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Archive for December, 2006
TED Talk: Sir Ken Robinson on the Importance of Creativity in Education December 29th, 2006

For those of you familiar with the remarkable treasure trove of ideas coming out of the annual TED Conference — and how hard it is to come by one of the 1000 seats — you’ve probably already come across the recently released set of TED videos. If this is entirely new to you, TED stands for “Technology. Entertainment. Design.” To put it bluntly, it may be the most impressive multi-day collection of thinkers, doers, and creators on the planet each year. Period.

One talk in particular seems to resonate when it comes to thinking about the ‘future of learning’: Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on the connection between creativity and education in Feburary, 2006. From the TED site:

Sir Ken Robinson is author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, and a leading expert on innovation and human resources. In this talk, he makes an entertaining (and profoundly moving) case for creating an education system that nurtures creativity, rather than undermining it.

If you’ve never seen it, make it a priority as you kick off the new year as a way to spark new ideas and to remind yourself what the work we all do is really about. And if you have had the pleasure of seeing Sir Ken Robinson’s talk, perhaps it’s time to pass it on to a colleague, design partner, or client.

Or just watch it again with a smile and nod of your own!

BTW — have you seen the list of presenters coming to TED2007 “Icons. Geniuses. Mavericks.” Conference? My, oh my!

Have You Visited the International Association of Learning Alternatives Blog? December 29th, 2006

wayne jenningsWayne Jennings offers up a short-n-sweet overview of the IALA (International Association of Learning Alternatives) Blog recently.

Not only a great overview of the organization and his role as the blog administrator and a board member, but a nice overview of what makes the IALA stand out in the world of learning and education:


The mission of IALA is to lead, promote and support learning alternatives in education.

Our goal for parents and learners is to have choices to meet their needs, interests, learning styles and intelligences. We believe that a one-size education program does not fit everyone and that learning is best served by having choices.

Note: The DesignShare team greatly appreciates the opportunity to both know and learn from Wayne.

You may be interested in re-visiting a wonderful piece on community learning spaces that Wayne wrote (and we published). You can either go to our original article link or the actual PDF of the article itself.

He also offereda dynamite DS blog post back in February that takes a look at the iconic ‘value’ of classrooms when people think of schools. Here’s an excerpt:

The first thing people think about schools is classrooms.

I suppose there should be a few classrooms or seminar rooms for group learning and discussion. However, classrooms convey an image of rows of desks with the teacher at the front of the room and group-paced instruction. While familiar, I hope that image fades from practice. It violates modern principles of learning and sabotages individual talents. I like to think of learning adventure areas or theaters of learning, places where students as individuals or small groups are deeply engaged in a wide variety of learning activities.

Why can’t elementary and secondary schools have a greenhouse, animal area and a garden?

If you have time, consider giving Wayne and the IALA team a visit one day soon! And as he offers, share your comments at their blog as well! Oh, and keep in mind you can easily subscribe to the daily/weekly blog entries so that they’ll come automatically to your email doorstep each morning.

MacArthur Foundation Considers the Links Between 21st Century Learning and School Design December 28th, 2006

An intriguing premise for those of you interested in the intersection of digital learning and school design:

We are faced today by a pressing question: How do institutions– social, civic, educational–transform in response to and in order to promote new kinds of learning in the information age?

The aforementioned question comes out of a recent “Digital Media and Learning” blog post by Cathy Davidson and David Theo Goldberg sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation.

Ms. Davidson and Mr. Goldberg are leading a project called “The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital World” that involves a collaborative website that seeks your feedback:

We will post drafts of the document to a collaborative website, soliciting feedback from policy makers, administrators, researchers, teachers, and students (of all ages). We will host face-to-face meetings to discuss both our evolving document and the feedback.

One session will take place at the international conference of HASTAC (”haystack,” an acronym for Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory). HASTAC is a virtual institution devoted to advancing humane and humanistic digital technologies and the knowledge they make possible through collaborative work between humanists, artists, scientists and engineers.

Hard to ignore the final school design call-to-arms they offer here:

We are committed to envisioning and co-developing learning institutions for the future.

A school-design-meets-the-future-of-learning dialogue that might be worth keeping an eye on.

And we also recommend peeking in at the blogging and research links being offered daily at the “Digital Media and Learning” blog hosted by MacArthur. Some truly provocative ideas being explored there!

“Building Futures” Video: Prakash Nair and the Dept. of Education, Victoria, Australia December 28th, 2006

Based on a series of conversations in 2005, the “Building Futures” video between Prakash Nair and the Department of Education in Victoria, Australia was recently released.

Full transcript of the conversation available here.

The Interview Questions:

The design of new schools - what will they look like in 30 years? (WMV - 1.5Mb) video duration - 42sec, download time - 50sec

What will be the role of educators (principals and teachers) in designing schools? (WMV - 1.5Mb) video duration - 44sec, download time - 55min

What facilities do you envisage would support the learning process in schools in the future? (WMV - 1.8Mb) video duration - 55sec, download time - 1min

What is the role of the community in schools in the future? (WMV - 1.3Mb) video duration - 40sec, download time - 50sec

How can a community maximise the benefits of a new school design within cost constraints? (WMV - 2.0Mb) video duration - 1.03min, download time - 1:15min

What sort of research based work impacts on school design? (WMV - 1.6Mb) video duration - 48sec, download time - 55sec

Tell us about how student safety impacts on school design? (WMV - 1.6Mb) video duration - 53sec, download time - 1min

Prakash talks about the concept of a ’shell’ and a ’standardised design’ for schools that can be flexible enough to meet the needs of community members in the future. It is better to under design than over design a school. (WMV - 1.4Mb) video duration - 43sec, download time - 50sec

How can school communities redesign existing buildings to get the maximum benefits for future education incorporating and creating areas to cater for the modalities of learning? (WMV - 2.0Mb) video duration - 1.03min, download time - 1:10min

Tell us about the sustainable future enquiry centre you have designed? (WMV - 2.3Mb) video duration - 1.09min, download time - 1:20.min

Tell us how the instrument you have devised to assist with school design works? (WMV - 2.4Mb) video duration - 1.09min, download time - 1:20min

What are the features of a new school design? (WMV - 3.0Mb) video duration - 1:10min, download time - 1:20min

Who are the stakeholders in creating a sustainable school design for future education? (WMV - 3.5Mb) video duration - 1:35min, download time - 1:45min

What is the most rewarding part of your work? (WMV - 1.7Mb) video duration - 52sec, download time - 1min

EdVisions Video: “Helping Create and Sustain Great Small Schools” December 28th, 2006

Have you seen the EdVisions student-run video? A wonderful asset for anyone that believes in project-based learning and its impact on school design. Especially for small learning communities (or SLC’s).

The following caught our attention in the video right away (but this is only a warm-up if you have time to watch the entire 30-min presentation):

  • 2:04 A ‘typical’ snap-shot of classrooms from schools around the country, i.e. lots of rows of desks looking straight ahead to the ‘teacher wall’.
  • 2:45 Things are clearly different in an EdVisions type of school: “It looks like an office” where each student has a workstation…
  • 3:06 Exploring advisories and advisors (vs. typical classrooms)
  • 3:25 Defining project-based learning
  • 3:45 Comparing traditional classrooms from advisory layouts. An advisory is described as “a dialogue between student and advisor in real time” while a typical classroom is described like “a phone conversation with only half a phone” because you can only participate part of the time
  • 4:50 The importance of the advisory relationship; the advisor is described as a “partner” and the students’ advocate
  • 5:30 Various students describe what they think an advisor is
    7:45 “What is a project?”
  • 9:30 The “Frozen Chicken” project — a must see! And the sound project and mutant frog research/discovery is also worth the wait.
  • And much, much, much more during the remaining 20 minutes!

To see the video, first go to the EdVisions site. Look in the left-hand column for the “EdVisions Video” which will take you right to a 30 minute student-run video ‘journey’ that gives a very tangible and spirited student view of what project-based learning is, how it fits into small learning communities, and how 21st century advisor/learning relationships are structured around learning journies.

Or, go to Google Video where the EdVisions video also lives.

Background: EdVisions grew originally out of the creation of the Minnesota New Country School in 1991 when a group of educators used the Coalition of Essential Schools model and a teacher-owner cooperative centered on project-based learning. Since then, EdVisions models have sprung up around the country. Furthermore, grants totaling close to $9million have come in from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This has helped to spark over 30 schools in a variety of settings nationally.

When College Libraries Become Robotic Biblio-Techs December 21st, 2006

From the 1.07 issue of Wired Magazine that just hit the newstands:

The new library at Chicago State University has one ironclad rule: No students allowed in the stacks - only robots.

Gulp. Curious niche project or potential future trend in the ranks of higher ed campus design? Considering the growing ease of electronic tagging of materials and resources, it seems that this might be something to keep an eye on:

Every book, CD, and DVD in the school’s $38 million facility is tagged with a radio-frequency ID chip. When a borrowed item slides through the return slot, the system identifies and sorts it. Human librarians shelve post-1990 materials in the traditional stacks and drop older stuff into file-drawer-sized bins. From there, it’s all robots - tall, forklift-style machines that run on trcks and stow the materials in a three-story-high storage facility.

A couple of intriguing facts about this ‘robotic’ library:

  • Top speed of CSU’s robotic librarians: 7 mph
  • Average time for a robot to retrieve five books: 2.5 minutes
  • Average time for a student to retrieve five books: 2 hours
  • Capacity of CSU’s high-density storage: 800,000 volumes

Your thoughts?

Teacher Magazine: Considering the “Green School” Trend December 21st, 2006

Like many of you, we try to keep an eye on the education journals and web sites that speak to the critical issues of the day. Logical, whether you’re a school administrator or board member, or a design partner. Or simply want to keep an eye poised on the unfolding nature of the future of learning.

In Teacher Magazine recently, they turn the lens back on the world of school design. Specifically the trend of “green” schools. From the “Natural Habitat” article (12.1.06):

“Green design”—an approach to architecture and construction that minimizes harm to the environment while creating healthy places for humans—is one of the building industry’s hottest trends. For now, though, green schools remain rare. Only 30 have been certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit that developed the widely used Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system.

From all indications, however, that modest number represents just the beginning of a sizable trend. More than 150 schools have applied for LEED certification, and others are incorporating elements of green design or adopting eco-friendly practices, such as buying local organic produce for school lunches and using more efficient lighting.

Concern for the environment isn’t the only motivating factor. Others include lower energy costs, improved student health and productivity, and, increasingly, mandates from state and local governments. “It is a way to show your administrators, your parents, your teachers that you are committed to building a safer, cleaner environment for your children,” says Lindsay Baker, who coordinates USGBC’s program for schools.

The ‘legend’ that accompanies the graphic to the right is found within the link. Offers an answer to the “What does a green school look like?” question. Take a look. An interesting take that is being shared with teachers who are eager to learn more.

How would you explain the “green school” concept to them? And how will you explain how it will also make a difference in the learning process itself?

Taking Cues From Outside the School ‘Box’ December 18th, 2006

Proof positive that you often have to step outside the ‘box’ to find great examples of what is possible in your own world. Imagine if this described the latest school design in your community:

The new space, which [students and teachers] occupied last spring, includes workstations that face 10-foot-high windows with views of a playground. There are also casual corners for congregating, private places for meditating and a cafe for lingering, along with art to ponder and banquettes big enough for snoozing during particularly long shifts.

– Excerpt from “When Comfort Is Obvious, and Wiring Less So” (12.7.06), NYTimes. The article describes the newly designed Lifetime Television operation headquarters in NYC. Considering the description, it seems to have a lot in common with the best ideas in learning environment design as well, esp. as we begin to re-imagine the very premise of what it means to be an engaged and active ‘learner’.

Can you see this happening in your community? Why or why not?

*****

Judy, thanks for the link!

Why Can’t They Build Schools Like That Anymore? December 14th, 2006

With so much debate about how to move schools and students into the ‘future of learning’, is it possible that we all secretly want our school buildings to reflect the design and construction traditions of the 1920’s? Or earlier? [Judy, thanks for the article link]

School designers face a dilemma, a hopeless one.

The public sees Grimsley High School, High Point Central and R.J. Reynolds in Winston-Salem, all built in the 1920s before the Great Depression and World War II, and grouse: “Why can’t they build schools like those anymore?”

They can, designers say.

But if they did, duck! The wrath of the same public would be fierce.

Is this nostalgia speaking or is it about holding onto buildings that will stand the test of time? Or is it about developing dynamic learning environments that will support how technology, collaboration, brain sciences, authentic projects, and other present-day insights are now available to us? And will we want our school buildings in the future to be testaments to the enduring nature of traditional architecture, or to actually “follow” the form of what education and learning is evolving into in the decades ahead?

Greensboro architect Virginia Freyaldenhoven, whose firm, TFF, has worked for the county schools, says school and public buildings once “held a more important place in the framework of a town. They were more monumental.”

Monument to our past? Or our students’ future?

Design aside, will we see a day and time in the relative near future where school leaders/districts/authorities will no longer want to “be in the business of school buildings”? Or of communities demanding that their tax dollars go to develop shared spaces for all community members — an asset map of learning spaces for all stakeholders — rather than harkening back to the iconic school house of the past?

As Much for the Community as the Campus December 14th, 2006

Interesting design competition at Rutgers University being reported at ArchNewsNow.

Especially worthy of notice for those who see the ‘public’ spaces in and bordering universities as vital components in a larger investment in social/community engagement:

The overall vision is to create a modern corridor of academic and residential buildings while still honoring and respecting the historic nature of the campus, some of which is listed on the national and New Jersey registers of historic places. The first phase will focus on the outdoor walkways and green spaces and connecting the campus to the Raritan River nearby via a mall leading to a grand park along the river.

Community Agent: Projected School Building Boom Looms for DC December 14th, 2006

In today’s Washington Post:

“Our ability to attract people to come and stay in the District depends on our ability to have good schools,” Ellen M. McCarthy, director of the D.C. Office of Planning, told about 200 education and community advocates at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

What’s at stake?

Demographic experts yesterday projected that new housing construction in the District could result in as many as 5,000 additional school-age children in the city by 2010, a potential boom in a system that has lost about 20,000 students over a decade.

Here’s what really captured our attention:

Because only 20 percent of D.C. households have children in the public schools, the system must reinvent schools as neighborhood hubs with evening and weekend programs geared to neighbors, said Juanita B. Wade, executive director of the D.C. Education Compact, a school reform organization.

“We’ve got to build interest in the other 80 percent” of the D.C. population, Wade said. “We should see schools as a place to take aerobics and nutrition classes. They can be a place where the elderly can come use the library.”

Schools not only as centers of community, but as the welcoming agent for re-invented urban corridors as well. Powerful potential for a city that has long ignored the public school population.

Your thoughts?

Can Project Blogging Smooth Out Design Rumors in your School Community? December 14th, 2006

This morning, we noticed an article about a school district in Katy, Texas using a web site to fight back against community rumors about outlandish material costs during a school construction bond process. Apparently some folks had been convinced that Katy ISD had been importing Italian tile flooring for Seven Lakes High School. To respond to the rumors, the district created a “Fact or Fiction” page on their web site to take a proative step forward:

“You’ve got people with text messages, e-mail, BlackBerrys — it doesn’t surprise me that the rumor mill is so active and so fast,” said Kris Taylor, director of communications for Katy ISD. “What we have to do in schools is to use those same tools to counteract them.”

Is such a tool risky? Apparently, it was risky enough for the district to not fully use the tool for nearly 2 years until a recent bond election failed:

The venture is a bit risky, say those running the sites, because posting the rumors for all to see could lend them credibility and make the mill churn faster.

On the other hand, widespread untruths can damage a district’s image, contribute to the demise of some new program or sway the results of a bond election, said Rich Bagin, executive director of the National School Public Relations Association.

“Rumors can kill things,” he said.

Of course, no one knows for sure why Katy voters rejected a $261.5 million bond issue in May.

But Taylor said rumors about the district’s construction habits didn’t help.

Though the district had set up an anti-rumors page about two years earlier, Taylor said she initially was leery about using it. The bond defeat changed her mind.

But failed bond or not, was something more vital missed in this story?

  • Instead of a “Fact or Fiction” rumor web page being created after the fact, perhaps an active and collaborative “design blog” could have been kept throughout the process leading up to the bond eletion.
  • Perhaps technology could have been used during the design/schematic phase in a way to share information with all stakeholders in the community.
  • Perhaps a two-way conversation between the district and the voters could have become a natural extension of the design process through a project blog where questions and comments could be left in alignment with sharing of unfolding project details.
  • In addition to fighting inaccurate rumors, perhaps what might have also come out of it would have been a community conversation…and ultimately buy-in on the elements most geared towards success for generations to come.

While K-12 school design project blogs are still rare, DesignShare is happy to be working with a design firm and school district in the creation of a case study of just such a blog project they undertook. Look for the case study to be published in early 2007!

Time Magazine cover story: “How to Build a Student for the 21st Century” December 11th, 2006

Seems, perhaps, that there might be a compelling conversation in the world of education’s future brewing in the pages of Time Magazine this week. Something that not only seems to be pushing past the traditional ’standards’ sound byte, but something which may have implications for those of us in the school design community as well.

Entitled “How to Build A Student for the 21st Century” (this is the summary version; full article available to suscribers or the newstand) the article offers up 4 key points that seem to leapfrog over the oft-heard issues of math/science scores, testing, etc.:

  • Knowing more about the world.
  • Thinking outside the box.
  • Becoming smarter about new sources of information.
  • Developing good people skills.
  • Might be worth exploring how the ideas in this article might have an impact on the way we imagine engaging learning environments that are appropriately aligned for the ‘future of learning’ (as opposed to the schoolhouse of the past).

    And if you still haven’t seen Karl Fisch’s “2020 Vision” video presentation that takes a creative look at the high school graduates in the year 2020, this might be a great 1-2 punch to provoke your team’s thinking! We highlighted Fisch’s video, as well as a school design conversation it sparked, recently here.

    Your thoughts?

    New “Great Schools By Design” Video: Denver School of Science and Technology December 6th, 2006

    The good folks at the American Architectural Foundation, KnowledgeWorks Foundation, and Target have a great video for those of you who want to see a school designed to ‘unleash’ learning, take advantage of today’s technology, and help inspire high school kids from a remarkably diverse range of backgrounds to become engaged learners.

    Take a look at the Denver School of Technology and Science video when you get a free moment. A wonderful reminder of what we’re all trying to accomplish, and how it can be done at a fair price and while supporting a really diverse range of learners in the process.

    Thanks for the tip/link, Judy!

    “Vision 2020″ — Impact on School Design? December 6th, 2006

    For those of you in the process of designing 20th century schools, here’s a post for you.

    Next time you get a chance, look into the eyes of a 5 year old (roughly a kindergarten student). Now, look forward. Imagine all that they’ll experience and have access to (learning, technology) between now and when they graduate from high school. The year will be 2020.

    Recently, we came across Karl Fisch’s video called “2020 Vision” via his blog (”Fischbowl”). He created a video for his school district colleagues to help them wrestle with the world their 5 year old students will experience in the next 13 years. It’s a ‘vision’ and therefore it must be seen as such. But it does challenge all of us who are working to create 21st century schools to take into consideration a rising tsunami of innovation and technology that will have a direct impact on how learning is imagined in the future. And the design of spaces to support learning, as well!

    Our reaction to the video: Provocative, Eye-opening, and Compelling were the first thoughts that came to mind.

    The timing of this question couldn’t have been better since today on his blog there was a post (”If You Build It, They Will Learn”) that tackled this very question. Apparently a school leader in the process of planning 2 new high schools (and reaching out to the voters for bond funds) had seen his video and wanted to know what ideas he had for her in terms of designing schools.

    Needless to say, the DesignShare team loves this conversation. You might as well. But either way, check out the eye-opening-view-of-the-future in Karl’s video. And tell us what you think!

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