If you spend much time in the educational halls of Scotland — especially if you have a focus on technology and the evolution of schools — you are probably well acquainted with Ewan McIntosh. Hoping that in the years to come, he’ll be a voice you’ll hear at school design oriented conferences. Someone who really sees where the future of learning is headed. His blog is a wonderful place to begin if you have never heard about him.
Stovner Upper Secondary is a school in Norway which has come from the brink of kids running away, not appearing or being disruptive, and is now the school local parents fight to have their children attend.
A little back-story:
Five years ago Stovner was the unpopular school, with 50% of students coming from a minority language background, most of the pupils coming from a working class background. Moreover, the money from the government for running schools doesn’t go to the school - it follows the students. So if a student decides to leave the school, the school could in effect become bankrupt. Schools might be unhappy, but politicians are happy at getting rid of a ‘problem school’.
The aim of the school?
* To become the most popular school in that part of Oslo, regardless of social prejudice regarding the student groups who attended;
* To offer teaching that students will not find boring (they asked the kids, and they did find it boring, even though the teachers thought they were doing alright);
* To improve academic results;
* To make teachers’ work more rewarding.
Ewan takes us beyond the mission/goals and discusses the re-think of physical spaces, as well. We think you’ll appreciate the following:
Changing shapes of rooms: The shape of the classroom was to change, too. Students were given their own space, their own desk, their own computer. They could decorate their space, the mini booth that they now spend half their school day, if they want to, researching, working, preparing, collaborating. It is theirs. No-one else uses it.
The annual DesignShare Awards program (focused on the design of “innovative learning environments” found around the world) kicks off the jury review process in a week.
Going into this year’s jury review process, we have a chance to push on the underlying issues that make the design of learning environments about something deeper than just the ‘look’ of the building/campus.
To that end, we’ve asked all the jurors to share their answers to the following questions to remind us what the awards program is really about at the end of the day:
1. Why does ’school design’ matter TO YOU in terms of its impact on learning and communities?
2. What trend (or trends) are catching your eye today in terms of the creation of ‘learning environments’? What trend(s) do you think will matter most in the coming 5-10 years once new designs are up and running?
3. What is one thing that you’d like to learn more about this summer by virtue of collaborating with this group of professional/international jurors? Why?
4. Share one thing about your own experience as a child/student in school spaces that made an impact on your current adult/professional life. If you’d like, you may also add a quick experience that impacted the adult lives of one of your children/siblings/friends as well.
We thought we’d ask you how you’d answer these as well. And what impact they might have on your own projects:
How would you answer these — whether you have an architectural mind or not — with an eye on fostering a deeper conversation about the future of learning?
And how would you want a design professional hired by your school or district to answer these, given the influence they will have on students, teachers and the community?
Note: Photos are of the 2006 Honor Winners (clockwise from upper left): Nus High School of Mathematics & Science (Singapore); Kindergarten #911 (Argentina); Feather River Academy (California); Chugach Optional Elementary School (Alaska)
In case you’re just learning about the annual Awards program, here’s a little back-story on how everyone works together even though they are living/working around the world all summer:
We use a private Wiki tool so that each jury member can add to the on-going conversation throughout the months of June and July. This includes first impressions based on small teams, debates across all projects, and ultimately making decisions as to which projects deserve attention for excellence for the impact of design on learning and community.
Check out the jury members here. Some of them you’ll definitely recognize. Some will be new, but well worth keeping on your radar. A pretty amazing group to be working with and learning from this summer and beyond.
Note: To read more about the 4 projects shown above, and the other award-winning projects from 2006, check out the following links. They include:
Curious, if you had a chance to design a school for the kids in the videos — the ones holding up the signs — how would you go about it? What would your design sensibilities suggest? Your heart? What would your ‘educational facility’ standards be? What new questions would you ask? Why does it matter? And how would you know that the kids were convinced you had listened?
The DesignShare team is thrilled to welcome Tiffany Green to our team. Tiffany will serve as our Chief Operating Officer to support a wide range of programs in the year ahead.
DesignShare will draw on Tiffany’s diverse experiences in design, sales, community outreach, parental engagement, policy development, project management, and creating collaborative partnerships. While you can read this in full on her BIO page, here is a quick snippet of a few things that have shaped Tiffany’s career and passion for the future of school design:
Tiffany earned a Bachelor of Science in Economics in 1998 from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. She received a Masters in Education and Technology from the Peabody College of Education at Vanderbilt University in 2002.
Tiffany’s natural talent for design was uncovered while working alongside ASID Interior Designers in Nashville. Growing up in Chicago, IL also spurred Tiffany’s love of architecture.
Tiffany has a broad understanding of educational literature and high efficacy for technology. As an advocate for School Choice, Tiffany sees School Design as the next frontier. “Aesthetic variety within schools is equally as important as having one’s choice of schools.”
Tiffany was formerly the Policy Aide to Minneapolis City Council Vice President, Robert Lilligren. Tiffany is a founder and co-Project Manager for the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) in Minnesota.
Tiffany serves on the board of Community Action of Minneapolis and Resources for Child Caring. Tiffany is a member of BAEO, Toastmasters International, and the Minnesota Citizens League.
Finally, Tiffany serves as an educational planner for FNI.
Pleased to see that DesignShare members Prakash Nair and Randy Fielding have published yet another provocative article in Edutopia this month.
In “A Comfortable Truth: Kids don’t have to squirm to learn”, the two school planners discuss why schools continue to put the students’ physical comfort on the back-burner while continuing to support industrial era education models and designs. And why it matters for all of our futures.
A snippet from the beginning of the article:
If we were to assemble a list of adjectives to describe school, comfortable would not make the cut. Many of the places where vital teaching occurs, if not designed expressly for physical torment, are infamously uninviting. The classic model for schools, where mentors must compete with discomfort, can be traced back hundreds of years to the “reading” and “writing” schools designed to give children the skills to access God’s word in the Bible. Little wonder that the school benches from those days resembled church pews and that sterility and rigor were the order of the day.
Taking it a step further:
Though the industrial model was solidly in place as the educational standard, however, a parallel, progressive movement arose in the early 1900s that sought to humanize and personalize education. This philosophy survives and has gathered dedicated adherents along the way, but most mainstream educators at the time it was developed were unconvinced that change was needed, and schools remained much as they had always been. Even after almost a century, John Dewey’s 1915 exhortation that “nature has not adapted the young animal to the narrow desk, the crowded curriculum, the silent absorption of complicated facts” remains largely unheard.
What is the rationale for justifying the lack of creature comfort in today’s schools? Nothing more defensible than the old dodge “We’ve always done it that way.” But schools wear out and are renovated or replaced by new structures. And architects know far more about how people live and work than they once did. So the factory model is slowly relegated to history, like the dinosaur it is. But questions of comfort and rigor remain unresolved. Should schools be comfortable, and if so, why? What follows are eight truths that can go a long way toward settling an argument that probably should have been arbitrated long ago.
While the article goes into much more detail in each of these design considerations, here is the list of 8 design revelations to bring comfort, ergonomics, and ‘human’ spaces into schools to support learners:
Some Pain, No Gain
The Breathing and Learning Connection
Louder is Not Better
Cozy and Cheerful Wins Hearts and Minds
Cafes are Not Just for Grown-ups
Comfort is for Outside, Too
Emotions Count in Comfort
A great article to provoke and tap into our best instincts.
The website of the International Ergonomics Association, Ergonomics for Children in Educational Environments Technical Committee is titled: Ergonomics for Children and Educational Environments. This features guidelines, research, information for teachers, links, and more on such topics as school furniture, child and adolescent computer use, backpacks, products for children, and fitness.
Might be worth a consideration. Especially if you agree with the power of eye contact in greeting ‘visitors’ and honoring all community members in an age of reactive ‘bunker’ mentalities that fuel school design solutions. A snippet from the blog post:
Watch Get out of the office and watch your students. Please don’t do this with a “prison guard” stance and attitude; focus on individuals and clusters even as you “sheppard the whole flock”. I try to watch my students whenever they gather in groups – before and after school, in the Commons Area during passing periods, and especially at lunch. I make it a point to watch for students who always eat alone, stand off from the crowds, and appear to avoid others. I try to “gravitate” toward them and say hello and ask how their day is going.
Listen As you walk the campus and spend time with your students, listen – really listen - to them. Establish personal relationships with as many of your students as you can. It doesn’t have to be extended periods of time, but it MUST BE SINCERE. Also establish ways that your students can communicate with campus authorities anonymously (i.e. Crime Stoppers, Safe-To-Tell programs, etc.).
Be a Friend / Mentor / Brother / Sister Yes, I know we need to maintain a “professional distance”. No, I’m not saying to become their BMF…I don’t “pal around” with the kids, but they are friends as well as students. As one young lady said, “Sheesh, Mr. Farr is just like a dad!”
Be Visible This is related to “Watching”. While I’m out watching the students, you can rest assured they are watching me. And the kids themselves have told me how much they appreciate seeing me in the halls, outside in the parking lot, in the cafeteria, etc. And I am willing to bet that most principals have heard this same thing from their teachers: “When you’re here, the kids just behave better…they definitely know when you’re out of the building.”
Encourage As you spend time with your students offer encouragement. Be a cheerleader. Congratulate kids for accomplishments, find reasons to praise or say something positive to every student.
Prevent Bullying Make it a firm and consistent rule that no bullying or harassment will be tolerated. This is such an important issue on my campus that we include it on our daily campus dashboard within the Campus Safety indicator. We also have posters in the halls. We have had student focus groups discuss it. It is an issue that receives regular attention and is closely monitored.
Learn Student Names and Interests I knew we were on the right track with this issue when the senior class from a few years ago voted on this slogan for that year’s Senior T-Shirt, “Shannon – Where Everyone Knows My Name”. I am convinced that this ONE THING is the MOST IMPORTANT thing on this list. I have seen the most withdrawn students respond with enthusiasm when I’ve sat down next to them at breakfast and asked them how their weekend was, or stopped them in the hall and asked them a question about their hobby.
Be Available The proverbial open door. I just asked my secretary how many students come by to see me on average every day – just to say ‘hi’, or show me their work, or tell me some news…her response was, “at least 10 – 15.” I hear about their plans for the weekend, how the prom went, how their boyfriend is doing, how a sick parent is recovering, etc. I also hear about who might be holding, who got high over the weekend, who has a new warrant…It all adds up to feeling the pulse of the school.
Tune In Related closely to watching, listening, and being available, but with a subtle difference. As I discussed in a recent posting, iPod, Do You?, it’s important to be relevant. You can’t fake it, and I am not talking about moving to the same level of students in actions, language, or fashions, etc. No, this is more about being aware of their culture enough that students don’t regard me as disinterested or downright “stupid” when it comes to knowledge of new trends. I won’t disrespect a student by laughing at a new fashion, but I sure won’t follow it either. I may “get” why they don’t, but I will always wear my baseball caps with the bill facing forward.
Be Involved Finally, be there for them. At games, dances, events, etc. I make hospital and home visits. Show you care by being involved enough to show up when and where you should.
In this day and age, it is tempting to buck the ’small learning community’ or ‘kid-scale’ design solution for ‘fortresses’ filled with ‘gates’, ‘video cameras’, airline-quality ’security gates’, and scanning technologies that make schools seem like ’safe prisons’ to those who call them home.
Matt Horne used a wide range of DesignShare Award-winning project images to help fuel the eye’s wonderings. And while this is only one way to spark a new series of questions, it does show the potential. Wonderful that teachers and clients are taking it upon themselves to create such tools, too!
Imagine if 1000’s of such videos — by students, teachers, designers, and other stakeholders — begin to hit the YouTube (and beyond) universe, all geared to showing the gap between our ideals for learning and what most ’schools’ look like (even the very expensive ‘new’ ones that pledge to be 21st century campuses — oy!). What would happen? Especially if these video stories/questions can be used in concert with each other to help community members, design/planning partners, foundations, and even national governments embrace new questions to inspired designs truly centered on the future of learning.
Rumor mills over the last few months have been gently (or not-so-gently) whispering that Philadelphia Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas would be taking on new challenges as the city becomes further challenged by funding issues, even as 4 new innovative high schools open to great acclaim nationally and internationally.
Louisiana education superintendent Paul Pastorek announced Friday that Philadelphia Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas would become superintendent of the state’s Recovery School District, which oversees most of the schools in New Orleans.
Vallas, who consulted for Louisiana last winter, is just one of a series of consultants the state has tapped since Katrina as it tries to rebuild a school system that, even before the storm, was among the nation’s most troubled. Advocates consider the rebuilding of the New Orleans school system a chance to showcase the private sector’s potential in urban school reform. Private groups are helping finance charter schools and are supporting non-profits that are recruiting badly needed teachers and principals.
Given the enormous state of challenge and opportunity, one can easily see why bringing Vallas on to lead this recovery process would be a critical decision. Hopefully the ‘design’ of new learning environments for New Orleans and surrounding communities will speak to the future of learning in the process.
And one can imagine that any potential book that Vallas will write in the coming years that speaks to the leadership/innovation question for urban public schools in the future — given his roles leading Chicago, Philly, and now this re-building program as well — will be worth keeping an eye open for.
(Please note that DesignShare does not own the rights to most of the images on our web site. If you want to use an image in your own work, you must contact the architectural design firm directly in order to get permission.)