Innovating learning environments: 4 ways to think about sustaining change

We love the photos of cool learning spaces with funky furniture They are captivating, inspiring, but it is impossible to know the full story from a tweeted photo. Recently I’ve had numerous opportunities to talk about the context for change and  several resonating themes are emerging around people and change:

  • That chair/table/tech won’t be the silver bullet
  • It’s just like Maslow’s Hierarchy
  • How does your garden grow?
  • This is just the tip of the iceberg
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Photo credit: Derek Bartels

That chair/table/tech won’t be the silver bullet

When I walk around our school with groups, they take notice of the elements, the physical designs, the furniture and configuration of spaces. One thing that people notice in innovative learning environments (ILEs) is the lack of, or perhaps different thinking around, the teacher’s desk. At NBCS, we have ‘caddies’ in our learning spaces that serve the purpose of storage and provide a stand-up place for student-teacher chat. They have been useful, and have helped to dismantle the barrier and culture that a teacher’s desk creates. They came about through a process of identifying a need, addressing the context and designing a solution. This process is fairly important, as these decisions have greater impact when when there is purpose and intentionality..

It’s just like Maslow’s Hierarchy

The premise of the ILETC research project is: Can altering teacher mind frames unlock the potential of innovative learning environments? I am often curious when teachers say, “Yes, but you don’t know our kids!” This tells me that they think the effectiveness of changing the learning paradigm to be more relevant to the 21st C is dependent on their students’ capacity to embrace change. Rather, it seems to me, that the educators are the variable here. We need to believe that it is up to us, we are the change agents.

My colleague Steve Collis and I put our heads together little while back to (unscientifically) come up with the key concerns we regularly hear around ILEs. These included:slide1

  • Time to plan  
  • Kids off task
  • Acoustics and headaches
  • Back problems   
  • Storage of resources
  • Teaching on display to co-workers    
  • Parent expectations
  • General chaos!

When it’s working well many of us can attest to the benefits of the ILE to student learning: increased levels of students engagement, student and teacher agency, creativity, a sense of adventure. The environment of learning becomes more personal, real and fun.  I have started to think of the change process in terms in the style of Maslow’s Hierarchy, If we address some of these issues like ‘Where do I put my stuff?’ and ‘The noise is giving me a headache’ (both real concerns), it may be possible that teachers can move up the pyramid and reach educational self-actualisation: ‘I’ve never been so professionally creative and empowered’.

How does your garden grow?shutterstock_186549074.jpg

When it comes to the process of change I love the gardening metaphor. We never reach the place of completeness, something always needs to be done and to explain this I like to talk about the garden. Please don’t think this attests to any capacity on my part, no green thumbs here.

When we design and layout a new garden we can stand back and admire our work for about a week before pesky weeds seem to poke through. Then a little later we may need to prune back some branches, from time-to-time a plant needs replacing and there may come a time when we pull out all the plants and start again on that patch. When I gave this illustration to a group this week, one suggested that the lifespan of a garden is about five years. That could be a good way to look how we innovate in schools. Think about what stage some of your key projects are at: Is it time to re-landscape?

This is just the tip of the icebergiceberg.png

When we see the design of an innovative school, or spend a few days there what we see is just the tip of the iceberg. The real work is under the surface. What actually happens to maintain the vision and reinforce the culture? As I think it through I am developing this diagram as a way of thinking about this. We have a vision and core values expressing what we believe about education and learning, we can articulate the ‘mountaintop’ – what might it look like if we get there? To reach that aspiration the hard work needs to happen:slide1

How do we help our people?
Their mindset, feelings, equipping for the change

What are the practical tasks we need to get done?
Roles and responsibilities, protocols around the use of spaces and places, and articulating systems and processes.

 

@anneknock

Good school design & why it matters: 9 point checklist #RIBA #TopMarksSchool

In 2015 the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) awarded the coveted  Stirling Prize for the best new building to Burntwood School, a large comprehensive girls’ school in London. It is the UK’s most prestigious architecture prize. As Paul Monaghan, Director, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, the winning architecture firm, said,

“Schools can and should be more than just practical, functional buildings – they need to elevate the aspirations of children, teachers and the wider community. Good school design makes a difference to the way students value themselves and their education…”

So what is “good school design”? In terms of Burntwood, the project included “great contemporary design”, “clever reuse of existing buildings” and “superb integration of artwork, landscaping and engineering” (RIBA Stirling Prize 2015).

I have the opportunity to undertake professional travel, visiting schools, universities, libraries and other places of learning in different parts of the world. I have concluded that “new” does not necessarily equate to “good design”. It is even more fascinating to visit the same school every year or two, to see how the design outworks over time.

RIBA have recently published a report “Better Spaces for Learning”. The report seeks to  influence the UK Government to review its building program, indicating that good school design has become less of a priority, centralising school building, without considering “unique local circumstances of each school building project”.  The authors seek to show how “good design can help ensure that capital funding stretches as far as possible, without storing up problems for the future.”

The data was gathered from what is believed to be “the largest analysis of Post Occupancy Evaluations of primary and secondary schools in the UK, a nation-wide poll of teachers, and numerous conversations with stakeholders involved in delivering Government-funded school buildings”. The report identifies a few key outcomes of good design:

  • Positive impact on student behaviour
  • Improved wellbeing through a sense of ownership and belonging
  • Increased staff productivity
  • Reduced maintenance costs

What are the elements of good school design? 

  1. Good quality natural light, supported by good artificial lighting.
  2. Pupil sense of ownership, with dedicated social or self-directed learning spaces and display of work or imagery pupils can identify with on the walls
  3. Simple, natural ventilation systems, with higher ceilings to absorb stale air.
  4. Thermal comfort and control over temperature. Easy to use and quick to adapt to changing uses of space.
  5. Optimum amount of colour in learning spaces to create interest but not become a distraction.
  6. An optimum level of visual interest in terms of design to display of work and provide storage solutions
  7. Flexible spaces that can be zoned for various activity areas to help facilitate learning.
  8. Good acoustics.
  9. Simple design that reduces reliance on complex mechanical systems.

There are similarities from the UK experience to the Australian context. A number of jurisdictions across our nation are in significant growth mode to meet the need of bulging classrooms. If community wellbeing, teacher productivity and student behaviour are positively impacted by good design, therefore these are worthy considerations.

@anneknock

Resource: Better Spaces for Learning #TopMarksSchool
Written and researched by Emilia Plotka
Edited by Andrew Forth & Clare Corbett
Published by: Architects (RIBA) May 2016

Enabling Spontaneous Learning Environments: 5 keys to breaking free of (or within) the 4 walls

 

Are you comfortable with spontaneity, creating a context for learning that is fluid and able to respond to ideas?

One of the underpinning factors in the design for Manhattan and The City, the newest precinct at Northern Beaches Christian School, has been to enable the creation of spontaneous spaces.

File_000 (5)“We have created a structure whereby any teacher can spontaneously find different space, all the while supported by pervasive wifi and accessible solar powered screen technology, if chosen.” Stephen Harris, Principal at NBCS

The idea of a spontaneous space is nothing new to early years educators. Search “spontaneous learning environment” and you will see numerous entries for early years education, such as:

 

The Star Fish room provides a stimulating planned and spontaneous learning environment that focuses on children’s interests, strengths and development. littlelearnerschildcare.com.au

IMG_0990I am often curious about how so many of our foundational understandings  about learning seem to shift as students grow older. What if we maintained the idea – spontaneous learning environment that focuses on children’s [student’s] interests, strengths and development – all the way through school life? Timetables, schedules, outcomes and other external pressures seem to minimise the opportunities for spontaneity, and often negates it. But so do mindsets.

“There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat. That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”  (Steve Jobs).  

At both Pixar and Apple Steve Jobs put a great deal of effort into creating office environments that “promoted encounters and unplanned collaborations”  boundlss.com

WMK_NBCS_StudentImages_5D3_9852“If a building doesn’t encourage [collaboration], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity. So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”  Steve Jobs

Spontaneity in a school learning environment takes planning and thought. Talk to an early years teacher about spontaneity. They are constantly watching, observing how these young learners are engaging with their physical environment and how the space, the furniture and materials are enabling curiosity, creativity and exploration. Is this any different for “later-years” learners?  

The idea of spontaneously changing location, regrouping learners and reconfiguring spaces has takes up considerable -less spontaneous – thought and planning, including:

  1. Teacher mindset – Start to think “Spontaneity can enhance the learning opportunities for my students” or “What type of space do I need for this learning session?”
  2. Mobility of furniture – Variety of furniture options, wheels, lightweight, multi-use
  3. Empty space – Quickly reconfigure an area. If it takes too much trouble or muscle to be rearrange the space, open the bi-folds, then it won’t happen
  4. The great outdoors – Identify and design the places for outdoor learning – considering what indoor-type conditions are needed (e.g.wifi, seating, shade)
  5. File_000 (6)Systems – Thinking through the mechanisms to make this happen:
    • How will the change of space be communicated?
    • Are there enhancements to a space that can make it a more effective spontaneous learning environment?
    • What are the requirements I need to consider for furniture procurement and allocation?
    • Do outdoor spaces require regular maintenance to make them attractive choices?
    • Does technology infrastructure support spontaneity?

Underpinning great spontaneous learning is a lot of hard work that’s mostly invisible.

If you would like to visit NBCS and see our spaces, talk to our students and meet some of the team go to www.scil.com.au/visit-us.

@anneknock

 

What happens when 16 architects & educators travel together in the wintry north? Part 2

 

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First things first in Copenhagen

We spent five nights based in Copenhagen, including a weekend, which enabled the group to explore city and visited Hellerup Skole and Orestad Gymnasium (Senior High School) both are considered inspirational designs. We were grateful that the principal of Orestad took time to talk about the vision – “the open plan office as a school”. At Hellerup, an early example of deliberate open-space design, the new head is seeking to reshape the school’s culture to be in alignment with the original intention of the design.

 

 

 

We were very grateful for the input from our friends at Ecophon. Clapping and looking for reverberations seemed to be part of an assessment of all spaces, after our seminar with Mai-Britt Beldam. We spent the next day just across The Bridge in Sweden, hosted by Colin Campbell visiting Kunskapsskolan in Helsingborg and Landskrona, and a university in Malmo, all the while applying some of our new knowledge about acoustics.

Kunskapsskolan is the name of around 50  free-schools  across the nation. These are an example of a scaled model to grow a system of schools. The design and pedagogy aims to provide an education that is highly structured and self-directed, where the students are supported by teacher-coaches in a physical environment that is repurposing factories, hospitals and office buildings as schools.

IMG_7756 (1)One of my favourite places to visit is the learning space for nine to eleven year olds at Maglegaard school in Copenhagen. Central to the shared space is a kitchen (with knives in the draws!) and a shared table with flowers and candles (yes, they were lit). If the children are hungry they get something to eat. It was a comfortable environment, with caring teachers who created an ambience that felt like home.

 

Projects by big-named architects and some well-known buildings featured on the itinerary. The 8Tallet building in Orestad was designed by Bjarke Ingells Group (BIG). We visited the RIBA award winning Den Bla Planet, Denmark’s national aquarium, designed by 3XN, who also designed Orestad Gymnasium. Meccanoo designed the TU Delft Library and Delft’s new train station. NEMO science centre in Amsterdam which was designed by Renzo Piano.

NEMO and Den Bla Planet (The Blue Planet), along with libraries, are important learning spaces as well. The community choose to visit, school groups book in and the learning is unstructured and inspirational, where curiosity is sparked. At NEMO I observed that the most productive experiences for the children seemed to occur when they were with an interested adult, guiding them and asking questions. The children loved the giant bubbles – being able to pull a bubble around and over. You could see the children working it out, thinking about how it worked and experimenting with techniques.

Amsterdam City Library was part of the architect-led walking tour and was described to us as a “public building with books”, a place where people were welcome, busy with community activity, with a thoughtful and interesting design.

We also visited libraries in Delft, a 50 minute train trip from Amsterdam.  Completed in 1997, TU Delft commissioned Mecanoo to design a library that would be the heart of the university and give a face to a campus the size of a city district. The library is meeting expectations two decades after its opening, with regular tweaks and iterations to make the space meet the changing needs of the learners.

I really want to thank the 15 amazing people who said “yes” to joining the study tour. It wasn’t just the places we visited, it was the rich dialogue, the shared problem-solving and the laughter along the way that made it all work. I have such a wonderful opportunity and feel very blessed to be able to lead these tours. 

@anneknock

 

What happens when 16 architects & educators travel together in the wintry north? Part 1

We met for dinner in downtown Helsinki on a Sunday night, our first night. We walked from our hotel through snowy streets to the restaurant, where many of us took the when-in-Rome option and chose reindeer from the menu. It was the first time we’d all been together as a group. By Thursday the group was laughing with incredulity that we had only known each other for a few short days.

IMG_8760 (2).JPG

When I first planned this tour I was hopeful to have about eight people, and overwhelmed when I cut off registrations at 15. From 24 January until 5 February we went from Helsinki, Copenhagen with a side trip to Sweden, Amsterdam and then a handful went onto Geneva. The vision for the tour was to visit places and spaces for learning and to meet the people who use it, which fits my DNA. I love exploring interesting spaces and seeing how it works for people.

IMG_7610In education, as in many fields, there can be the showpiece architecture that is not practical for people, or there is the beautifully designed and functional space where, over time, an ineffective culture minimises the potential of the possibilities.

On these tours we experience this range of responses. The first school we visited Viherkallio School in Espoo, outside Helsinki, was a wonderful example of strong leadership growing the desired culture. The school was built in the 1960s and hadn’t had a significant structural refit, but it worked well and was responsive to the needs of the community.

The last place we visited on the tour, Rolex Learning Centre at Lausanne University was a purist piece of architecture, that seemed too sophisticated in design to achieve the desired function, and needed modifications and retro-fitted elements to make it work.

We visited the Aalto Design Factory, born from a research project focused on creating an ideal physical and mental working environment for product developers and researchers at Aalto University.

In Copenhagen and Amsterdam we took part in architecture-hosted walking tours. The Orestad urban project on the island of Amager, out of Copenhagen, was intended to create a new urban hub, yet to date has yet to live up to expectations. There has been significant infrastructure projects over nearly 10 years, with the expectation that 20,000 people would live in Ørestad, 20,000 would study there and 80,000 would be employed, this has yet to be realised. Perhaps the “if you build it” philosophy doesn’t always play out.

IMG_7949.jpgThe Amsterdam architect-led tour around the developing Oosterdok harbour revealed the thinking and planning that is connecting this city in a new way. A constant ferry links the Overhoeks district across the Ij River and the new orientation of the transport hub of Amsterdam Centraal facing the river, is ensuring that the area known for the landmark Shell building becomes a new vibrant hub, with the Eye Film Institute taking centre stage.

 

 

A “Learning Spaces” tour needs to visit more than just schools. We need to explore the places where active and unscripted learning occurs, understand where people live and work in the 21st century and allow time and space for the group to process and download their thinking.

@anneknock

Insight for schools: Trends in university learning space design, big shift from lectures to collaborative learning

For many school-based educators, one of the justifications for maintaining a traditional teacher and content focused culture is the need to prepare students for university. But what if universities are changing.

MUSE  Macquarie University

MUSE at Macquarie University

There are many examples of tertiary institutions that understand the need for change. Information, lectures and resources can be accessed online, so why would they need to come into university. The MUSE at Macquarie University (pictured) is the transformation of the former library of the 1960s into learning commons and now more students are on campus, they have a place to go.

It has been interesting to read the chapter: The Further and Higher Education Campus in Design for the changing education landscape (2014) by Andrew Harrison and Les Hutton. There is significant insight for the school education sector from what is happening at the tertiary level.

The examples in this chapter are in a process of philosophical shifts, from tutor/lecturer focused, front facing classes toward collaborative and active learning environments. The Active Learning Center at the University of Minnesota noted the difference in the behaviour of a professor in the two different learning modes. In the traditional rooms there was more lecturing and the professor remained at the lectern. The open space approach showed more discussion, movement throughout the space and greater consultation with individuals and small groups.

From: Design for the changing education landscape (2014) Andrew Harrison and Les Hutton.

Before and After at Melbourne University From: Design for the changing education landscape (2014) Andrew Harrison and Les Hutton.

The lecture theatre has limited cut-through and is increasingly inconsistent with the modes of learning that students need in the technology rich environment. It is not uncommon for students to stream lectures to their device, rather than sit in the lecture theatre. Physics lecturer, Eric Mazur realised how ineffective the lecture was for gaining knowledge and understanding. He discovered that this was better achieved through discussion and student-to-student explanation. In the article in Harvard Magazine,  Twilight of the Lecture: The trend toward “active learning” may overthrow the style of teaching that has ruled universities for 600 years, he says,

It’s no accident that most elementary schools are organised that way. The reason is, that’s how we learn. For some reason we unlearn how to learn as we progress from elementary school through middle school and high school. And in a sense, maybe I’m bringing kindergarten back to college by having people talk to each other!”

We can better prepare our students for further learning by considering these elements in the design of school, especially in terms of the three learning landscapes – physical, virtual and cultural.

The City – the campus as a learning communityManhattan and the City at NBCS

Alongside designated places for learning, we begin to see the entire campus as a learning landscape, identifying the spaces in-between. Movement areas are designed as part of the overall landscape. The balance of formal and informal settings is changing as students are required to be more self-directed. In many schools, valuable real estate is taken up by herding cattle along corridors. We can consider how these transition spaces can be exploited. Food is also important, more than just fuel, it is a catalyst for connection. But quality of the food and design of the setting matters.

Informal and Social Learning Spaces 

Primary school in Copenhagen

Primary school in Copenhagen

Mobile technology is the enabler that make informal spaces work for learning. They are usually outside the classroom, adjacent to eating and gathering spaces. Designed for both staff and student to co-locate, supporting the notion of a pervasive learning community. Social hubs are designed to suit each institution’s unique needs and culture.

Furniture Layout 2012-10-10 12.40.08 copy

Round tables encourage collaboration and quickly create a community of
learning. The students are forced to look at each other, changing the relationship amongst the classes. Allowing for different furniture types and multiple arrangements encourage collaborative and group based learning.

Libraries

A contentious subject for many schools. When learning resources are available digitally and students can almost carry a library on their device, the libraries can serve as information commons. The place where the digital learning environment can be managed. The lines are blurring between the learning commons, technology spaces, social/food spaces and information spaces. There can be sanctuaries for concentration and reflection alongside the collaborative and group settings, providing for different needs and a variety of settings for learners

TU Delft Library

What’s your metaphor?

As I explore this subject the importance of creating a metaphor for the spaces recurs. Ownership, codes of behaviour and a simple description in the shape of a metaphor can communicate the complex in a simple way. Here are some examples I recorded as I read Harrison and Hutton. What do you think they are describing?

  • City and the streets
  • Front Porch
  • Cul-de-sac
  • Den
  • Hive
  • Club
  • Cell
  • Home

No standing still

Learning is changing as society changes. Gaining knowledge and understanding in a digital and globally connected world requires a new mindset. We can stick to tried and tested ways, claim that the pendulum always swings back again, but I haven’t seen many pendulum clocks anywhere other than a museum. The world has changed and thankfully the place where learning occurs is evolving.

@anneknock

Design for the Changing Educational Landscape

Designing spaces for learning: 10 questions to STOP asking and 10 questions to START asking for choice, flexibility & connection

Design for the Changing Educational LandscapeCurrently I am reading Design for the Changing Educational Landscape: Space, Place and the Future of Learning (Harrison & Hutton). The book was published in 2014 and cites research and white papers dating back to the early 2000s. People were having the conversations then, the same ones that we are having now. A quote in the book is from the Design Council (UK) “Learning Environments Campaign Prospectus: From the Inside Out Looking In” (2005)

The 2005 research showed low quality, standardised and institutional classroom environments and resources are not just uninspiring, they actually:

  • reduce the range of teaching and learning styles possible and affect interaction between teacher and student
  • undermine the value placed on learning
  • fail to adapt to individual needs
  • hinder creativity
  • are inefficient
  • waste time and effort
  • cost more in the long term

Too often the imperative of the urgent and the need to meet the budget stops school leaders from stepping back to ask the right questions. So instead they default to what schools have always done, perhaps based on the expectations of parents, governors or media.

10 Questions to stop asking:

  1. What buildings do we want?
  2. How many classrooms do we need?
  3. What are the external distractions that need to be minimised?
  4. What are the subjects we need to teach?
  5. How many desks and chairs do we need?
  6. Where do we put the whiteboard?
  7. Can all the students see the teacher/whiteboard/front?
  8. Where are the noticeboards to display student work?
  9. Where do we put the teachers desk?
  10. What technology do we need today?

The Design Council paper includes this annotated photo, a snapshot in time that could be the reality in many schools today, 10 years later. What does it tell us?

From:  Learning Environments Campaign Prospectus - From the inside looking out

From: Learning Environments Campaign Prospectus – From the inside looking out

Internal decor: Standardised institutional environment lacks character and fails to complement other aspects of design

Displays: Static and scrappy displays of student work rapidly become wallpaper.

Teacher’s desk: Teacher zone supports didactic approach and mindset among teachers and pupils

Technology: When technology is not embedded within design the environment will not support ongoing flexible adaptation

Desks and arrangement of furniture

  • Middle of the class: Children not wanting to answer questions sit outside this area
  • Desks at the back: Children wanting to misbehave sit here

Light: Lack of control over light

Furniture: Inflexible desks and chairs inhibit group work and movement

In 2009, the Salford Centre for Research and Innovation in the Built and Human Environment Barrett and Zhang emphasised the link between learning and space.

Barrett and Zhang do not believe it is possible to create a plan that will work forever, however…three key issues seem to link school design with considerations of individualisation, and provide a framework within which change can take place.

These three issues are choice, flexibility and connection.

Taking the time to think ahead, to understand the learning and social needs of students and provide the learning environment that students need, there are alternative questions that can be asked:

  1. What kind of learning do we want to see?
  2. What are the learning relationships we want to encourage?
  3. How much natural light and outside inspiration can we accommodate?
  4. What tools and resources are available to us to support students’ learning?
  5. What furniture facilitate the learning environment we need?
  6. What focal points are required?
  7. Where will the variety of learning modes happen in the space?
  8. How do we share the creativity and innovation of students?
  9. How do we facilitate the storage needs for the teacher?
  10. What (do we imagine) will be our technology needs in the future?

There are probably many more, but this is a start.

@anneknock

Repurposing unlikely spaces for a school: A photo essay

A school doesn’t need to be purpose-built. In Australia, the commonly held view that a new school needs to locate a greenfield site to grow a school. In other parts of the world it is more common to local a disused building, a brownfield site.

Greenfield sites have not previously been built on. This includes the greenbelt land around cities.

Brownfield sites are defined as “previously developed land” that has the potential for being redeveloped

In my travels I have visited some interesting schools. But this week my Danish and Swedish friends tweeted about a school in a disused submarine factory in Malmo, Sweden.  Mia and Jens (@LOOPbz) from Danish design consultancy LOOP, along with Colin (@EDU_Colin) from Ecophon acoustics alerted me to their adventures in a series of Tweets. So I started thinking about this one, and some of the brownfield sites that I have visited. We are heading to Europe and UK again this year (October 2015) for the SCIL Vision Tour.

Malmö Högskola

(These are photos from Colin’s Tweets)

A former submarine factory with imposing post industrial learning spaces. This media school is due to open soon.

Photo: Colin Campbell, Ecophon

Photo: Colin Campbell, Ecophon


Vittra Telefonplan – An old telephone factory in Stockholm

Vittra Telefonplan is one of 30 schools in this Swedish free school system that I visited in 2012. It is a school without walls in this former telephone factory that has created a variety of zones for different types of learning.

Design firm Rosan Bosch describes the brief for the project: When the new Vittra school “Telefonplan” was established in Stockholm, Rosan Bosch created the school’s interior design, including space distribution and distinctive custom-designed furnishings. The interior design revolves around Vittra’s educational principles and serves as an educational tool for development through everyday activities. Link to Rosan Bosch

Vittra Telefonplan


IPACA – Three schools to one campus

In 2014, after the SCIL Vision Tour, we visited the Isle of Portland, in Dorset England, with our friend, Gary Spracklen. Gary is the Director of Change and Innovation at IPACA – Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy – the group of schools on the island. The schools are in a process of change as they join and relocate in the disused maritime centre in Portland. “We want to create a small school environment within a big school setting but bring the benefits of a big school as well.” From three schools to one campus. Follow Gary @Nelkcarps to see what great work is happening at the school.

Slide1

A curious fact about the Isle of Portland: If you are ever on the Isle of Portland never say the word “rabbits”…

“Because burrowing can cause landslips in quarries, residents of Portland, Dorset, instead call the creatures underground mutton or furry things.” Accordingly, the W&G publicity will carry the alternative slogan “Something bunny is going on”.

Weymouth and Portland mayor Les Ames illuminates: “If the word rabbit is used in company in Portland there is generally a bit of a hush. In the olden days when quarrying was done by hand, if one of these animals was seen in the area, the quarryman would pack up and go home for the day – until the safety of the area had been reconnoitred. It is an unwritten rule in Portland that you do not use the word rabbit.” (From: theregister.co.uk)


Kunskapsskolan – Swedish Free School System

Since we started taking educators and architect on the SCIL Vision Tour, we have regularly visited Kunskapsskiolan, the system of around 30 school, started in 1999. The design of the schools is undertaken by Chief Architect Kenneth Gärdestad. The schools aim to be open, inviting and spacious, where most of the space is used for learning.

Kunskapsskolan’s schools are typically located in facilities which were originally built for other purposes, i.e. former office buildings, factories or shops. But the architecture, characterised by light, visibility and flexibility, does not only allow for a more effective use of space (the average amount of space per student is between 7-9 m2); it also gives rise to an open and collaborative atmosphere where the idea that every space is a learning space is omnipresent. This concept also gives schools the flexibility to adapt to changing conditions. An office converted into a school could be converted back entirely or partly if demographics or demand were to change. From OECD Report

Kunskapsskolan

The SCIL Vision Tour again this year provides a wonderful opportunity for school leaders and architects to have a first-hand experience of great school designs.

@anneknock

Well-designed learning spaces can boost student academic performance: University of Salford, Manchester

The University of Salford in Manchester has gained a reputation for looking at the physical aspects of the learning space and their impact on the quality of learning. In 2013 the project on the sensory impacts on learning found (here):

“almost three quarters of the variation in pupil performance could be attributed to design and environmental factors.  All things being equal, the academic performance of a child in the best environment could be expected to be 25% better than an equivalent child in the “poorest” classroom environment.” 

IMG_1732And next? Over three years the HEAD Project (Holistic Evidence and Design) looked at 153 classrooms in 27 diverse schools in three local authorities in England – Blackpool, London Borough of Ealing and Hampshire. The team looked at sensory factors and multilevel statistical modelling to isolate the effects of classroom design.

One big idea

This year the Clever Classrooms report states:

“Well-designed classrooms can boost learning progress in primary school pupils by up to 16% in a single year.” 

Three characteristics

In the research three physical characteristics were assessed:

  • The role of naturalness – light temperature and air quality
  • The opportunity of individualisation – ownership and flexibility
  • Appropriate levels of stimulation – complexity and colour

Whole school factors, such as size, navigation, specialist facilities and play facilities did notappear to be as significant as the design of the individual learning space.

The findings that led to 16% improvement in students learning progress was attributed to a range of factors across these characteristics. Naturalness accounted for almost 50%, with around 25% each for stimulation and individualisation.

Other considerations, size of the school, provision of shared specialist rooms and scale and quality of external spaces had less impact. The most important factor was that the actual learning space, where the students spend most of their day. This needs to be well-designed.

Seven key elements

The research concluded that learning spaces must be well-designed and narrowed the range of inputs to seven design parameters and with the degree of impact:

  1. Light (21%)
  2. Air quality (16%)
  3. Temperature (12%)
  4. Flexibility (11%)
  5. Ownership (17%)
  6. Colour (12%)
  7. Complexity (11%)

The ZoneA few other factors mentioned in the report: The physical design at the school level was less important. Also, it is easy to over-stimulate with vibrant colours and overly busy displays, however a white box is not the answer, either. In the learning spaces small and cost effective changes can make a real difference, including changing the layout, choice of wall displays and colours of the wall.

It is interesting to note that ‘sound’ was identified as a secondary factor, when it is often raised as a key issue by many. The addition of acoustic treatment, soft furnishings and carpets and rubber feet in furniture was noted in the report.

I appreciate the response from Colin Campbell at Ecophon on the matter of sound and acoustics:

“Good speech communication is vital and increasingly dynamic; no longer the teacher just lecturing (only one person speaking), there is a different acoustic dynamic now with increasing collaboration including whole class interaction and group work. In the traditional classroom and increasingly many other additional spaces are now being used for discussions and engagement in learning. These activities can create an increased burden on the teachers as they must collaborate more and manage / coach the learning in a different way. The quieter and calmer a learning space, the easier it is for teachers to remain proactive in their approach thus empowering more student engagement, positive behaviour and increased possibilities and experimentation for learning. So, the food for thought is to consider the need to prioritise good acoustics for speech communication as the need has never been greater.”

What can we do?

Light
  • Keep windows free of displays
  • Use high quality projectors and screens that are not impacted by light
  • Use plants and planters to reduce too much incoming light
Air quality
  • OPEN WINDOWS!
  • Avoid obstructions to airflow
  • Install CO2 metres
Temperature
  • Be attentive to the temperature of the room
  • Use plants and planters to diffuse windows facing the heat
Flexibility
  • Create well-designed learning zones
  • Consider age appropriate size and shape of zones
  • Provide accessible walls for display
Ownership
  • Consider student ownership of work displays
  • Create a sense of familiarity
  • Allow personalisation to aspects of the learning space
  • Good quality furniture
Complexity
  • Create displays that give a liveliness, without being chaotic
  • 20-50% of the wall space kept clear
  • Avoid displays on windows
Colour
  • Assess the colour elements that remain unchanged
  • Determine how much bright colour can be introduced in other aspects
  • Aim to increase stimulation against a muted background

While this research was focused on primary classrooms, it would be interesting to see how it made a difference to the learning spaces in secondary/high schools.

@anneknock

What happens when there is an intersection of design and education? From disaffected to engaged #IfYouBuildIt

Slide1Design + Education
Design for education – the physical construction of improved spaces,

Redesigning education – creating the conditions to make change possible, or perhaps,

Design as education – learning design thinking for a community purpose

I have long held the idealistic view that when something is sparked in young people, when talents and skills are given expression, there is an opportunity to thrive. We often hear the term “disaffected youth”. The term disaffection speaks of alienation or estrangement. As a result, I am drawn to stories where young (and old) people are engaged, connected and have a sense of belonging.

This is why I found the documentary film If you build it so compelling. The Field of Dreams quote missed the mark, in my mind “if you build it they will come”. There is always so much to do for success, merely building something does not guarantee it. So the absence of the second half of the quote gives us the starting point, “If you build it”… maybe it gives the opportunity, should they choose.

This feature-length film is set in Bertie County in North Carolina. Two designers, Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller embark on a project in this sad and destitute area in America’s south.They see this more than a “project”, Emily and Matthew throw themselves into the life of the town, they live there and want to contribute. The set up Studio H – humanity, habitats, health and happiness – a design studio with a social conscience.

The film follows the lows and highs of the journey. This includes the over-bureaucratic local school board withdrawing support for the project, but Emily and Matthew persevere. They are pretty tenacious.

I loved how this pair engaged with the students, built their trust and presented achievable, yet still challenging design projects for the students. Across the 85 minutes we see the transformation from disaffected to connection, belonging and a sense of hope in their future. It left me with a lump in my throat.

Emily's TED talk

Prior to the events of the film, Emily presented a TED Talk  “Teaching Design for Change”, where she said

“Apply design within education… then figure out how to make education a great vehicle for community development.”

Event Flyer. Link to registration information

Event Flyer. Link to registration information

There is an opportunity to see this film…

If you are in Sydney, see this film and discussion about the place of design as education.  It is presented by the NSW Chapter of CEFPI – another intersection of design and education.

Wednesday 4 March 2015 – 5.30pm to 8.15pm

Level 7, 35 Bridge Street , Sydney

Following the film, light refreshments will be provided, and an expert panel will discuss the themes of the film.

Panel

Facilitator: Anne Knock, Chair CEFPI NSW Chapter

Paul Pholeros a Director of Healthabitat, a company that for over 30 years has worked to improve the living environments of Indigenous people in many suburban, rural and remote areas of Australia and internationally.

Matt Esterman  History and e-learning coordinator at St Scholasticas College, Glebe. His current research looks at user voice in the design process for new learning spaces and school buildings. Matt is an actively engaged professional at TeachMeets, He regularly blogs and tweets @mesterman.

Genevieve Blanchett a designer who operates across architecture, urban design and the performing arts with a focus on community-driven creative place making and arts-based development projects.

Watch the trailer.

Interview with designer, Matthew Miller and Another article.

I would love to see you there.
@anneknock