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?
The solution may be well-designed furniture giving learning spaces versatility.
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
In designing an environment for learning we have to imagine better ways of being. The same could be said for designing education itself.
Interior of High Tech High, San Diego, California
I once asked a student at High Tech High in San Diego, California what advice she would give those designing learning environments. She replied: “Create somewhere relaxing and bright, so you can open the windows and see out; you know, somewhere you actually want to be for 7 hours a day!”
I asked another student. The answer: “Create a building that allows students to want to learn, rather than merely containing the learning process.” Continue reading
This photo blog records a visit to the state of Puebla, Mexico that I made with a team of experts from the OECD in September to look at how education works in the state. Below are two of the schools we visited in the municipality of Zacatlan.
Escuela Primaria Bilingue Emperador Cuauhtemoc, Puebla.