What is a learning commons?
Envision a combination of hands-on museum, library, art studio, and computer lab where students are actively engaged and directing their own learning, an active environment where imagination and innovation meet opportunity. It is more than a library, where physical books are housed and circulated, although it certainly includes that. It is more than a third space, where people can meet to share ideas and talents, although it also certainly encompasses that. A learning commons is a place that inspires and incubates ideas, helping students to solidify and internalize course content and to broaden their understanding of the world.
How does this happen?
It happens by providing students with real-world opportunities to express their own voices, by encouraging connections across the curriculum, and by exposing students to new ways of thinking about their futures. The space will hold a wide variety of materials, including craft supplies, Makey-Makeys, Little Bits, and robotic kits, all designed to help students develop problem-solving skills, communication skills, and perseverance. PCHS teacher Ariel McGowan believes this approach will be beneficial to her students. "I am extremely excited for a learning commons where my students who learn more easily when up and moving can have a place to work with teachers and our media specialist to create projects and other hands-on learning activities. I think I will see an increase in student engagement and comprehension!"
What does it look like?
A learning commons may look chaotic to a casual observer. There may be some students sitting on the floor, others jumping around in a corner, and still others yelling at a table. But look more closely and you’ll notice that the students on the floor are working on a collage about Persephone, the ones jumping in the corner are excited about a breakthrough they just made while designing their own multi-terrain drone, and the ones at the table are yelling encouragement for a teammate who just made a brilliant move in a strategy game. On another visit to the learning commons, you may find students engaged in an engineering design challenge, working through the problems in a BreakoutEDU game (an educational version of Escape Rooms), or sewing cloth bookmarks that light up with electrical circuits.
Students need opportunities beyond the classroom environment to construct their own meaning from all the information they encounter throughout the day. They need exposure to new technologies in order to more fully imagine their own futures. And they need access to tools and equipment to explore their own interests and build background knowledge. Teacher Vicky Ward gives another reason for providing a learning commons. "Many of my students struggle in the traditional classroom setting, so I am looking forward to having the learning commons room to have hands-on activities and resources to work with."
Our learning commons hasn’t yet opened, so our students don’t quite understand the concept, but they are excited about having their own space, which they are helping to design. Kenny Stoltzfus’ architecture and drafting students have measured the room and created scale drawings to use in planning the layout of the space. Other students have helped pick out paint colors. Nearly 100 students responded to a survey about what they would like to do in the learning commons. And students, staff, and families are participating in StickTogether, a collaborative art project which will hang in the new room.
PCHS teachers are looking forward to having an easily accessible space designed just for their students. Lynn Hardison is excited about the possibilities, and comments, “Health related and inspired materials will be more readily available to my health science students.” English teacher Megan Phillips says, “The students of PCHS deserve a modern media center with options that are geared towards them. I look forward to what we will now be able to explore in a judgment-free zone designed with an eye towards the future we expect our students to be successful in.”
That’s what it’s all about! The learning commons aims to help our students be prepared for whatever the future brings and for jobs that don’t yet exist. It will develop mindsets that will help our students become the creators and innovators we need to move our country forward. The learning commons will be an integral part of PCHS, preparing future-ready students, and giving them a new reason to come to school.