and creativity to succeed in a fast-paced, technology-driven society. Through project-based learning, students have authentic, real-world experiences that prepare them for the jobs of the future. This innovative educational approach requires unique physical space that includes flexible classroom spaces, furniture, and fixtures.
“We designed our school for a generation of digital introverts that are already in high school, but need help realizing their potential for what comes next after high school,” said Julie Whitis, Co-Principal at the Erlanger, Kentucky-based school. Offering six different career areas for schools to explore, Ignite Institute opened for the 2019-20 school year with 890 students—a number that will reach 1,200 for the coming year.
A 1:1, bring your own device (BYOD) school that provides devices to families that need it, Ignite Institute taps the potential of students who need help developing the presentation, communication, research, and collaboration skills “needed to be able to show off their intelligence,” said Whitis. “With our curriculum, they learn other things besides just academic content.”
As part of its mission, the school matches up students with mentors. Working together, they set goals, discuss their personal lives, and talk out their challenges.“We’re a very student-centered school; they’re at the forefront of everything we do,” said Whitis.
Donated by Toyota, Ignite Institute’s 180,000sf building reflects its innovative educational approach. Unlike a traditional school, for example, this one doesn’t have a set bank of classrooms that students and teachers file into every morning when the bell rings. Instead, those rooms are used for different activities throughout the school day.
“We do have some teachers who are stationary, but then the rest of the space is pretty flexible, depending on the activities that they’re doing on any given day,” said Whitis, who calls Ignite Institute a “highly presentation-based school” that needs flexible furniture that can be quickly moved around to accommodate group work, independent work, or a combination of both.
“Flexibility is very important to us,” said Whitis. “During the same class period, some students might be practicing presentations while the others are using their laptops to work independently on the other side of the room. Later in the period, everyone will switch places.”
To create these spaces, Ignite Institute worked with its district superintendent to outline a vision for the innovative school. As part of that process, the district selected MiEN to provide the furniture and the design support needed to make that vision a reality. “Our superintendent selected a partner whose furniture would gel with the school’s vision,” said Whitis. “That made MiEN a frontrunner in the selection process.” Co-Principal Jerome Gels added, “The furniture from MiEN has allowed to maximize the potential of our building.”
Ignite Institute’s novel architectural elements include a cafeteria that doubles as an extension of its large meeting room called “The Box.” The furniture in the cafeteria not only serves for eating purposes, but also can be modified into either a classroom or a large group/meeting space. The school’s collaboration area is equally as modular and boasts six different possible setups and accommodation for six different teachers at once. “They can mix and match the furniture across those six different setups,” said Whitis.
Featuring moveable walls, Ignite Institute’s learning spaces can be made into small or large spaces as needed. And, its design studios and classrooms feature tables that can be transformed into presentation formations from work surfaces on the dime. Panels of scholars can give feedback to one another, said Whitis, and experts from the business community can come in and view the students’ research presentations.
“It’s a very flexible structure,” said Whitis, “and it was based around the architect and the furniture teams working together.” Calling the furniture “very conducive” to Ignite Institute’s learning styles, she said all of it is easily modifiable depending on the teachers’ intentions.
“We have presentation structures that we can modify furniture for, and we have collaboration spaces where we can push desks together or pull them apart,” said Whitis. “This suits the needs of our teachers and students. No longer do we want our educators to have to conform to the furniture, but the furniture to conform to the teachers and students.”
For Ignite Institute, MiEN provided the framework that the school needed to build its innovative spaces from the ground up—starting with the initial furniture layouts. “Those were very helpful,” said Whitis. “Using them, we could see how the spaces would be used, how much open space would be around the furniture, the different types of furniture that we needed, and how they would fit into the available spaces.”
When students are building robots in an engineering class, for example, teachers may want to push away all of the furniture and work in one, large open space. English classes, on the other hand, often need furniture moved into circles or pods to help stoke productive group discussions. “We have one teacher who prefers to work with students sitting in a semicircle, and another likes a more traditional classroom setup,” said Whitis. “We also have one professor who lets the students move the furniture around themselves. The flexibility of our furniture ensures that regardless of what educational shifts take place, we’ll always be able to serve our students’ needs.” In addition to the flexibility of the furniture, Ignite has been please with the durability of the furniture as highlights by Gels, “One of the important things at Ignite is the maintenance and upkeep of the furniture. We have been thrilled with the durability and quality of the products supplied by MiEN.”