Learning Spaces #2 - De-clutter to let learning get messy

Take some steps to make the most of your learning space

​Explore ways that you can build a creative learning space by de-cluttering and getting messy.

The Why

It is important to be able to build a messy space that is able to display the "guts of the learning" in all of its jumbled glory during immersion and the first phase of a design thinking project.

What is also needed is a whole learning space that makes the distinction and purpose of these spaces very clear. You and your children need to be able to explain to visitors the role of the space in your projects. The space in your room should be able to clearly show the process, thinking and the development of learning.

We need to be able to de-clutter our rooms so that we can make good use of messy spaces that help children share the story of their learning.

​The Experiment

With the help of Meshendia Dampier from the Year 4 (Grade 3) team at Rosendale Primary School in London, we have been developing ideas around using a physical wall space to support any design thinking project. You can see her classroom space in the image above from a previous project. We soon realised that we needed to balance the messy nature of what was on display with a calmer, clearer set of information or work elsewhere. This would help make the distinction between a messy learning space to support learners and just a messy space.

Take a look at how they use Hotboards at Rosendale

The school had also been exploring Hotboards, from their architectural partner Ward Henry. These are large perspex boards with fixed slots for dropping in work. The combination of these boards and the learning sprawl of the design thinking wall during immersion work well together. But all is needed is some careful thinking about the balance and purpose of display in your classroom or school.

One thing that I always enjoy when I visit Meshendia's classroom are the changes to that design thinking wall space, it reflects the process of learning and current thinking in the class and invariably the children want to drag me up to it, show me something and talk about it.

Your Next Steps

  • Take an honest look at the purpose and usefulness of your display spaces.


  • Strike a balance between formal, clear displays and messy learning display for immersion.
  • Remove furniture, boxes, storage, resources that are not needed.
  • Can you explain the purpose of each area of the class display, including the immersion space, if not, change something.
  • Be ruthless - have a "Have I used it in the last 6 weeks?" rule: the tenure of a display was under threat if the answer was a no.
  • Invite other people to give you some feedback and ideas about your space once you have made some changes.
  • Keep changing things and be flexible to new ideas for the wall space and how it can be used.
  • Talk to your class about what they think they need for our design thinking project.
  • Focus on de-cluttering to allow for a messy learning display.
Tom Barrett
March 11, 2013