How Hillcrest Christian College's flexible learning spaces support "Secret Skills"and "flearning"

Published: Tuesday 28 August 2018

The Queensland Chapter recently visited Hillcrest Christian College on the Gold Coast to explore their integration of pedagogy and learning environment design.

Jeff Davis (Executive Head of College), Ray Deetlefs (Company Secretary) and Steve Hardy (Director) organised a tour of the school as the afternoon lessons wound down and then presented their unique perspectives on their school and their approach to providing space that supports their pedagogy. 

Key to their vision is a ‘Students-first’ philosophy which sees students more deeply involved and integrated into; what is learnt, how it is learnt and even how space is organised.

Jeff Davis shared an anecdote that typified this philosophy.  The students were asked to organise the year 6 learning space, which they did by creating a ‘snake’ arrangement of desks and furniture.  This was soon abandoned and reorganised to suit their needs. Hillcrest have sought to celebrate the act of learning through failure – ‘flearning’. This process of empowerment, decision making, use, review and revisit is consistent with their Secret Skills program.

Secret Skills has been implemented as a pedagogical model with an emphasis on personalised learning and thinking. The main tenets are:
•    Self Manager
•    Effective Participator
•    Creative Thinker
•    Reflective Learner
•    Enquirer (Independent)
•    Team Worker

Year 6 Flexible learning space

The school has seen a significant increase in enrolments that led to the first project, a conversion of an existing car park into a central resource centre.  The choice of converting the multistorey car park to an education space was driven by the urgent need for leaning spaces due to the rapid and significant increase in students.  The organisation of the space is deliberately flexible. 

The design originally envisaged that the central space would provide opportunities for collaboration, group work and teacher facilitated investigation.  Smaller classrooms spaces around the edge of the central space were envisaged to be ‘break-out spaces’.  The implementation of the space has flipped this thinking, with the smaller spaces being used by groups with the large central space becoming the breakout space.  The successful repurposing and the flexibility of the furniture and special organisation has overcome the deficiencies of a deep floor plate and low ceilings.

Prep to Year 2 Castle

The P-2 Castle houses about 300 Prep, year 1 and year 2 students and is a sandstone clad building with parapets.  The spaces are divided with sliding glass doors so that classes can be combined encouraging team teaching. Small quiet spaces and reading nooks opening off the GLAs play with scale to offer a diversity of environments for students. The classrooms are also well connected to outside with views to the oval and lake.

STEM Senior Learning Community Centre

The STEM building refurbished and repurposed existing GLAs.  The upper level veranda has been enclosed to allow the circulation space to work as a breakout area.  The classrooms are enhanced by a covered terrace with tables, platforms and a variety of chairs that provide many opportunities for social interaction, areas to study and collaborate.  A piano also caters for impromptu performances. At the time of the LEAQ tour, a large number of students from various year levels were converging upon the terrace for an evening barbecue, demonstrating the space’s versatility.

The Hillcrest community has clearly embraced architecture to align with their progressive pedagogy. The next project underway for the school is the conversion of a decommissioned school bus into vibrant library, itself an expression of the creativity the school seeks to foster.

It is too early to see an improvement in Naplan results, however the school is confident that the empowerment of the students and their resultant improvement in soft-skills will have an effect.  Students are encouraged to be curious and to use failure as a learning opportunity.  The empirical evidence is that the students are becoming effective collaborators and innovative thinkers that will stand them in good stead in a rapidly changing employment landscape.

Article and photos: Peter Boyce