• Fair Chance Learning

Building our School Community One Block at a Time

Building a brand-new elementary school is an exciting but daunting task: floor plans, paint colours, furniture—all of it is chosen deliberately to make sure that the new spaces are the best they can be for our students. However, we know that the learning environment is made up of more than bricks and mortar and paint colours! We are striving to build a positive learning environment that supports cognitive, emotional, social, and physical growth for students. But…what does that look like?

If we want our students to feel comfortable in the learning space and we want the learning space to support them to learn, then we need to hear from students what they envision. 220 students from Grades 6 to 8 at Agnew H. Johnston and Edgewater Park Public Schools joined Modern Classroom Experience Experts Ammar Aquil and Coulter Lewis to tell us just that…using Minecraft!

Ammar began by asking students what they would expect to find in a learning environment. He received expected responses: desks, chairs, and computers. Then he challenged students to think beyond what is in a traditional learning space and to think about the kinds of things they might like to see that would help them to learn better. He challenged them to think about different rooms for different purposes, flexible seating, special features of different rooms, and eco-friendly initiatives. This really got kids thinking and talking with their peers about “cool things” that could be in the new school, and that would make the school a better place for them to learn.

It was amazing to see how quickly plans for the school went from this…

to this...



to this!



Not only did this experience give us great insight into how we can create learning environments that will be ideal for our students, but it was a fantastic way to bring the students from two schools together. The joint learning activity helped kids from both schools experience working together, and gave them lots of opportunities to interact. The Minecraft platform is super inclusive—students were able to build whatever they could imagine, joining each other’s worlds and working together. All of the students had different levels of expertise with Minecraft and they were able to work as teams and help each other make their design ideas come to life. And the fact that we were actually looking at their designs to see what we might be able to incorporate into the new school? That made the activity even more meaningful for students.

Carson (Grade 7): “What if our design actually gets put in the school? That’s kind of cool.”

Tyler (Grade 7): “I feel like it is a great opportunity to see what the kids are like and ask their names, maybe see their personalities and what to expect when you go to the new school.”

And that’s how we started to build a community—block by block. We are so excited for more opportunities to incorporate tech in our journey to the new school!

About the Author:


Heather Harris is the Principal of École Elsie MacGill Public School (opening September 2020) in Thunder Bay, Ontario.