Active Learning Classroom Coming to the High School at VIU

An exciting change is on the horizon for science teacher Caitlin MacDonald and art teacher Laura Filgate’s classroom at The High School at VIU – an entirely new set of furniture designed with active learning in mind, courtesy of Steelcase Education. From left to right: Isabelle Ramos, Makenna O'Donnell, Chloe Tang (front), Alice Kobayashi and Callum Klymchuk won’t have to fight over who gets to sit in chairs like these next fall – they will each have their own.

May 12, 2017 - 9:00am

The school recently received a $65,000 grant from Steelcase Education for new furniture to help create a more engaging classroom

A classroom at The High School at VIU will be remodeled with a focus on creating a more mobile, dynamic and engaging space for students thanks to a $65,000 grant from Steelcase Education’s Active Learning Centre program.

The High School was one of 15 high schools and universities across North America – and the only Canadian institution – that received the grant this year out of more than 900 applications.

“The High School at VIU was chosen because of a demonstrated commitment to active learning,” says Craig Wilson, Director of Market Development for Steelcase Education, a furniture manufacturer dedicated to creating effective, rewarding and innovative education environments. “Research shows that space impacts behaviour, and these classrooms will help a new group of teachers and students explore the learning possibilities an interactive space can bring.”

Science teacher Caitlin MacDonald and art teacher Laura Filgate applied for the grant in January. They teach a unique class together, called Inspired by Nature, which blurs the lines between studying science and art by having students study the science of their natural surroundings and then translate that knowledge into art.

Lessons in the classroom don’t often involve students sitting in traditional, static rows listening to their teachers talk at the front of the room. Instead, the two teachers often start class by arranging students in a semi-circle to examine a natural object such as a skull, shell, coral or seed pod that sparks their curiosity. After that, students move into groups for lab activities. Near the end of class, students come back together to discuss what they learned that day.

The class moves around more frequently than a traditional classroom, and MacDonald and Filgate sometimes find themselves limited by their equipment.

“We find that the more active our students are, the more engaged they are in what they’re doing, but classroom transitions can be time-consuming with furniture that isn’t designed to be mobile,” says MacDonald. “This grant will help us mix things up more, which will make for an even more vibrant learning atmosphere.”

The grant will provide furniture and other equipment that can be easily moved into different configurations to support a variety of learning and teaching styles. The classroom model they’ve chosen allows them to create zones to allow for different activities to happen concurrently. MacDonald and Filgate will be conducting research to gauge the impacts of the new classroom equipment that will be shared with both Steelcase and the VIU community.

“I’m excited about what this is going to do for the learning environment,” says Filgate. “We will teach students a handful of furniture configurations and they will be able to completely transform the space in a matter of seconds. With that kind of flexibility, it opens up so many interesting teaching and learning opportunities. We can plan lessons that are supported by our space, instead of compromising because of logistics.”

Catherine Shrubshall, a Grade 11 student, is excited about the grant because one of her favourite parts about MacDonald and Filgate’s classroom is that it’s not a static learning space.

“If we could reconfigure the room easily into different areas where students can be studying, painting or doing group work all at the same time, that would really help,” she says. “There’s so much change within our classroom, and having more adaptable furniture will make those transitions easier and faster. It will be interesting to see all the different ways we end up using it. If we are mixing things up more, we will probably end up talking to people we don’t normally talk to.”

The High School at VIU is still accepting applications for Fall 2017. To learn more, visit the website.



Jenn McGarrigle, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.740.6559 | C: 250.619.6860 | E: | T: @VIUNews

Tags: Student Success