As teaching practice evolves to embrace digital age learning the need to have learning spaces that support these new contemporary practices becomes increasingly important. There is no point adding technology into a classroom and changing nothing about how teachers teach and students learn! Schools need to support the infrastructure behind the rollout of any technology, this includes designing a classroom that supports this digital shift.


With technology inclusion of technology comes a change in pedagogy. To maximise the benefit of these changes we design classrooms differently, all this results in quality learning experiences for our students.


“Active learning spaces have the characteristics of being mobile, flexible, varied, and connected — they value tables, stations, and hubs over rigid structures. Additionally, innovative thinking in architecture and space planning is influencing the sustainable design and construction of new school infrastructures that can significantly improve learning by enhancing student well-being with an eye to conserving energy.”

NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2017 K–12 Edition

Australian Classrooms Get Tribal

Contemporary thought on classroom design is that they should be built or modified in such a way to maximize collaboration, self-directed learning, inquiry and creation. Schools around the world are rethinking how to use existing spaces, while new schools are being built with designs where new forms of room layout are being custom built.


Almost as if they were inspired cavemen Australian thought leaders have been researching alternatives to the traditional ‘lecture style’ classroom layout. Heavily influenced by the work of renowned futurist David Thornburg many Australian schools are embracing a very tribal concept that evokes the spirit of the traditional teachers of Australia. In many ways we are bringing to life practices that may have been common in tribal situations before colonization. Some of these concepts include “campfire” for learners to face a teacher for traditional instruction, “watering hole” where students can have informal discussions, “cave” for independent and reflective work, and “mountain top” for presenting work to demonstrate understanding.


The campfire is a space where people gather to learn from an expert. In tribal times this would have been done through storytelling and demonstration. Today the experts are teachers and guest speakers – including digital link ups and video conferencing but also students who are empowered to share their learning with others.


The watering hole is an informal space where peers can share information and discoveries. Students can collaborate with each other and take on different roles in group learning experiences.


The cave is a private space where an individual can think, reflect, and work independently. These are quiet spaces and the solitude is respected.


The mountaintop is a structure or an area where students can display the successes of completed work and also demonstrate their understanding. Physical display boards or digital displays can feature in mountain top areas.


Pro tip:

Movable furniture is very useful in this scenario. Seats and benches can be moved to establish simple boundaries or visible barriers. Cheap floating floor systems or easy to make wooden cubes can be painted and clearly mark out a zone. Don’t be afraid to name an area so that your students can identify a location and behave accordingly when working there. Use a name that suits you. Don’t stick to the tribal terminology if you don’t want. I knew a teacher (Zeina Chalich) who named her communal space The Piazza and even set the design to get the right look.



NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2017 K–12 Edition

Redesigning Learning Spaces – Mid-Term Trend: Driving technology adoption in K–12 education for the next three to five years

By Ann W. Davis and Kim Kappler-Hewitt Australia’s Campfires, Caves, and Waterholes


About The Author

Primary & Executive Teacher

Founder #aussieED | Primary Teacher - 1:1 Educator | Google Certified Teacher | Speaker | Committed to turning Ed Theory into real classroom practice

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One Response

  1. Taissa T. Livingston

    Hi Mr. Salakas,
    I am in the process of earning my teacher certification after being a teacher assistant for 14 years. As I am preparing for my future in the classroom I have begun to daunting process of setting up my classroom. I want to ensure the classroom design is conducive for students to explore, collaborate, experiment, process, create, and connect globally. Your post “Reimaging Classroom Design – Let’s Get Tribal,” has provided me with a blueprint which I can build on to maximize the learning environment. One question I have is, what if you do not have autonomy within your school to rearrange the classroom in a non-traditional setting?


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