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AIA Schools in a Flat World Conference

June 19th, 2008

AIA Schools in a Flat World Conference
September 10-13, 2008

Helsinki, Finland

Globalization now affects every industry, as journalist Thomas L. Friedman illustrated in the bestseller, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century.

We invite you to attend “Schools in a Flat World,” a conference that will explore educational design solutions ranging from a small Arctic high school to a 100,000-student university in India. This gathering will attract architects, administrators, and school building professionals from six continents, who will share their unique challenges and design solutions.

Helsinki and its architectural treasures will form a memorable backdrop for meeting, learning from, and networking with education-facility architects from Europe, North America, Asia, Australia, and Africa. Best of all, “Schools in a Flat World” will deliver a program packed with sights, sessions, and stories that you will find nowhere else. Guided tours will visit Helsinki schools that show how design and construction can improve and enhance the learning environment.

Visit for more information or to register.

Problem and Project Based Learning Resources

June 5th, 2008


“The magic of our schools is that they kill curiosity and creativity. . . I’ve met lots of smart six year olds, but not one interesting sixteen year old.”

[Gore Vidal, in an interview on British Television shown on 18th May 2008]

The arguments for delivering 21st century skills to our students have been well made and are generally accepted by educators and parents alike. We are all determined - we have been since 1983 with the publication of A Nation at Risk - to ensure that things will change. The difficulties arise when we make an attempt to change what is actually going on in most of our classrooms on a day-to-day basis.

We know that the students who sit in our classrooms are markedly different from us, their parents. We know from daily experience that they learn differently, that we are teaching too slowly and linearly for this generation of tech savvy, multiple processors. We have research that tells us that collaborative learning is one of the answers for this generation. We increasingly use PBL in higher education, in medical, technology and business schools. The benefits of the approach are demonstrable. The interconnected global world we now inhabit requires us to learn how to work effectively in teams as well as on our own. The decisions we make, with the information we have access to, are now frequently too complex for one person to make on his or her own. We know that existing at the forefront of the World and being successful in the future that we are creating is about connectivity, innovation and speed.

We came to problem-based learning through a somewhat different door: discovering that creativity and innovation had all but disappeared from our children by the time they reached the third grade.

The shift from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn’ that takes place at this very young age exerts a pressure to look for the one RIGHT answer and forces children to stifle their innate curiosity and desire for exploration. It also begins the process of competitive independent work when what we increasingly know we need as a society is collaborative, interdependent learning that develops thinking, creativity and possibility. Our children are VERY smart! They understand the system and the stakes! They play the game we have invented for them!

As the authors of a successful pilot project focusing on introducing a problem-based curriculum into elementary schools, we have become very excited by the responses to and research results from our approach. We believe PBL should be first introduced at the elementary school level. Doing this will provide a model for learning and working which will enable students to learn at a faster, multi-sensory pace, begin the process of building all the 21st Century skills we are looking for in our future workforce and provide them relevant, stimulating environments that motivate them to become genuine lifelong learners.

We invite you to watch the video and join the discussion.

Isla Reddin and Sarah Frossell are partners in KiCubed.
Please contact the writers at


Minnesota New Country School - Student developed video with everything you need to know about Project Based Learning.
Minnesota New Country was the first Charter School in the United States.

Woorana Park Primary School, Australia - This video shows how the school was renovated to allow for more PBL. It also focuses on how the staff works together on Team Teaching.

PBL Online Management System…
Project Foundry is a proven online project based learning management system built by practitioners who understood the value of the pedagogy and inherent need for a streamlined tool that engages students and ensures meaningful academic results.

Mango Lassi and Okonomiyaki for lunch!

February 5th, 2008

Serving up the new menu at Collingwood College
Shanaka Fernando (centre) helps staff at his new venture at Collingwood College. It’s an education process on both sides of the counter, he says. (Photo and caption source:

I found this article, from today’s Age, very exciting, since it combines two of the things I’m passionate about: great meals and humane schools.

The restaurant, Lentil as Anything (a play on the name of Australian band Mental as Anything), has three unique branches around Melbourne. One is in an old convent on the banks of the Yarra river, and that’s where I gathered my friends in 2006 for my birthday party. I also took Randy and Prakash to the branch in St Kilda when they were working here in Melbourne. I love this place!

So it’s great to see that they are setting up shop at Collingwood College, a K-12 school that was also the pioneering location for the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Project.

Both of these initiatives provide authentic support to the universally lauded principles of student wellbeing, environmental sustainability, authentic learning and community connections. Impressive!

(Annalise Gehling)

V/S American Days - Part I: History of the Chair

October 5th, 2007

Posted by Jen (October 4, 2007)

dscn5164 An interesting idea of how to create “movement” in the classroom! These photos were taken at V/S Headquarters in Germany in a beautiful countryside town of Tauberbischofsheim (Try saying that one fast three times! Took me three days just to figure out how to say it!) where Tiffany and myself were invited - along with some 100 US architects, designers, and dealers - to tour their manufacturing plant and listen to interesting lectures from visiting speakers.It was an invigorating experience! dscn5320 From winery tours to an enthusiastic lecture by Dr. Dieter Breithecker to meeting other like-minded individuals whose goal is to improve the physical world of schools to suit the children of tomorrow. One of the more interesting events of the visit was a tour of their on-site museum which features an exhibition titled, “The Classroom – School Furniture in the 20th Century.” Lucky for us, it had just been completed before our arrival. The exhibit took you through the ages of how furniture and school design has evolved. It is an “examination of school furniture and its direct impact on the wellbeing of the child. The museum presents an international cross-section of the history and development of school furniture from the beginning of the 20th century up to the present day. Educational, ergonomic and above all historic-cultural aspects are also included in the exhibition. Pioneering school buildings of the past century are presented in parallel.” ( Below is a “snapshot” of school chairs that have been used throughout the years - a lot of them should be recognizable.


It was amazing to learn that even in the early 1900s, they were even thinking about ergonomics and height adjustment for school furniture.



The museum had a great collection of sketches, models, and photographs to tell the story of not just school furniture design - but also of school design - and how each influenced the other. Going through the museum, I couldn’t think of how the past also influences the future - and it is important to know where we have come from in order to move forward in to make educated decisions and choices. It is not surprising that a company like V/S would realize the influence of designers and researchers on the evolution of school furniture design - with such great products as the PantoSwing chair.

A few days later, Dr. Briethecker spoke to use presenting a lecture titled “School Dynamics.” If you ever get the chance to hear him speak, I highly recommend it. “Dr. D,” a Sports and Physical Scientist, is the manager of the ‘Active School Movement’ in Germany and is Europe’s expert on the relationship between school furniture ergonomics and the physical development of school children. He is a promoter of keeping children active while learning - and has the research to back it up.

panto swing

One of his main arguments was that after conducting a passive exercise, like doing math problems, there should be a physical learning exercise, like counting to 50 while jumping up and down (for example). In addition, chairs should allow for flexibility and movement that is natural to children’s bodies. The PantoSwing chair, especially the one on casters, really supports the need for children (and adults) to move while carrying out “sitting” tasks. In his study “The Educational Workplace: What the ‘classroom of the future’ will look like,” he concludes the following: “Sitting in a static/passive educational environment impedes a student’s postural development in their adolescent development years. ” In addition, the test group that received furniture and teaching methods that allowed for movement and “motile physical behavior” showed “considered increases” in concentration performance. For more information about his work, please view this article titled “Beware the Sitting Trap.”
The research on how movement stimulates and supports brain function seems so obvious but still some believe that kids need to sit still in order to listen and to behave. But as research defines design, and design defines research, the ergonomic-movement-flexible chair continue to evolve……who knows what the future will hold?????


Greetings! I’m thinking about time and space management…

September 13th, 2007

G’day to the DS community! I’m Annalise and here’s my first post. (You can find out more about me on the FNI website under ‘Resumes’ if you’re interested in my background in school design).

Recently, Jeff and I have been discussing the issue of scheduling, or timetabling, in new-paradigm schools.

You have, or are planning to have, a great new school, or a great small learning community. There is space for all sorts of different learning modalities, and of course it’s humane and comfortable. But — how do you work out who goes where at what time? It’s so easy to work out in an old-paradigm school with those standard units of measurement: classrooms and classes. New-paradigm schools are different though. The unit of measurement is not a class — it’s a human. And with all sorts of different sized spaces, that have different qualities, we need to think differently about where the people in it are going to spend their time, and what they’re going to do there.

In a school like Minnesota New Country School, the timetable is very simple. All students spend all day working on individual or group projects, and having occasional meetings with advisers. Occasionally there’s a ‘town meeting’, and at the end of the day, time set aside for writing up. Basically, most students spend most of the day working at their desk, like in an office. I think even lunch time is a fairly casual affair with flexible start/finish times.

At the other end of the spectrum is a traditional high school timetable, in which during every minute of the day the student falls under the active supervision and ‘control’ of a teacher. The teachers change and the rooms change but that’s it. The time period is uniform and the space is uniform for most subjects.

We’re working on a range of timetabling scenarios that fit along this spectrum, and mapping them onto some of our designs. The scenarios are less prescriptive than a traditional HS timetable, but they should ease the concerns of teachers thinking that working with students in 21st century learning environments will be like herding cats in a forest!

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