Several schools are now embracing the theory that learning spaces cultivate student’s creativity and discovery.
Albert Einstein was 26 when he published his special theory of relativity. James D. Watson was 25 when he and Francis Crick discovered the architecture of DNA, arguably the greatest scientific achievement of our lifetime. Steve Jobs, another early bloomer, believed that you couldn’t trust people over 30 to come up with radical innovations.
Working for decades with Nobel laureate Jim Watson and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York on developing that research campus, I learned that the road to scientific achievement is not a straight line between two points, but rather a meandering, eclectic journey that should encompass the arts and humanities, interdisciplinary collaboration and sociability, and even sports and outdoor pastimes, including bird watching. Now in his 80s, Watson still plays a mean game of tennis. He is also an accomplished writer with an affection for the arts and is no slouch when it comes to architecture.
Science does not thrive in a vacuum: The broader the interests of the inquisitor, the better.
This bias toward precociousness and intellectual diversity makes the job of designing science and math facilities for nascent Watsons all the more challenging and important. Today’s students are our future, and that future is near at hand. We get a few short years to inspire them so they can go out over the ensuing decade and nudge the world in the right direction.
How does one do that?
Well, in part, you have to create excitement about science, math, and engineering by designing spaces not simply to impart facts and figures, but designing learning spaces that are flexible. Learning spaces where young people want to be, hang out after class, share ideas, and test what they have learned through real-world applications. Think of a garage where you do projects, where a messy vitality inspires enlightened tinkering. Rather than purveying only “pure” or theoretical math, engage students, for example, in using formulas to calculate the volume of various greenhouse gas emissions and how to mitigate them.
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