How our children learn is fundamental to both their success and to a society’s success in the future. It is often said that children in school today are being taught for jobs that do not yet exist. But this suggests an expectation that students leaving school would go to specific well-defined jobs, just as they might have done when they left school at say during the beginning of the 20th Century. However, education and being at school is surely more than that.Continue reading
OECD School User Survey
Five years ago the OECD started work on a set of survey instruments to help evaluate school buildings. The result is the OECD School User Survey which aims to give voice to students, teachers and schools on how their buildings work for them.
In an OECD context it is an unusual survey because it is at school level rather than at national level which so many of the OECD surveys are.
In developing the OECD School User Survey we saw it as being complementary to other surveys which gather performance data from school buildings such as on acoustics, lighting, air quality and temperature; and student performance data collected in various ways. Therefore this survey has been designed to be used alongside these existing approaches rather than provide yet another version of them.Continue reading
Students are most likely to learn most about sustainability and environmental impact at school. This was certainly a finding from one of the OECD PISA studies a few years ago. The Zayed Future Energy Prize, in its Global High School category, provides an opportunity for schools around the world to continue to address this.
The primary aim of the Global High Schools category of the Zayed Future Energy Prize is to inspire future generations across the world to be responsible, sustainable citizens. It hopes to encourage young people to learn about sustainability and clean energy from an early age. Continue reading
I was asked the other day: How do I see the future design of school buildings? I thought hard about it because hasn’t all that has got to be said on the future of school design been said? After all we are surrounded by organisations trying to make predictions – 2030 and 2050 seem to be two favourite year markers.
It seems to me that while design will continue to stimulate debate and prompt innovations perhaps a more interesting and deep rooted innovation lies in the process rather than product. Like many innovations, it isn’t new, it is a reapplication in a context that enables it to happen.
Fifteen years ago I co-wrote a book: “Managing the Brief for Better Design”. One of the central themes of the book was dialogue between the different stakeholders in the production of the built environment. It was also about the role of design – “briefing is design, design is briefing”- was the mantra that I and my co-author repeated as nauseam. I still run it out when asked to talk about briefing. Using design to probe problems and their solutions seemed fundamentally important then, and it still does now
In “Managing the Brief” we also said that briefing is a process that starts before the project has been identified and continues after the project has been defined and the solution (generally a building of some sort) has been built. The point was, and I believe still is, that the built environment provides a supportive framework for learning and teaching. To do that there has to be a real understanding of the needs of the users (teachers, students, parents, the community interests) and the client which may be different from the school(s). To understand these needs demands a dialogue. The process of design can be used to explore the questions as well as the solutions. This is what good designers do.
Looking over the horizon I can see much more interest in this with education clients (for example, the Ministry of Education in New Zealand) now more often allowing dialogue to happen with teachers and students, and others before the discussion about the building. In many cases such discussions are a revelation to the organisations (schools or clients) about the way that they operate too. In other words, it is never just about the building.
Something to think about
If you are about to, or want to, reconfigure the spaces you use, be prepared to probe deeply:
- What you do, how you do it and when you do it.
- How might this change in the future (next week, next year, in five years…)
- Then ask yourself, how do the spaces and technology you use support this now and how should it do so in the future?
My good friend Julia Atkin, an education and learning consultant, makes a big thing of saying that the way that humans learn is the same as it has always been.
“Whether a human learns depends on their motivation,” she says. “A great teacher will find ways of motivating students and what motivates one student is not necessarily the same thing that motivates another.” Continue reading
This year I was invited to the 2016 LEGO Idea Conference and work with the International School of Billund, Denmark to present and discuss how the physical environment supports the education approach of the school. Currently the school takes students at primary age but will soon begin taking older students.
Top left a model of the classroom for the conference; top and below right the actual classroom space
It lives in a renovated secondary school building in Billund, and so has had to find ways of using an existing structure for its innovative approach to teaching – they avoid the more traditional approaches.
For my part in this discussion I took one typical space to describe what happens there. The space, actually an old classroom box, is divided into different zones so that students can work in different ways. This is guided by the teachers who , over a period of time, will ensure that students experience different learning modes from focused individual, collaborative, show and tell. while they follow a curriculum they teach subjects using a variety of approaches so that students engage in different ways. This was reflected in the way they set up the learning space.
It was fascinating to visit the school and talk with the teachers, parents and students about how it works. They have to work hard to convince parents about this approach to teaching and it shows the difficulties that face even those who are in what many would say is a fairly progressive education environment.
For the curious: I was asked to do a video interview with two Danish students. Here is what happened:
I was in Tokyo recently and came across a small school designed by iconic American Architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan a school that was started as a junior/senior school for girls in 1921. Although the school has since moved, the building is still used and was fairly recently renovated.
So far as I know, it is the only complete FLW building in Tokyo. It was built at the same time as the Imperial Hotel.
Understanding how people behave as they do is key to creating responsive environments.
I was in a school the other day. It was a delight to be in. Its overall aesthetic design wasn’t anything to speak of, it was in an old industrial building near a town centre. It had plenty of light, and while the young students were playing around there wasn’t loud noise – you could hear quite clearly. Everybody was engaged. The environment was responsive – staff and students could easily move the furniture around. Above all it seemed intuitive to use.
The much lauded Fuji Kindergarten on the edge of Tokyo is certainly the best and most enchanting kindergarten that I have seen. It deserves the many acclamations it has had.
In his very engaging TED talk just released, the architect Takaharu Tezuka gives his personal view. It is well worth watching!
As if to sum up his approach to the design of this place he once told me that “Good design starts with people!” It is a philosophy he holds for all the buildings that he designs. Indeed on the several occasions I’ve worked with him or been in his company, the people take centre stage as they should. The humanity behind this design certainly shines through.
But there is more than that – it has spirit! If you want to create a great place to be, then you have to create a place with spirit. But how? What is the recipe? Is there one, even? Perhaps it is the client who was prepared to take a risk and do things differently. Perhaps it is the design that is prepared to acknowledge that young children can be exposed to challenging environments. Perhaps it lies in a deceptively simple idea well executed that creates a fun place to be. It could be all or none of these things, or something else. Whatever it is, it is that spirit that we should create in our schools.
If you get the chance to visit Fuji, you will sense the fun and enjoyment that the kids and indeed the teachers get out of being here, and I’m sure you will find it fun too.
Congratulations once again Taka!
Imagine that you as a school principal or a teacher and have been told that your school going to get a new art / science / math (pick your subject) block. You have to define what is wanted so that the architect can start work on the design. Where do you start?
Merely writing out a list of different spaces and expecting them to function in the way you expect is not the place to start. Apart from anything else, the designer’s assumptions about how they function may be entirely different to yours. The fundamental question is: Continue reading