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 first in a series of forums by UK Learning for this year focuses on International and UK trends that are demonstrating through research and evidence-based practice the need to rethink approaches to preparing young people for 21st century learning. (Programme here)
The forum is bringing together the shared practical experience of teachers, researchers, design professionals and architects to share the new and developing perspectives and their implications for the design and delivery of new spaces to improve learning outcomes.
It will explore the global trends in education, latest research in school buildings, and how to design learning spaces to support users.
Contributors and delegates from national and international partners will present their views alongside
evidence-based case studies to support, encourage, enable and equip change.
*UK Learning is a membership organisation focused on developing effective, sustainable and stimulating future educational facilities. This is underpinned by the belief that the way to do this is to bring together teachers, educators, design professionals, researchers – indeed – all those who value the importance of improving learning opportunities and life chances for young people. UK Learning is also the UK chapter for cefpi.
There needs to be better evidence for the decisions we make when designing and creating learning environments. Much of what is done, is based on ‘evidence’ that is often not substantiated yet presented as if it were the final word. My friend Peter Lippman, in his book “Evidence-based design for Primary and Secondary Schools” relentlessly and rightly argues the point. Indeed Peter Barrett alludes to this in his recent study that led to his “Clever Classroom” report (see my post: Understanding Complexity in Clever Classrooms).
So, can your school do things better? At the OECD Centre for Effective Learning Environments we are aiming to provide answers. Continue reading
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!
The quality of the physical learning environment can leverage good teaching but cannot replace poor teaching. Can we help teachers make better use of this lever?
How can the physical learning environment become a lever for better teaching and learning?
A few weeks ago I asked a group of educationalists how much training teachers get in manipulating space. My thinking was, well shouldn’t they? After all space is complex, you can create all sorts of spaces for different things to happen. Indeed how you ‘decorate’ a space influences how people feel in it. How you arrange the furniture affects how you can effectively use different teaching approaches. The answer was, Continue reading
Differences in the physical characteristics of classrooms explain 16% of the variation in learning progress over a year, says the research findings from the Holistic Evidence and Design (HEAD) project. Research from earlier stages of this 3 year project have already been published. But little has been said about another reason that this is important work.
Seven factors most influential in the classroom environment.
It is not every day that a study into school buildings is published that takes a very refreshing look at the problem of understanding the complex interrelationships between us as humans, the way we interact with our environment and the impact on student outcomes. Continue reading
Partial plan of Epping Views, by Gray Puksand Architects 2007. The corridors have been incorporated into the learning spaces. ©Gray Puksand
The biggest, and I think the real, shift in school design is the wider recognition that a variety of spaces in schools and indeed outside schools can be effectively used as settings for learning, that schools can use more than just a rectangular classroom box. Continue reading
To understand sustainable learning environments it is important to understand how the physical environment contributes to a wider, more complex system. Indeed surely a building cannot be sustainable in isolation of its context and use?
Thinking of the building in its context was the theme that I developed when I was invited to give a presentation on the use and development of indicators of sustainable learning environments at the World Sustainable Buildings 2014 conference held in Barcelona in October.
We tend to think of the physical learning environment as being just the building. However, it is more than this. It is the result of interactions between the physical resources (including the building, technology and external spaces), learners, educators, content, society and policy. Indeed learning itself is complex. Health and wellbeing, affective, social, cognitive and behavioural characteristics of individuals can all impede or enhance learning. Continue reading