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Getting REAL: the Philadelphia Story
 
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Stage 2 ARCHITECTURE-IN-EDUCATION:

The A-I-E program. It was our intent that once the students had participated in this significant process that they would be able to take what they had developed and bring it back to the classroom. We intend to promote a ten-week program where students develop ideas generated in the design charrette within their own science, technology and engineering classes. Ultimately they should be paralleling the design process, so that any unique concepts that they may deliver will be integrated into our project. Our design team volunteered a number of hours from each discipline to go into the classroom and to either further inform the students as to our professions and their relations to the basic curriculum or to help the students develop the various projects they are working on.

JAL: David, can you give us an impression of the impact this process has had on students and teachers?

DS: What struck me the most was how quickly, during the design charrette, students, parents, faculty, administration, design professionals, community members, industry partners and many others all felt a kinship with each other. I believe that every participant truly takes great pride in the resulting design of this project. Moreover, the students displayed genuine confidence in their presentation of concepts and truly believed that they had become the majority owners of these designs.

Thinking back to the touchstone development meeting, the meeting began with administrators voicing their concerns for the current facility. By the end, the students dominated the conversation about issues with the existing facility and many ended up missing their late rides home!

JAL: John, what have you learned about the nature of your own work through this process?

JS: My work as a PBL/SL mentor has historically been a “bottom-up” process where the basic project ideas have come from the teachers in my group. Just as students must own their educational process, so also educators must see the Project-Based Learning pedagogy as their own. The essential premise of teacher and student ownership, which is a key element in the PBL/SL process is still the key to academic achievement, citizenship skills, and improved school design.

As a teacher, Service Learning Specialist, and educational consultant/ videographer, my work with PBL/SL has varied widely across disciplines, grade groups, and demographic populations. In working to specifically connect architectural design with curriculum and students via Project Based Learning, it has become necessary to be much more focused on the process of integration with the design professionals. There are well-defined parameters that must now be considered, and there are specific goals around improved school design, academic achievement, and citizenship skills that must be met.

To this end, Guerilla Educators is now developing a universal template to connect architectural design with students and curriculum via PBL/SL. The model will be transparent enough to allow teachers and architects anywhere to imprint their specific needs, wants and design variables—while also providing the framework, benchmarks, and guideposts to take their projects to successful design conclusions, as well as improve academic and testing outcomes and develop strong, positive citizenship skills.

JAL: David, how has this process and the Architecture-in-Education program informed your practice of architecture?

DS: Ultimately, architects like to teach in architectural schools because it continues to stimulate their minds with new ideas. We hope to foster the same level of stimulation between the design professionals and students, so both go away having been refreshed with new, invigorated thought processes.

The concept of architecture-in-education is a tremendous opportunity to bring to the students in public schools a real world opportunity. From my perspective it is really satisfying to see students develop and to see how confident it makes them when adults take an interest in their thought process.

I think that we have been focusing on this type of process (admitted sometimes with less success than we would like) for so long that we aren’t surprised anymore by the invigoration of the students resulting from a project like this. Students have tremendous ideas and need to be given the opportunity to infuse them into the otherwise stodgy design process. We are intent on taking this youth participation process further to create a deeper level of authenticity where student’s ideas are actually heard.

JAL: I’m interviewing you during the middle of this process that will take many more months to complete. DesignShare looks forward to publishing the results of your work in Philadelphia. In the meantime, what do you two expect will be the outcome of this design process? How will this new design process make a difference in the lives of students who will occupy the new school?

JS: For me this project comes down to ownership, academic achievement, citizenship/legacy, and building more effective schools. In the SchraderGroup/ Guerilla Educators design model, these are the characteristics that have the greatest effects on the lives of students involved in the design process.

Ownership—To the extent that students own their educational process, when what they learn is important to them in a real-world context, when they understand and embrace the fact that the primary responsibility to learn and grow is on them, then education becomes uniquely powerful and effective. Student involvement in the design process encompasses the attributes to achieve these critical objectives.

Academic achievement—The main objective of this whole initiative of connecting the design process to students and curriculum via Project-Based Learning is to build more effective schools and to model the Project-Based pedagogy, which ostensibly will be the primary way that students are effectively taught in those schools. A key indicator of success in the design process should be measured by whether students show academic improvement.

Citizenship/Legacy—The process of designing an educational facility from inception to final product takes place over a number of years. Therefore, many students who are involved in the design process will not be attending the school when the physical facility is completed. Their legacy will affect not only the students who come after them, but will also indelibly affect their view of themselves as productive citizens and community leaders.

Building more effective schools—Who is better for educational facilities designers to consult for the purpose of building better schools than the teachers and students who will use the school?

sketchDS: Ultimately, I believe that we have been failing to bring one of the most integrative arts and sciences (architecture) directly to students. We have been in such a building boom for schools over the last decade, that we have forgotten that what is occurring around students (particularly in addition/renovation projects) is the ultimate learning tool. The architecture and engineering that goes into the structure surrounding students creates its own learning process. It combines all of the curricula agenda currently being taught in public schools today. Many students can’t grasp that what they are learning really fits together in the real world. This opportunity provides that cross-pollination of ideas with real world activities so that not only the physical building, but also the design and construction process become a teaching tool.

I see such pride in the students who are participating in this process that I am positive the design they have created will magnify that. I expect to see a strong alumni group who are extremely proud of what THEY have created. We as the architects and engineers became merely the means to convey that design and design process to real life.

John Sole is President of Guerilla Educators.
We serve architects and educators to integrate school design to curriculum
and students via Project Based Learning.
John can be reached at:
tcherjohn@aol.com
Telephone: 215-510-2059

David Schrader is the founding principal of Schrader Group, an architectural design firm in the Philadelphia area that is helping to promote Architecture- in-Education programs.

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February 24th, 2006
 

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