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Learning at its Best

Envisioning Spaces

In the world of art and design, white space = negative space.

Artists value both positive and negative space as they fill their canvases.

Graphic designers position color, text, and image, with uncluttered care, in white space.

Sumi-e artists entice the viewer’s imagination through suggestions of ink floating in white space.

Architects love white space. They paint walls white in homes, schools, hospitals, courthouses, and museums.

On Harry Beck’s subway map, white space allows the user to find her way with ease along side and main rail tracks.

Theresa Amabile wrote a post, Three Threats to Creativity. She’s the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Amabile shared that “the first threat to business creativity is our endangered education system.” Here’s what she says a work environment needs for creativity to thrive:

1)    smart people who think differently

2)    Passionate engagement

3)    a creative atmosphere

Amabile says mandated and narrowed curricula close down creativity in education. As America’s corporate ed-reformers and politicians increase standardization of learning inside cookie cutter schools and classrooms, I believe passion for learning decreases among educators and children. Mass standardization pushes for a culture of people who think the same, follow procedures and discourage new ideas. If we want “design think”, how do we create a “contagious creativity” within a customizable curricula?

I wonder why we keep painting
all of the white spaces
in our children’s world,
instead of seeking
the perfect balance
of color and light.
2nd Grade Sumi-e Artist

About pamelamoran

Executive Director of the Virginia School Consortium for Learning: We create paths to contemporary learning by supporting participants from member divisions to engage in critical inquiry to develop curriculum, assessment, and Instruction consistent with a focus on supporting learners to acquire competencies of critical thinking, communication, citizenship, collaboration, and creativity.


9 thoughts on “Envisioning Spaces

  1. I have been criticized for the way I use space in my classroom.

    “You can’t waste your wall space with a mural. You need a word wall.”

    “You can’t use ‘balance’ as your reason for the empty space you’ve left in the middle.”

    “This looks like an art gallery, not a classroom.”

    But . . .

    kids love it
    kids feel calm when they are in it
    kids don’t need a barrage of words telling them what to think

    I spent time reading up on space (from both a Western and Eastern perspective). I didn’t toss up art unintentionally. It serves its purpose. Nothing is placed without intention.

    Posted by johntspencer | February 27, 2011, 1:02 pm
    • Space is very important…. Much rather learn in a gallery then in a 99 cent store…. which is what most classrooms look like.

      Balance is important….but for me, flexibility, comfort and vary of learning space is key for me….

      Word walls can be great….but often they are just another form of Worksheets….

      Also I am all for messy rooms! rooms where kids are sitting, moving, laying, standing and doing work. Music playing, children talking, teachers and students both teaching groups of students…. sharing, fun, laughter… Places for quiet, windows and light, open doors and living plants and animals…. That is the classroom I want to learn in!

      if you have not read the Third Teacher or visited their site…. it is a must!

      Environment is important….it doesn’t need to be new and bright….but just used well!

      This is what i think the Open Classroom movement was looking for…. not just rooms without walls…. walls are good some times!

      For more of my thoughts on learning environment…. check out my tumblr blog

      or this old Cooperative Catalyst post….


      Posted by dloitz | February 27, 2011, 6:13 pm
  2. Incidentally, my room began as pure white space. Except it wasn’t white. It was a dirty yellow white. I painted the classroom blue and then used white as an accent to direct students to things (frame the board, all students to see specific ideas, etc.)

    Posted by johntspencer | February 27, 2011, 1:04 pm
  3. I like it when kids can help in designing and decorating a classroom in ways that express their imaginations and make it their own. I didn’t always feel this way until I read what Randy Pausch wrote in his book, “The Last Lecture,” particularly in the chapter titled, The Elevator in the Ranch House. When he asked his parents if he could paint his bedroom, they wanted to know what he planned to paint. He responded, “Things that matter to me, things I think will be cool.” We don’t do this enough at school – allow students to make the school their own by painting or decorating with things that matter to them. I think we should.

    Posted by David Britten | February 27, 2011, 3:34 pm
  4. Pam, Thanks for this. The aggressive ugliness of many (most) American schools seems to speak to how we regard learning: as something that can be done on the cheap, that the spirit doesn’t matter, that it’s all utilitarian anyway. Disconnect from your senses kids–we don’t really care how you feel. Space influences feeling, which affects thought. When our schools are more beautiful, more truly pleasing, then the things we do and produce in them will be too.

    How are things looking in your district? Is beauty allowed to flourish there?


    Posted by Kirsten | February 27, 2011, 6:31 pm
  5. there are so many cool spaces popping up today, in ed even.
    i love this series from ideo:

    i esp love the concept of bringing the virtues of the web to physical spaces. malleable, fluid, ubiquitous, 24/7….

    great insight guys. thanks.

    Posted by monika hardy | February 27, 2011, 9:02 pm
  6. It’s important to preserve mental and physical spaces for students to design and build apart from the paint-by-numbers, foregone canvas conclusions of our data pictures.

    This is a deeply uncomfortable time of year for me – despite how different classrooms look, what happens at the tables and desks begins to look more and more the same as Spring approaches.

    What do you say to educators afraid or mistrustful of the white space? To those who say rigor is a covered canvas?


    Posted by Chad Sansing | March 1, 2011, 9:38 pm
  7. When our school began the strategic planning for a new programming we started with looking at space to influence and drive the way we teach. Here is great resource for teams to look at if they get the chance (I would argue necessity) in re-designing our schools.

    Posted by Jamie Steckart | March 5, 2011, 5:10 pm

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