Open layout works well for communal learning

Students from Kalasatama Comprehensive School having a mathematics lesson. Teachers say the open layout and desk-less learning, which more schools in Finland are adopting, help children - both mainstream and special needs - enjoy learning and focus b
Students from Kalasatama Comprehensive School having a mathematics lesson. Teachers say the open layout and desk-less learning, which more schools in Finland are adopting, help children - both mainstream and special needs - enjoy learning and focus better.PHOTO: COURTESY OF LIEN FOUNDATION

It's easy to mistake Kalasatama Comprehensive School for a modern workspace for young entrepreneurs or office workers.

In August, when The Sunday Times visited the school located in Helsinki's harbour area, students were sprawled in classrooms, some doing problem sums on the floor, others huddled in groups playing games to learn multiplication, or working on interactive tablets.

Instead of the usual desks and chairs, there were bean bags, exercise balls and repurposed tractor wheels. "It looks like chaos, but we know what are doing," says Ms Paivi Peltola, a special education teacher at the mainstream school, which opened in 2016 and takes in students with special needs like language impairment.

Sixty-four of its 188 students have such conditions. The school will have about 700 students aged seven to 16 when its building is completed in 2020.

Classrooms are housed in different complexes, each of which is centred around a communal space. Each complex has a mix of regular classes and special classes.

Teachers say the open layout and desk-less learning, which more schools in Finland are adopting, help children - both mainstream and special needs - enjoy learning and focus better.

"Usually in school, you have to sit still, make no noise; it's not natural for children. Movement helps them to concentrate. We let them choose how they want to do their work," said Ms Peltola.

Children in her class spend about half the time in a school term learning and playing with mainstream peers. They also learn skills like communication in their separate special class.

 

Student Chris Safali, 11, said he likes sitting on the gym balls and beanbags. "It's fun and I can work at the same time. I made good friends in school and we have recess and play together."

His schoolmate Koda Wandberg, 10, added: "It's fun being in school... The secret to friendship is in the heart."

Amelia Teng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 28, 2018, with the headline 'Open layout works well for communal learning'. Print Edition | Subscribe