Boulder Valley School District

Renovations Reimagine Classrooms

Educators look to ancient archetypes to inspire modern learning environments in bond projects. 

Walk down the main hallway of recently renovated Angevine Middle School and you’ll see students in pairs, small groups, working with a teacher, engaged in a hands-on activity, or sitting quietly alone. All these activities can take place in close proximity to each other and under the supervision of an adult thanks to the renovations completed at the school this past summer through the 2014 bond-funded construction program. In addition to providing much-needed repair and replacement of building systems and finishes, the program has provided funding for schools to invest in modernizing learning environments to support 21st Century learning. 

Each school’s project budget includes an allocation to give educators the opportunity to literally think outside their box-shaped classrooms. To ensure BVSD graduates are empowered with the skills necessary for post-graduate success, schools are creating spaces to reflect the needs of tomorrow. As our educators strive to create learning spaces that will work for different types of learners and learning, they are looking to a set of ancient archetypes to guide them—the campfire, the cave, the watering hole, and life or hands-on application as described by scientist and educator David Thornburg. 

These different types of spaces help facilitate different styles of learning, and the different processes students engage in to process, reflect, and apply new knowledge and skills. Schools have created these spaces in two different ways. While some schools have moved or removed walls in one area of the school to create flexible spaces that facilitate the different types of learning activities, others have invested in new lightweight, flexible furniture that allows them to shift among these activities within one room.

“The Innovation space was designed to have cave spaces or watering hole spaces, and they have totally been that for the kids,” Angevine choir teacher Zachary Strand explains. 

The Campfire Space

The Campfire is the forum for storytelling—the place where an expert shares information with an audience. This traditional teaching method still has a place in the modern setting as a way to introduce and explain a topic or to provide context for student research or a project. At the Campfire, a teacher provides enough information to get students to the jumping-off point for further exploration. The Campfire space is large enough for a typical class-size group (or several classes together) and has equipment such as an audio enhancement system, projectors, and whiteboards for the storyteller to use. The Campfire forum is not exclusively reserved for teachers; it can also be used by guest presenters or students to share their learning. 

students gathering in a large group around a speaker/teacher

Second and fifth-grade reading buddies at Heatherwood Elementary get instructions from the teacher (using an audio enhancement system) before working in pairs.

The Watering Hole

students working collaboratively on a project

Students use a newly-created nook to collaborate on a
project at Angevine Middle School.

The Watering Hole is where social learning takes place. Students can work collaboratively in small groups and learn from each other. They can discuss ideas presented at the Campfire, dissect it and process it with each other to make meaning for themselves. 

“The design of the Innovation space helps it to feel like not so much of a class, but a place where they can work together in groups. If a couple of kids are together in a math class they can get together, or if they are just friends they can get together and encourage each other,” Strand describes. 

Areas designed to function as Watering Holes are smaller spaces with inviting seating. They may be set off from the Campfire space by half walls or sliding glass doors or may be delineated with furniture. They feel a little separate but are also accessible enough to inspire use. They invite small groups of students to congregate to discuss ideas
or prompt such interactions spontaneously. 

“I personally really like the tech bar. I like being out in the hallway, because very often we’ve caught teachers walking by that the kids need help from—or even a different teacher from the same subject can hop in,” Strand explains.


Cave Spaces

In their process of learning, students sometimes need a quiet space to reflect on and make meaning of the information they’ve learned at the Campfire or Watering Hole, or through personal experiences or research. Small, quiet cave spaces where students can be alone with their thoughts allow for individual work, introspection, and self-reflection. A small nook or quiet bench can serve the purpose.  

student sitting in a private place

A student at Angevine Middle School uses a small nook in the Innovation space to create a personal cave for reading.

Life Spaces

students in recording room

A small multi-purpose room at Angevine Middle School
easily becomes a video-studio for hands-on learning.

Life spaces are where students can engage in hands-on learning, either digitally or physically, to create artifacts that demonstrate what they know. These spaces also encourage further exploration of concepts or to learn by doing. In the Innovation projects, they take the form of maker spaces, video studios and editing rooms, or digitally connecting with experts in their field, consulting and getting feedback. These areas have fabrication equipment such as laser printers and cutters, resilient flooring and sinks to support wet and messy activities, walls and tables with writable surfaces to share ideas or design a project. It is where school begins to transition to the real world. 

“At Mesa, we've been fortunate to have the ideas and some of the practices, before we had the spaces.  For years now, our students have engaged in a great deal of 'design thinking' in tackling some of their big curricular questions,” Mesa Elementary Principal Josh Baldner explains. “Coding, robotics, and other ‘trial and error’ pursuits are familiar to our students.  So now, with a library maker space and resources on hand, our students know how to make the most of the new space.”

Having all four of these spaces available to students and teachers supports different learning styles and activities, making learning effective and rewarding. 

“It’s nice to just be in another environment in the middle of the day. I can tell they feel more relaxed and they are very eager to go to these spaces,” says Strand.

Learn more about educational innovation in BVSD and the Building for Student Success program and check out the Angevine Innovation Project below: