Florida High School Infuses Collaborative Learning into the Curriculum
- October 12, 2022
- Anthony Bowie
Like many schools in the U.S.—where at last count the average public school building was 55+ years old—Mulberry High School in Florida was working from a facility that was built almost 70 years ago. Ready for an overhaul and equipped with funding from a local sales tax referendum, the school constructed a new, 3-story building on the site of its former baseball field.
Once an architect designed the building and submitted the bid and plans, the latter were narrowed down to fit the scope of the project. The project started in 2020 and the new school was open and ready to use in early-2022.
Along with the classrooms, the high school’s plans included numerous, open collaborative learning spaces that support modern learning styles. “In most areas of our school, there are two hallways with resource classrooms running down the center,” said Melinda Dixon, Assistant Principal.
“Those are our collaborative learning spaces, and where we got to be creative,” Dixon continued. Not interested in using a “cookie cutter” design approach (i.e., ordering 200 of the same chairs and hoping for the best), Dixon enlisted MiEN’s help in selecting furniture designs and other elements that would best define and complement the school’s collaborative spaces.
“I wanted each area to include furniture that would best fit the students’ needs as they came in to use those spaces,” said Dixon. In its English literacy content space, for example, the collaborative learning spaces need more of a “library feel,” complete with sofa-type furniture and soft seating.
“The vision was for students to come in and have Socratic seminars and maybe discuss a passage,” said Dixon. The collaborative spaces focused on math, on the other hand, had to be tech-friendly with high tables, soft seating stools and large smartboard monitors for students working in groups. Science spaces combined the two concepts and included soft seating plus semi-circle high-top tables where students could congregate to solve complex science problems.
“Ultimately, we really tried to match the furniture with the content that was being used and presented in that particular space,” said Dixon, who also worked with MiEN to select the furniture colors and materials.
“Our traditional school colors are blue, black and white, but our furniture is not,” she explained. “We used fun pops of color—including lime green and orange—to create a bright learning environment that differs from the traditional classroom.”
As Dixon and her team worked through the planning process for the new high school’s collaborative spaces, they had a lot of questions about furniture wear-and-tear and needed to know that their choices would stand the test of time. MiEN was more than happy to help address these queries.
“We couldn’t have done it without MiEN,” said Dixon. “They were great about helping us with what they know works well. They were really honest, which I appreciated, because we want the furniture to last.” MiEN also shared visuals from other schools and showed Dixon how certain products looked in certain environments.
“This made a big difference versus just looking at a catalog,” said Dixon. “They also helped us with our color selections and were instrumental in helping us pick everything out.”
And even when the Mulberry High School team changed its mind, MiEN was there to help by offering up new options and providing feedback on those changes. “They never made us feel bad, even when we changed our mind 100 times,” said Dixon. “I walked away from the experience feeling like they really took the time with us and let us play around, because what you put in your school is a huge decision.”
It’s hard not to like a new facility and all of the amenities that come with it, and Mulberry High School’s new 3-story school is building a big fan base. Students, teachers and administrators all enjoy working at the new building, and more and more of them are taking advantage of the ample amount of collaborative learning spaces that they have to work with.
“Once we took a couple teachers into those learning spaces to see how they could be used during their classroom time, they really caught on to how beneficial it would be for their students,” said Dixon, who set up a Google Doc that teachers use to reserve the spaces during the school day.
All teachers received training on how to best use the space, what the school’s expectations were for them and how students should treat the furniture (e.g., no lying down on the couches). Teachers have also been able to customize the space to meet their needs. For math, they use stations that students can rotate through. For literacy instruction, it’s more of a group, conversational approach that encourages everyone to participate.
The word has spread quickly. When teachers do collaborative planning or develop a PLC, they’ll point out that they used a specific space for a certain type of instruction. After seeing that, a colleague may follow suit.
“I also send out a weekly newsletter that includes pictures of the cool things that are happening on campus,” said Dixon. “I make sure to highlight how the collaborative spaces are being used so other teachers can see how they work.”