Today's schools are barely recognisable to parents and grandparents who went to school in a different era. Grandmother Denise Mills and education reporter Simon Collins spent two days in a Year 4 "modern learning space" to see just how different things really are.
It's a late-morning maths class at The Gardens School in Manurewa. The Year 4 children, mostly 8-year-olds, are scattered around the learning space.
Some are lying face-down on the floor doing Mathletics on their iPads.
Some are doing maths problems in exercise books at desks, but their curly one- to six-person desks with tops that double as whiteboards could hardly be more different from the rows of single desks that once prevailed in New Zealand classrooms.
In fact the classroom itself has disappeared, replaced at The Gardens School by an open-plan three-level school for 600 children in which almost the only internal walls are glass partitions around small "breakout" rooms.
"The biggest change is that there are no desks," says Denise Mills, 67, whose two grand-daughters attend the school.
"[In my day] the teacher was at the front of the school room with a big stick and the chalk, and that's where you would talk from."
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At The Gardens, teacher Cadence Harvey sits on the floor in a breakout room with half a dozen students, using 10c and $1 coins on cards marked up into 10 spaces to help the children learn that 10 times 0.1 is 1, and 11 times 0.1 is 1.1, and so on.
Teacher aide Silva Mezel has taken another half-dozen children downstairs to the cooking room, where they are measuring out the weights of different ingredients to make scones.
While these small "workshops" are going on, the other students are doing work that they have been assigned on their own personalised timetables for each lesson which their teachers have prepared for them in Google Classroom, an app that lets teachers and students share material with each other.
Some have their timetables open on their iPads as they write in their exercise books.
Instead of textbooks, they can also refer to learning materials which their teachers have placed in Google Classroom for them.
Harvey, a first-year teacher, and Mezel, a Syrian refugee, work in collaboration in the large, open Year 4 space with experienced teachers Carly Kidd, Tracey Kuba and Elizabeth Barrowman.
The 70 Year 4 students are grouped into three broad ability groups or whānau for each subject, and whiteboards have been placed to create three alcoves where each group sits on the floor to hear a teacher introduce each lesson.
Each group is then divided into smaller groups of about half a dozen, each with its own study plan.
Although each teacher works mainly with their own whānau group, both teachers and students can see what the other groups are doing - and indeed what Years 5 and 6 are doing on the other side of the central stairwell.
School principal Susannah Fowler says the new $22 million building, opened last year after the previous leaky buildings were demolished, was designed so everyone in the building feels connected to everyone else.
"We wanted to make sure we felt that all the levels were very connected, so the areas were very de-privatised," she says.
"So there are no teachers' desks. They were allowed one box of personal stuff and that's it, otherwise we'd have big areas being used up by teachers' stuff rather than by kids."
Even Fowler and her deputy, Kate Gifford, have no desks. They work from couches in a glass-walled room next to "the lounge", where the children can also relax on couches surrounded by antique objects such as an ancient radio and an old Imperial typewriter.
The Gardens School, serving an affluent decile-8 pocket of Manurewa near the Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens, exemplifies a "self-directed" learning approach which is transforming most New Zealand schools to varying degrees.
Briar Lipson of the NZ Initiative business think tank, who thinks the change has gone too far, says it transforms the teacher's role from "the sage on the stage" to "the guide on the side".
"The sage on the stage is very much out of favour," she says.
Fowler points to a World Economic Forum list of "21st century skills" which include critical thinking/problem-solving, creativity, collaboration and communication - skills that can be learned only by doing, not by listening passively to a teacher at the front of the room with a whiteboard.
Hugh Wong, a teacher-educator from China whose postgraduate research was on designing physical and virtual learning environments to enable "deep learning", has joined The Gardens School initially as a teacher aide because it is doing what he believes in.
"In the traditional classroom, because it's one teacher and 20 or 30 students, you can only do one thing at a time, but with the modern learning environment it's more practical for you to assign different tasks and activities and responsibilities to different students to more accurately align with their learning ability and style and goals," he says.
"For example, there are times when we assign leadership roles to advanced students so they can go and help the target students."
"We don't have physical walls or boundaries to stop people going to places, so they have more freedom, more choice, to do what they want to do to better serve their learning purpose," he says.
"And because we have this flexibility, we also open up opportunities for students to collaborate and find out about authentic life problems."
Teachers, he says, need to model the same skills.
"Because I value collaboration a lot and we want our students to be collaborative, we probably need to model that."
The team-teaching system means children benefit from each teacher's strengths, rather than being stuck with just one teacher who may be good at some things and not at others.
"One set of eyes is good, two sets of eyes is better, three sets of eyes is better than that," says Fowler.
"We can put someone very strong at maths, someone very strong at literacy, someone very strong at arts and someone very strong at science, and put them together as a team so we know that those kids are getting a strong education."
Kidd, the Year 4 team leader, says she looks after the slower learners because she has taught younger children, while her colleagues Kuba and Barrowman use their experience teaching older children to extend the faster learners.
Dr Leon Benade, a former deputy principal of St Paul's College in Ponsonby who now researches innovative learning environments at AUT, says teams also allow for different personalities.
"A parent's concern [common in traditional schools] is, 'My child has got a personality clash with his teacher but he's stuck with the teacher for the year,'" he says.
"That problem evaporates in a flexible learning space because suddenly there is not one teacher, there are three or four. Students enjoy the multiplicity of people they can go to."
Despite all this, it is still a challenge for teachers to cope with the range of students' abilities, even in small groups.
"We have students who are Year 4, however their level of achievement is more that of a Year 1," says Kidd. "Then we also have students who are achieving beyond their year level and are doing their learning at a level of Year 5. Some are even Year 6."
Even in this setting where self-directed learning is encouraged, during our two days in the school we saw some students finishing their work quickly and then waiting for something to do, while others hadn't even got started because they didn't understand what they were meant to be doing.
And even though the teachers put the slowest students next to them to give them more attention, they sometimes moved on while the slow students were still struggling, because they needed to get through the lesson in the allocated time.
That pressure to move on may be exacerbated by the team-teaching system where detailed lesson plans have been agreed by the whole team, so the teachers don't have as much flexibility as a sole-charge teacher.
A slow student may also fall through the cracks more easily because they have several teachers during the day, whereas a sole-charge teacher might be better placed to make time at some point in the day to help each slow student catch up.
Partly for that reason, King's School headmaster Tony Sissons decided against open-plan learning spaces when his school opened a new $30m block last year, two months after the new school at The Gardens opened.
"Young children learn the teacher before they ever learn the subject, so teachers need to be building that relationship," he says. "Particularly with boys, it's important to have a home room and a home-room teacher who takes the role because they are developing relationships."
The new King's block includes open, flexible spaces, but retains those single-teacher home rooms for each class.
"We are quite innovative in the way we use space within the home-room environment," says Sissons.
"We have different-shaped desks, we have writable surfaces. But we have also got traditional desks, and there are times when rows are appropriate - when you are testing the students, you want them in rows.
"There are also times when you want them grouped in a circle because you are having a discussion time. There are times when you want children on the carpet, in a primary setting, so the flexibility of teaching space is important - but not at the expense of one home room."
Researchers have found that "open-plan classrooms might not be appropriate learning environments for teaching young children due to their high intrusive noise levels", especially for children on the autistic spectrum.
At The Gardens School, Fowler's brother Doug Fowler of Dial-a-Doug has built "tepees" and "cubbyholes" in creative shapes with cushions inside for children to crawl into if the noise or other students are upsetting them. They can also use the glass-walled breakout rooms.
The latest statistics show the school stood down students four times in 2017, almost exactly in line with the expected number for a school of its type, but did not suspend or expel anyone.
Fowler's latest report to her board of trustees says: "We have stood a student down for three days as a result of an unprovoked attack on another student. We will apply for Interim Response Fund to try and support this student. This is not his first stand-down."
She says the school has eight children on the autistic spectrum.
"The teachers put an awful lot of time and effort into the best way to manage those kids within this environment," she says.
"There are a lot more eyes on all kids, so your eyes are going to be on your special needs kid and someone is going to be able to support that kid while the other kids get on with other things."
A Cabinet paper last year said 55 per cent of all NZ state school buildings now provide for "flexible learning spaces".
The Ministry of Education has promoted the idea heavily. Its school property strategy for 2011-2021 said: "It is expected that it will take until 2021 for all schools to modernise all of their learning spaces."
Christchurch schools have been especially affected because most have been rebuilt since the 2011 earthquakes. Ministry acting head of infrastructure Sharyn Pilbrow says the ministry is "on track" to meet a target of 80 per cent of Christchurch teaching spaces being flexible spaces by 2023.
She says the ministry's requirements for new builds include one that "internal walls should not be load bearing, so that future school leaders are free to make changes to the internal configuration".
But she confirms that ministry guidelines "do not prevent the construction of traditional classrooms".
Principals' Federation vice-president Perry Rush says the ministry is now listening more to teachers' and parents' preferences for new school designs.
"I think the ministry is hearing this now more readily," he says.
"The view of the federation is that it's not one or the other. It's the quality of teaching that needs to drive our thinking about the environment."