Spaces & Places: Locating Learning in Your Environment

Heighten your awareness of and sensitivity to the designed dimension of learning environments with the exercises in this module. Throughout a series of noticing activities, you’ll explore how layout and learning interact and how the one can support the other. This module also invites you to bring your own learners along as they discover their shared space and purpose in learning.

Agency by Design describes what a sensitivity to design looks like: “Learning to notice and engage with one’s physical and conceptual environment by looking closely and reflecting on the design of objects and systems, exploring the complexity of design, and finding opportunity to make objects and systems more effective, more efficient, more ethical, or more beautiful.”

Explore: Open House

Take a virtual tour of the following two learning environments on 360° Makerspaces, a website that documents the physical design of spaces for making and learning over time:

As you explore each, consider the following properties of and questions about their physical design. Take notes and don’t hesitate to zoom in and out of the 360° panoramas as you peer into all the nooks and crannies of each space!

  • Overall layout of space (Where is what?)
  • Surfaces (What kinds? Tables, countertops, workbenches, etc.?)
  • Storage (Shelving, cabinets, bins, containers, etc.?)
  • Tools and materials (What tools and materials can you identify and where do they live?)
  • Signage and orientation (Are there any labels or instructions?)
  • Lighting (Are all parts of the space equally lit?)
  • Seating (How many people can sit in the space at a time?)
  • Safety (How do you think responsible tool, material, and space use is promoted here?)
  • Ease or flow of movement (Is there a straight path from one side of the space to the other?)

Choose three of the above properties to explore further. Why, for instance, do you think the tools and materials are stored the way they are? What are some of the salient differences you notice between the two spaces?

Based on your observations, what kinds of learning do you envision taking place in each space? What clues give you a glimpse?

 Notice: Get a Feel for Your Space

Take a tour of your own learning environment. Walk around and use your senses, one at a time. As you move, notice:

  • What do you see?
  • What do you feel?
  • What do you notice?
  • What do you hear?

Invite your learners to join you as co-pilots in the exploration of your shared learning environment. Use one or both of the following noticing tools and activities to gather reactions and insights:

  • One primary teacher, Emily Fintelman from Melbourne, Australia, asks her learners to describe the look, feel, and sound of their learning environment and to record their reactions in a simple Y-chart. Read Emily’s blog post to learn more about how she engaged her learners in the design of their shared classroom.
  • Consider the parts, purposes, and people who interact with your learning environment using the Imagine if… thinking routine from Agency by Design.

Once you and your learners have explored the space together and reflected upon it, think about the following questions:

  • What surprised you about your learners’ responses to your space?
  • How might you use their reactions and insights to shape decisions you make about the layout and design of your learning environment?

 Watch: Laying Out Learning

In the first activity, you slowed down to notice images of space at a stand-still. Now it’s time to speed things up!

Choose one of the following time-lapsed videos of learning in action.

At Atlas Academy of Technology & Leadership at Saticoy (Ventura Unified School District in California), 3rd graders use Makey Makeys and Scratch to create cardboard pianos (watch to 00:00:32).

This video shows a day in the life of an IB biology class at Skyline High School in Sammamish, WA. Choose one class period or segment to watch:

  • First period (00:00:00 – 00:01:25)
  • Second period (00:01:26 – 00:02:26)
  • Third period (00:02:27 – 00:03:19)
  • Fourth period (00:03:21 – 00:04:24)
  • Fifth period (00:04:25 – 00:05:27)
  • Sixth period (00:05:28 – 00:06:38)

At first glance, watch the videos you selected. Feel free to take notes on what you notice.

At second glance, watch the video again, follow one individual, and consider the following:

  • What do you see? What do you notice?
  • What do you think this individual is doing?
  • Where is this person at different points during the video segment?
  • How does the individual interact with the space and the other people in it?

What can you infer about the learning taking place in the video? And more importantly, why and how can you make those inferences? What visible evidence tells you so?

 Apply: Tweak Your Environment

Identify one property of the physical design or layout of your space that you’re interested in tweaking, changing, or refining.

Elaborate on why you want to tweak, change, or refine it. Then describe how you plan to.


Check out the Space, Tools, and Materials: Reflecting on Design Approaches module to explore how the maintenance of your space can support the overall design and layout of your learning environment.


This module was developed in collaboration with Goli Mohammadi (editorial) and Kim Dow (design). Maker Ed would also like to thank Schmidt Futures for supporting the creation of these learning modules.