The CoLab: Learning Space as a Partner

In this special guest post, Ilana Zadok - Middle School History teacher and Special Program Coordinator at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy - reflects on upgrades she made to her classroom and shares tips for making the most out of the space you are given in your classroom.  The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of the YU School Partnership or Yeshiva University.

I am blessed this year to teach in a CoLab (Collaboration Laboratory) also known as a flexible learning environment inspired by the work of Don North at the Hillbrook School in Northern California. In an effort to create a mobile environment to support mobile technology, promote self awareness, foster collaboration and differentiation, my students are involved in an educational experience which sparks all aspects of their learning.

Before crossing the classroom threshold, students have to be aware of what they will be doing in order to know how to set up the learning environment.  Their set-up is determined by that which will be most conducive to their learning needs and best supports their learning and the learning objectives. In addition, as the teacher, I make these considerations when planning. Once a student asks, “what are we doing today?” they must consider:

  • Do they need to sit in a soft space?
  • Do they need the rolling white boards as space dividers?
  • Do they want to sit by a table?
  • Who do they want to sit next to?
  • Will they work near the idea wall?
  • How might the room be used to promote a variety of activities?

The space becomes a partner in their learning and engagement happens before they walk in the door!

In an effort to collect how the student’s emerging self awareness is impacting their learning, they responded to a few questions. In their reflections, one 8th grader shared, “I am learning better than ever.” Another student added, “my learning has been positively impacted.  I am able to move around and communicate in class as well as use the whole room for learning.  There is something to see at every corner.”

Students reflected on the flexible furniture, the feeling of comfort and the ability to move as they choose.  A student gave an example of sitting at a table for a quiz and earning a low score and then choosing to sit on the floor the next quiz and earning a perfect score.


Using the rolling whiteboards as space dividers is also seen as an impactful improvement to learning as some students appreciate the ability to create a space in which they are less distracted.  Ironically, in a space where everything feels open and shared, a student reflected, “My learning has become more efficient because of the privacy this room provides.”

The students’ developing self awareness, and as a result their use of space, is fostering deeper and more effective collaboration.  In a recent group assignment, I looked over and a group of students were collaboratively taking notes on the idea wall.

Another group of students were using a whiteboard to make a storyboard for their upcoming presentation.

And, yet, another group separated themselves using the space dividers to write and produce an iMovie.


All the same assignment, all collaborating with each other and space utilizing their personal strengths to help the group achieve the set learning outcomes.

Even when students are working individually, the nature of the room lends itself to using each other as peer editors or clarifiers rather than always relying on the teacher.  They are collaborating together all while using the space as their partner in that collaboration.

In thinking of 21st century skills, the CoLab is helping the students check all the boxes.

Learning Skills: Critical Thinking, Creative Thinking, Collaborating, Communicating. Check.

Literacy Skills: Information Literacy, Media Literacy, Technology Literacy. Check. Life Skills: Flexibility, Initiative, Social Skills, Productivity, Leadership. Check.

The CoLab began as a tool to help the students in their learning, but has become an important learning partner working with the students hand-in-hand to reach the desired learning objectives and outcomes.

Ilana Zadok is a Middle School History teacher and Special Program Coordinator at Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy in Beverly Hills, California.  She has been teaching Middle School students for the past fourteen years and has always considered herself to be an experimenter of space considering the environment’s role in her student’s learning.