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Archive for September, 2007
Organic School Garden Awards September 20th, 2007

The Rodale Institute, in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, was founded in the late 1930s by J.I. Rodale. When he moved to Pennsylvania in the ’30s, he learned about organic food growing methods. It became clear to him that in order to preserve and improve our health we must restore and protect the natural health of the soil - in other words - “Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy People®.” Rodale created this institute to spread his message and to educate others. Since then the organization has grown and continues to provide opportunities and solutions to “regenerate” environmental and human health worldwide.

The Institute also has a focus on kids and schools. Click here to check out the Regen Kids website. Its full of great ideas, fun projects, recipes, nutrition and exercise tips. Every year they have an Organic School Garden Awards. The deadline to submit your schools garden is October 31, 2007. So if you have a project or know of a project that should be submitted, go to the website and get the details. Below are some pictures posted on the website of past winners.

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1st Place Organic Gold Award (2004)
Wilson Elementary School
Wilson, WY

Gardening is a great way to get kids involved in learning about nutrition and provides them with a solid knowledge base of where food comes from, how long it takes to grow it, how much work goes into tending to a garden. It gives them a sense of pride in their work - to actually grow a carrot and then eat it!! Something so simple, but gets lost in this world of McDonald’s french fries and Burger King Whoppers. Organic gardening is a great approach - since it’s more than just about growing some veggies - but about the quality of the soil and teaches the children to respect the environment.

Jennifer Lamar, Contributing Designer

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!

Ergo for Kiddos September 10th, 2007

A New Zealand based furniture company - Furnware - developed “one-size-does-not-fit-all” ergonomic seating - Bodyfurn. Their philosophy is that students should be afforded the same ergonomic benefits that adults have in the office workplace while at the same time fulfilling to two most important factors that school facility management request: Cost and Durability.

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The chairs have been around for a few years now. In 2005, the company was awarded the Lexus Design in Business Awards
Recognition of their achievement was mainly due to the company’s forward-thinking philosophies and the behind-the-scenes research.

The company measured 20,000 children across New Zealand before developing the Bodyfurn chair. They discovered that a one-size-fits-all solution would not support the broad range of ethnicities, sizes, and heights of the children and “in fact, they would need six sizes to meet the needs of all students, and that meant developing a measurement system that client schools could use to match students appropriately with desks and chairs” (”Finding the right fit,” Pro Design, Aug/Sept 2005).

Don’t rock back in your chair! Sit still! Pay attention! We all remember these phrases from our childhood and may have be guilty of repeating these orders to a squirmy child recently. Bodyfurn recognized the need of children needing to move - fidget and squirm. Let’s face it! Children have a lot of energy and it’s difficult for most to sit still for more than 5 minutes. It’s hard for me to sit still for 5 minutes! Bodyfurn’s chair design allows for flexibility - it organically moves with the students while they lean back to listen to a lecture or lean forward to take a test.

Quite impressive is Bodyfurn’s dedication to research. For three years, the company conducted studies, built prototypes, and surveyed users. CEO Hamish Whyte was quoted in ProDesign - “We blew by our first year’s budget in the first three months. This year, we were double our total sales of school furniture, so we’ve probably seen about a 35 to 40 percent increase in turnover.” Bodyfurn’s success is attributed to the having a product that was developed with in-depth research and is truly a user-based design.

Next week: A direct report from the V/S factory in Germany! We’ll see what they’ve been cooking up….

Jennifer Lamar, Contributing Designer

Fabbing Pre-Fab for Schools September 4th, 2007

The other day I was exploring the world of pre-fab homes…getting lost and distracted I started to search for what new innovative pre-fab designs are out there for schools because we are all too familiar with the regular-old-boring modular building. According to he Modular Building Institute, a trade association in Charlottesville, Virginia “there are about 350,000 portable classrooms, and that number grows by 20 percent annually.” ( I thought for sure that there must be more new and exciting pre-fab designs for schools out there.

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Awhile back, we posted a blog about Project Frog - “high performance environments engineered for learning” - designed by MKThink. The units are customizable while at the same time offering an “energy efficient” environmentally friendly structure that is quick to deploy onto any K-12 or higher-ed campus. The design offers plenty of natural light to penetrate the interior, high ceilings with acoustical tile, and “configurable window walls.” Project Frog is now being set up in some schools across the country — curious how the students and teachers will receive their new learning environments.

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Jennifer Siegal of Office of Mobile Design also has an unique approach to pre-fabbing our schools with her ECO LAB. This mobile unit, which was fabricated out of donated tracker trailer and from “cast-offs” from Hollywood film sets, travels to schools in the LA area with the intention of teaching kids about the importance of protecting our planet and saving our environment.

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Another pre-fab design by Siegal’s office was for The Country School in Valley Village, California. Sustainable components and healthy environments seem to be at the top of the list for this project, as well as the expansion of the learning environment to the outdoors. The plan for the school campus is to construct three steel-frame prefab buildings which will be surrounded by a vegetable garden, a frog pond, butterfly garden, plus an outdoor science lab and an outside theater space. The smaller building houses offices and the library. A 2400 sf building contains three classrooms, the language lab, lockers and toilet rooms. The 1930 sf building houses the science lab and art studio, which is open to the community after hours to serve as a multi-purpose room. The pre-fab structures will be composed of eco-friendly materials such as, “Expanko and bamboo flooring, biocomposite panel cabinetry and homasote wall cladding.”

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Jennifer Lamar, Contributing Designer

What made you want to design schools? September 3rd, 2007

How did you get involved in designing schools? If it’s your livelihood, I’m sure there is an interesting chain of events much like Tiffany’s story below. For someone like me, who is early into her design career, it may seem odd that I have chosen to “specialize” so early. So, since we are on the topic of telling our stories, I would like to share mine as it is also a way to introduce myself to the DesignShare community…..

For me it was not something that I actively sought out - it just happened, with a little bit of fate thrown in. My first internship happened to be with a mid-size architectural firm whose work mainly focused on educational facilities. I spent most of the summer designing floor patterns and color palettes - and of course, the dreaded job of organizing the materials library. It was my first experience with an architectural firm and I was bright-eyed and eager to soak in as much information as possible. I learned the basics of construction documents, about specifying furniture, and where to look for lockers and science lab tables. Normal intern stuff. But one thing I noticed was that the actual design of the schools were, well, boring. Just basic school design with hallways and lockers and square classrooms. I could not help thinking that more could be done to make these spaces more interesting, more engaging, more comfortable.

The school year started and, by coincidence, one of our projects that fall semester was to design new classrooms and offices for our university’s honors program. During the programming stage, we researched ideal learning environments, interviewed the students and staff, and shared information with one another in the studio. A Learning Environments Symposium was held on our campus with visiting designers and architects and Herman Miller representatives. It was a day-long event where professors and students were invited to share ideas about what makes an ideal learning environment - What are the components? How can furniture, lighting, layout, architectural elements support the goals? I was exposed to a whole new world of educational design where the goal was to create spaces that satisfied students and teachers, enhancing learning with design, backed by research! I was getting intrigued. Then, I remember speaking with an architect after the meeting and relaying my experiences that I had over the summer. And he gave me great advice - “Designers get bored very easily, it is a common problem. But it is our job to continually stay interested and to never stop learning.”

So I kept learning. I worked at other firms, gaining more experience and knowledge in other commercial design arenas, but my interest in educational design never really went away — which one of my professor’s notice (Thank you, Dr. Hasell) and she encouraged me to follow that passion. Which eventually lead me to picking my topic for my thesis research, which combined my interest with learning environments and the use of action research techniques in the process of programming and designing spaces. Through my research I discovered Jeff Lackney and his articles about action research and school design. Through him I discovered Fielding Nair, International and was instantly drawn to their portfolio of work and design philosophies. Searching the FNI website, I saw that they had an office in Tampa, which was where I was living. It seemed too good to be true…or was this fate once again coming into play! I contacted Prakash Nair, we met, then I met Randy Fielding and Tiffany Green…I liked their style and their zeal and intellect…and they must have liked something about me because now I am working as a consultant with FNI, contributing to their creative process to build the best schools as possible. I will also be blogging on DesignShare sharing design ideas, sustainable products, and current trends (I welcome any comments or ideas!); plus, my personal experiences working with FNI. Being involved in the DesignShare network, I hope to meet more like-minded individuals who are committed to creating great schools and willing to share ideas!
And please feel free to share your stories…

Jennifer Lamar, Contributing Designer

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