A Visit to Discovery High School: Rethinking Learning Spaces and Learner Experiences

We are preparing for a redesign of our media center learning space at Chattahoochee High School.  Having gone through this process with my friend and colleague Jennifer Lund the last year and a half at Norcross High, I knew that a visit to her new school, Discovery High, in Gwinnett County, was a “must do” when looking for inspiration.  This brand new school that spans 640,000 square feet and just opened in August features a focus on project-based learning with four different learning academies within the school.  The academies include:

  • Business and Entrepreneurship program
  • Health and Human Services
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)
  • Fines Arts

I was especially interested in the media center space Jennifer envisioned and designed with Holly Frilot, formerly an Instructional Coach in Media Services for Gwinnett County and now Supervisor of Library Media Education in Cobb County Schools.  Jennifer drew upon many of the design elements we had crafted for Norcross High, but she was also able to incorporate some other interesting elements.  The majority of her furniture is designed for active and collaborative learning with small and large groups, but it is also flexible for individual or quiet kinds of learning activities.   The primary vendors for her furniture include Steelcase, Turnstone (A Steelcase company), Hon, and Artcobell.   Because we had field tested many of these furniture pieces at Norcross, we knew they were a good fit for the collaborative kinds of work (see previous posts from 2014-15) we did with teachers and supported the principles of active learning.   Discovery High is a BYOD school, and in the media center, they use laptops rather than desktops for instructional activities.  Here are a few glimpses of her library learning studio:

DSCN2296 DSCN2307 DSCN2308 DSCN2309 DSCN2310 DSCN2311 DSCN2317 DSCN2318 DSCN2321

DSCN2320 DSCN2324 DSCN2330 DSCN2343 DSCN2348

Another highlight of the visit was touring the Clyde L. Strickland Entrepreneurship Center, a space for students who want to learn how to start their own businesses.  Lindsey Brouillard, Language Arts teacher within the Entreprenuership and Business academy, along with program head Scott Allen, are working with students in a visionary learning space that features:

  • Pull-down garage doors separate the spaces classroom learning spaces (or they  can be left open to combine for larger common learning spaces)
  • “Restaurant” booths for  brainstorming and collaborative work
  • Individual makerspace areas within the larger makerspace featuring 3-D printers, an embroidery machine, banner and poster printers, and separate suites for creating their products
  • Mobile furniture that can easily be reconfigured
  • Natural materials combined with sleek, modern elements
  • Glass dry erase boards
  • Studio work rooms for small group work in different areas of entrepreneurship

Source: CBS 46 Atlanta

I saw students working individually and collaboratively; the common thread was a positive energy in which students were engaging in project based learning.  Other classes were using the learning space for virtual school courses facilitated by a content area teacher.  You can check out some of the rather cutting edge design of the learning space, inspired by the Georgia Tech Innovation Center and Chick Fil-A’s “The Hatch”, below:

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DSCN2428 DSCN2431

I apologize that some of my photos are a little bleary—I took over 200 photographs, and my battery was dying!  As you can see from both the media center and the entrepreneurship learning spaces, there was so much to take in and design elements to contemplate.  I definitely plan on incorporating many of these as we begin to work on our learning space taxonomy, sketch our initial ideas for floor plans, and continue developing our wish list for furniture that will support the kinds of learning activities we have started doing in the media center this fall and that we envision for the future.

Last but not least, I was very fortunate to get a special tour from Laura French of the Junior Achievement Biz Town and Finance Park.  I honestly don’t have the words to say how incredibly thoughtful this space is along with the partnership between Gwinnett County Schools and Junior Achievement.  I hope more schools will form these kinds of partnerships that can translate into truly meaningful experiences for young people!  You can read more about the partnership here.

A heartfelt thank you to Jen, Lindsey, and Laura for their exceptional hospitality!!!!  Their work has given me new ideas and inspiration for our media center learning studio redesign here at Chattahoochee.  If you are interested to know more, our good friend Steve Thomas of Circulating Ideas will be doing an interview with Jen and Lindsey for the show.  Stay tuned to his website for the interview/podcast!

7 thoughts on “A Visit to Discovery High School: Rethinking Learning Spaces and Learner Experiences

  1. Thanks for another wonderful exploration of the continuing evolution of our learning spaces and how libraries are working with those changes. The inclusion of all those photographs–particularly those that highlight tremendous amounts of open space and such a high degree of flexibility in being able to reset the room(s) to meet the changing needs of learners at any given moment (which, of course, I adore)–makes me wonder (as I think about how those learning spaces could work in almost any learning situation) when a library space stops being a library space and becomes interchangeable with any other learning space. I suppose we could turn to David Lankes’s belief that a space with a librarian is a library, but I like to think there’s more to it than that, Are we moving toward (or possibly already in the early stages of) a time when the words “library” (defined by the presence of a librarian) and “classroom” (defined by the presence of teacher/trainer) are becoming archaic and on the way to being replaced in a broad-based way by the term “learning space?” And are “teacher” and “trainer” and “librarian” going to be replaced by something along the lines of “learning facilitator?” (Probably thinking about it at this level because I read, earlier today, a new posting by Rick Anderson, on the Scholarly Kitchen blog, about “The Death of the Collection and the Necessity of Library-Publisher Collaboration: Young Librarians on the Future of Libraries”: http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2015/11/17/the-death-of-the-collection-and-the-necessity-of-library-publisher-collaboration-young-librarians-on-the-future-of-libraries/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ScholarlyKitchen+%28The+Scholarly+Kitchen%29.)

  2. Pingback: Naming Opportunities: Reflections on Library and Non-library Learning Spaces | Building Creative Bridges

  3. Unbelievable space! As someone who has been a bit obsessed with learning space design, and has worked hard to incorporate as many ideas from inspiring places into our own library learning commons, I can say that this is definitely an inspiring space that makes me want to start all over again! Will definitely be coming back to this post to get ideas on how to make a beautiful, functional and thoughtful learning space!

  4. I know this is a weird question, but can you tell me more about the outlet thing? It’s image DSCN2307. Is it mobile or connected to a ground outlet? Which company did you purchase from? I’m in an old building and we are “creative” with our outlet situation and I’d love to give my manager a few options. Thanks!

    1. The school district had this on bid last spring, but my notebook with the vendor info is at work. I have seen the same thing or something identical to it on the Demco website. I will email you when I return to work on 11/30 and can get my vendor notebook info for you.

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