Many of the traditional school spaces still in wide use today are obsolete.
So much about how and where kids learn has changed over the years, but the physical structure of the traditional school spaces have not.
Looking around most school facilities — even those that aren’t old and crumbling – it’s obvious that so much of it is obsolete today, and yet still in wide use.
- COMPUTER LABS.
Students are connected to the Internet everywhere except in school. Regardless of their income bracket, most kids carry around a world of information in their pockets on their mobile devices, and yet we force them to power down and disconnect, and we confine them in obsolete computer labs. A modern school needs to have connectivity everywhere and treat computers more like pencils than microscopes.
- LEARNING IN PRESCRIBED PLACES.
When you ask people to remember a meaningful learning experience from high school, chances are the experience didn’t take place in a space designed for learning. Working in groups, while on a trip, while doing a project or learning while talking with friends — those are the lasting, meaningful learning experiences. Yet we don’t design schools to accommodate these activities and focus only on the formal spaces.
- TEACHER-CENTERED CLASSROOM.
Classrooms were designed for lecture and crowd control, with the teacher as the central figure of knowledge and authority. The teacher had knowledge to impart through direct instruction and the current classroom structure works pretty well for this. This basic classrooms structure is the same, though in some schools, the chalkboard has been replaced by the interactive “Smart Board.” In progressive classrooms, the structure has changed: small groups of kids working, project work, and student presentations require rethinking this model.
- ISOLATED CLASSROOMS.
Tony Wagner of the Harvard School of Education and the author of the Global Achievement Gap says: “Isolation is the enemy of improvement” and yet most schools are designed in a way that isolates teachers from each other. Teachers often learn to teach in isolated boxes and perpetuate that style throughout their career. Interior windows get “papered over” and blinds are shut. Yet out of school, people work in teams and are visually and often aurally connected.
- DEPARTMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS.
In order to break down the size of schools and to allow students to learn across curriculum, it’s essential to organize schools so that teachers of various subjects are located together. This not only emulates how people work today – in collaborative groups – but encourages teachers to consider students holistically, not only as they perform in a specific subject.
- SCHOOL CORRIDORS.
Corridors take up a lot of valuable real estate in a school and are unoccupied most of the time. If rooms are arranged in groups around a common space, corridors are not necessary. And unused corridors can be made into informal learning spaces.
- TRADITIONAL SCHOOL LIBRARIES.
In a modern school a library should be more of a learning commons able to support a variety of student activities as they learn to access and evaluate information. Books have their place but they are not the end-all of libraries. A learning commons is no longer the quiet sanctum of old, rather it is a space that can be central or distributed, used formally or informally, and one that can stimulate a spirit of inquiry in students.
- DARK, INDOOR GYMS.
Most gyms have no access to natural light because of fear of glare that might interfere with sporting events. But with soaring energy costs, being able to turn off lights in a gym can amount to big savings. Designing glare-free gyms is possible but typically requires more natural light not less. Skylights, well placed windows and ample light create a great experience and a functional space.
- INSTITUTIONAL FOOD SERVICE.
School food service usually involves folding tables that are placed and replaced throughout the day. With cleanup activities it takes the commons/cafeteria out of action most of the day. Why sacrifice this valuable space when it could serve multiple purposes? Creating spaces that require less movement of furniture while remaining flexible will allow them to be used more effectively. Common spaces can also be less institutional, which in turn increases their flexibility. Decentralizing food service allows students to eat in smaller groups and also allows multi-use of spaces. Even if the food isn’t better, the space can be.
- LARGE RESTROOMS.
Students try to avoid using school restrooms even in new schools because of concerns over privacy, bullying, and cleanliness contribute. To avoid restroom use, students stop drinking water and become dehydrated, and unable to focus. In Finland and other parts of Europe, they use individual restrooms that are located in the shared learning areas between classrooms. There seems to be a feeling of ownership for these, so they don’t get trashed. Also, they have more privacy, and there’s less bullying.
Visit KQED.org/Mind/Shift blog for more from Greg Stack.