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Curriculum Mapping

Curriculum Mapping: A Tool for Integrating Teaching, Learning, and the Environment
As Published in School Planning and Management Magazine (SPM)
by Randall Fielding, AIA
July 2009

Successful districts and schools are continually updating their curriculum, reflecting the latest research on learning outcomes. In contrast, buildings are updated in more glacial cycles, depending on demographic shifts and the tax payer’s willingness to fund bond referendums. Due to the lengthy and expensive change cycle for building, facilities are often outdated, reflecting the thinking of earlier generations.

Play-Based Learning

One approach to keep the synergy between learning and architecture strong is to create flexible spaces that are agile enough to change over time. Teachers and students become like theater directors, and new sets are changed frequently—sometimes daily. “School as theater” is a perfect metaphor for this kind of agile approach to learning and space. How do we empower teachers and students to take charge of their learning and their environment as playwrights, directors and actors? What skills do they need? Curriculum Mapping answers both of these questions. Curriculum Mapping is part of the larger discipline of Educational Commissioning, a process that engages educators in optimizing their environment for teaching and learning (the term was created by Fielding Nair International (FNI) in 2005, and first introduced in an article published in by Dr. Jeff Lackney).

Curriculum mapping engages teachers in hands-on graphic representations of various learning scenarios on to floor plans. The process works for existing facilities or new projects in design. FNI uses symbols representing various learning modalities, including independent study, small group collaboration, large group instruction, play-base learning, project-based and technology-based learning to name a few. Small teams of teachers that share a Personal Learning Community of 150 students or less, work together to model teaching and learning scenarios at different times of the day and over different times of the year. For example, they may focus on literacy and numeracy blocks, mapping groups of 4-6 in a commons area, reading aloud, with story discussion and vocabulary development, while a group of 16 students are engaged in direct instruction on numeracy concepts in an adjacent learning studio.

Technology-Based Learning

Teachers at Douglas Park Elementary and Arcola Community School, both Pre-Kindergarten through 8th Schools in Regina Saskatchewan, recently participated in Curriculum Mapping workshops facilitated by FNI’s professional development and design staff. The goal was to integrate the design of two new facilities with Regina Public School’s Structural Innovation Framework, with its focus on flexible teaching and instructional grouping, collaboration, interdisciplinary, project-based, and inquiry-based learning, and inclusive practices that engage all learners. The Curriculum Mapping process was broken into three phases: 1) Pre-Mapping: teams envisioned and listed learning methods and activities; 2) Mapping new facilities: using floor plans of the new facilities, teams used lists of learning activities to map the distribution and flow of students throughout the facility at a period of time; 3) Mapping current facilities: using floor plans of the existing building, teams used the same activity lists to map the distribution and flow of students within their current facilities.

Along with mapping various learning vignettes with symbols in various areas of the building over time, the teams noted the projected numbers of students beneath each symbol. The exercise helped confirmed that the designs were large enough to accommodate increases in enrolment—a key concern brought on by the unpredictability of demographic shifts over time. Also, the workshop provided important insights into the detailing of the final plans. For example, additional areas were identified for media projection and consequently additional glare control. Partitions were shifted to allow for larger openings between the interdisciplinary DaVinci studios and adjacent areas, allowing projects to spill out into the commons. In addition to improving the quality of the design, lessons learned from the workshop were incorporated into an Operating Manual—a reference tool with maps of various “set deigns” sand blocking scenarios that teachers can use to make the most of the existing and new facilities.

small group
Small Group Seminar

By modeling the new facility designs first, teachers became aware of the enhanced potential for teaching and learning offered by a more flexible, agile environment. They were then able to look at their current facilities with new insights, and find ways to modify the learning groupings and furnishings now–piloting the structural Innovations in teaching and learning while the new facility plans and construction are completed. Teachers and learners will occupy the new facilities with a running start.

The act of Curriculum Mapping supports innovation in a way that traditional design workshops do not. Stakeholders have the chance to try out different ideas without fear of failure—they are learning to block scenes rather than construct fixed walls. A “failure” simply means that the team picks up the pieces and rearranges them. This is a process that models the skills needed by 21st century teachers, learners and leaders–the ability to work collaboratively, creatively, and innovatively.

Randall Fielding, AIA, is the Chairman of Fielding Nair International, Architects and Change Agents for Creative Learning Communities and an active member of the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI). He can be reached at:


July 31st, 2009

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