Foundations of Education


Describes the activity centre classroom.

Key Concepts

  • activity centre classroom

Graded Tasks

  • prepare for your seminar this week

The Activity Centre Classroom

CREDIT: The text below is adapted from: Hutchison, David. (1998). Growing Up Green: Education for Ecological Renewal. New York: Teachers College Press, pp. 40 - 42.
Progressive education is rooted in the belief that students should be active participants in choosing how and what they learn. This approach contradicts the direct instruction approach which argues that teachers should bear the primary or even sole responsibility for organizing the learning experiences of students.

Both movements claim a fundamental respect for students, but supporters of progressive education interpret this respect to include the right of students to make genuine, but responsible choices related to their learning.

In her survey of the progressive education philosophy, Barbara Blitz (1973, p. 3) outlines a number of the progressive movement’s basic principles:

  • "children have the right to pursue their individual interests and activities
  • in order for meaningful learning to occur, children need to be actively engaged with their environment and other people
  • children learn at their own pace and through their own particular learning styles
  • learning should be exciting and enjoyable
  • the teacher’s role should be that of diagnostician, guide, and stimulator"
Although progressive education is at its heart a programmatic reform movement, manifestations of this tradition have also influenced the design of learning settings, particularly at the elementary level.

An important strand of progressive education is the activity centre classroom in which students, working alone, in partners, or in small groups, move between carefully crafted spaces in a classroom, each of which is assigned a particular activity or subject focus.

Individual activity centres are designed in advance by the teacher, sometimes with the participation of students. Typically, activity centres are organized so that each addresses a unique concept, skill, sensory experience, and/or subject area.

In an effort to structure the routine of an activity centre classroom, students may be responsible for completing one or more tasks at each activity centre throughout the school day.


Blitz, Barbara. (1973). The Open Classroom: Making it Work. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Photo of a child-centred classroom.
Large tables for activity-based group work take the place of rows of individual school desks in the child-centred classroom. Activity supplies and bins for student work are stored in the shelving along the walls. (Photo Credit: David Hutchison)
In preparation for your seminar this week, write out an answer to the following question. Your TA may call on you to share your answer in the seminar:
Q10.4: Imagine teaching in the two classrooms shown in the photos on the "The Direct Instruction Classroom" and "The Activity Centre Classroom" topic pages. Which classroom would you prefer to learn in as an elementary school student? Which classroom would you prefer to teach in as an elementary school teacher? Give reasons for your answers. (Answer Length: 100 - 150 words | Format: Point Form)
Potential Seminar Question