SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT – an architect’s view on pedagogy and classroom design as silos overdue for transformation.

“Life beyond school is autonamous, it is a series of interconnected experiences where technology proliferates at almost every level of interaction. Information is readily available irrespective of geographical location and the pursuit of innovation is key”. (Dowzer and Young)

The other day, whilst perusing the design section in the library, I found a copy of Artichoke magazine, that contained a great article by two architects reflecting upon projects completed by their practice BVN Donavan Hill. It was very relevant to our unit of study and brought forward many interesting points. Dowzer and Young begin their article with a compelling case for change. They describe a dynamic and vibrant world that exists outside the school, yet despite both worlds existing side by side – there is little connection or exchange of ideas between them.

Both Dowzer and Young are architects who use their experience in flexible and innovative design to pose a number of challenging questions for the future of classroom design. In discussing these questions they explore how to make connections between pedagogy, the school environment and a rapidly changing society.

Interesting questions they raise in the article include,

What if sustainability were a part of the curriculum and the design?

What if the school of the future does not need a school building?

What if no one owns any space in a school?

What if schools were to take a more entrepreneurial approach?

In their discussion on sustainability they describe the Mabel Fidler Building centre for learning at Ravenswood School for Girls which functions as the central hub within the school. It aims to bring together both passive and active design solutions to sustainability and provides opportunities for the students to learn the importance of sustainable design.  Touch screens are placed strategically at the front of the library entrance to show how much energy is being consumed by the building and help to reduce energy consumption. Many great innovative features have been incorporated into the design of this building, including a double skin façade that acts as an insulative void, retaining heat in winter, whilst in summer it opens automatically to cool the building.

They also describe  the Green School in Bali. This project won the award for 2012 Greenest School on Earth by the U.S Green Buildings Council. The school focuses on creative development and offers an alternative educational program with a green studies curriculum. The green curriculum develops social responsibility and ecological values as it engages the children’s learning through practical learning experiences.

This methodology of the “ building as a teacher” is also utilised  in a school in Flen, Sweden. This school was designed by Kunskapsskolan architect, Kenneth Gardestad. It incorporates some wonderful design features that connect the children to the environment.  A river of knowledge is created as rainwater drains from the roof through the school to an atrium in a courtyard. The water ebbs and flows as it relates to the patterns of the climate.

The examples provided by Dowzer and Young show that it is possible to integrate design and pedagogy and connect them to the world outside the school. The dynamic and vibrant learning environments that have been created are more than capable of equipping students for the world outside school.

Dowzer, B. & Young, F. (2013). Schools of thought. Artichoke, (Issue 44)  pp 117 – 121.

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A History of Child’s Play

Frost’s work “ A History of Children’s Play and Play Environments: Toward a Contemporary Child-Saving Movement” as reviewed by Roy Kozlovsky extracted from http://www.journalof…/history-children-s-play-and-play-environment.

Girls at the playground

Following on from my post about learning and play, I came across this article. I found it particularly interesting as it dealt with the issue of whether children’s play is a universal natural and spontaneous expression of childhood or whether it can be positively influenced and directed as a result of ‘play policy’ or adversely affected by social or economic dislocation.

This article raised more questions than it answered. It started with the premise that play was disappearing from the modern world of the 21st century. It made the case that the effects of globalisation, isolating technology and the demands of educational testing had reduced the time and space needed for play. Yet conversely it gave an historical overview of play which indicated that play was highly resilient and could be found amongst the slaves of southern America and immigrants in urban slums.

Frost advocates for playgrounds as nature condensed into an urban setting. It is clear he is in favour of progressive play policy for example incorporating playgrounds in housing estates. In an ideal play setting,” says Frost, “children are in movement and can take an active role in building their own environment, learn to take risks, develop aesthetic appreciation, strategize, mimic adult roles, practice new skills and make mistakes.

The reviewer ends by making the point that Frost is somewhat unrealistic and could be seen as slightly technophobic and 20th Century.

However this was the great unanswered question. Should we respond to the 21st century urbanisation and globalisation by a ‘back to nature’ approach to play or should we be seeking out technology that would be suitable for play – being aware that technology is a fast moving fact and children need to be equipped to be able to use and understand technology. In so doing we would need to be mindful of play’s important role in socialisation and teaching emotional intelligence.

The question would be then, what is the balance, how much of play needs to take place in the natural world and how much play can take place in the cyberworld. With space at a premium, schools constructing classrooms over much of the available footprint, OH &S issues. What will play look like in the future?

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The question of Communities of Practice

When I first embarked upon this unit of work, we were asked to give a definition of a community of practice. It sparked much lively debate. Its definition was certainly not absolute with one student describing it, ‘like holding onto jelly’. Communities of practice do indeed seem to be fairly flexible and can be found in all places.

I started to think about the flexibility of CoP’s and whether there were differences between a CoP and other forms of learning involving teams with shared goals such as project based learning. Were CoP’s distinguishable from collaborative and cooperative learning for instance? Was there a natural progression from the development of shared resources to the use of those resources to accomplish a common goal?

The very fluidity and flexibility of a CoP may allow connections and networks that could lead to the possibility of collaborative and cooperative work but does fluidity imply a lack of structure that would impede the accomplishment of such work?

Or was the value of a CoP found in the process (participation in the group) and not the task itself?

It is not the tasks that hold members together but because participation in the group has a meaning, a value for each one even if this may be perceived long after the project has been completed officially. Wenger at al. (2002: 4-5)

An individual engaged in collaborative or cooperative learning has obligations to the team (e.g., to perform their role within a structured environment) that distinguishes this type of learning from otherwise unstructured group learning. Do members of CoP’s have similar obligations? I thought of the 8Ways philosophy of sharing – if you take something give something in return. Is the value of a CoP the fact that its members may work as individuals but participation in the CoP leads them to think like members of a team? By virtue of membership is an individual more likely to be mindful and to share and to reciprocate and to think about what their contribution can offer other members? Could this reflective learning lead to insight and a shift in thinking and could this mechanism for change be the true value of a CoP?

I found the quote from Wenger from an article “Collaborative spaces for reflective practice” by Alice Semedo and Inês Ferreira from the website

It is well worth a read.

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It’s Child’s Play

Giant Robot Playground

Giant Robot Playground

This unit has really challenged the way I think about where learning takes place. It has made me realise that learning occurs in a variety of spaces not just the classroom or prescribed learning environments. As I explore the learning space of the future I am thinking of all the different learning places we have studied so far. I was reading a study conducted in the Reggio Schools by Vecchi (1998) that followed children during the day to map out where they congregated and what they did within the school grounds.

It found that firstly children constantly seek out relationships with peers. When they first arrive at school, they spend most of their time in small groups (three seemed to be the preferred number), trying out relationships, negotiating, swapping objects brought from home, and planning their games and roles for the day. The older children tend to choose the more private areas of the school for these relational exchanges, monopolising the more hidden spaces.

The second discovery that came from the study was that all children no matter what the age group are actively engaged in the process of narrative.“In different ways and different situations children love to weave stories, projecting themselves into imaginary worlds or simulating real ones”. Vecchi (1998)  This led me to think about play and the playground, which is a huge arena for learning. What is play? Is it unique to humans?

Continue reading

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8 Ways Of Learning


Aboriginal perspectives are not found in Aboriginal content, but Aboriginal processes…

This simple statement behind the 8 Ways method poses many questions and challenges.

Principally it invites comparison with mainstream pedagogy and invites an analysis of the similarities and differences (content/ process). Further its success raises the question about what it has to teach mainstream pedagogy and whether it can (in part or whole) be incorporated within mainstream pedagogy.

If it is incorporated will this lead to a transformation of the mainstream? – With more of an emphasis on process over content.  Or will 8ways be a relatively discrete section of the mainstream pedagogy and be used in a similar way as an incursion or excursion?

Alternatively will 8Ways resist incorporation and remain a model for local methods to suit local needs? Continue reading

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A Space for Contemplation

Learning spaces have traditionally been defined as a planned environment in which learning takes place. This suggests place and space, we think of the bricked school, the walled classroom and of course much of today’s learning does occur in these rather mundane spaces. It could be argued that this does not matter, that the pedagogy and the learning itself is of greater importance. Perhaps in the not so distant future the physical environment will not matter as the learning environment can be virtual, online, remote; in fact not necessarily a place at all. However, I do not believe this to be true. Schools play a significant role in socialisation as well as learning. They are an important support system. 21st century learning will require new spaces. Schools may become learning centres that provide connections from the school, the home and community. Spaces that support learning outside the boundaries of school and beyond the regular timetable.

Of all the learning spaces studied so far my favourite is the individual learning space as it provides the greatest freedom and interest. As we have progressed in this unit and have explored the 8 ways of Aboriginal learning and have started to plan a space for future learning I have begun to think  more about the silent space, the space for reflection and self assessment. If children have more freedom in where and when they learn, the individual learning space becomes more significant.

I came across this wonderful image as I was researching for my future learning space and investigating materials. This egg shaped shelter demonstrates the rarely displayed fragility and delicacy of concrete. Unlike most reinforced concrete that is encased in steel rods, this concrete pod uses randomly distributed fine steel straws and glass fibres throughout. The play of light that this design affords is just beautiful. It is enclosed but at the same time connected to the trees and outdoors. I thought it provided such a perfect personal space for contemplation.

Concrete egg

Concrete Pod, Nagoya, Japan, 2005.

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Smart student units.

Check out these beautiful student dorms. The level of design and precise detailing create a harmonious space for living. The units are made from locally sourced veneered wood and come as a flat pack arrangement. Oh the innovative Swedes!!!

Tiny wooden houses

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Learning Spaces

angel of learning

angel of learning

I have just listened to a podcast of a recording of Professor Stephen Heppell given at the State Library of Queensland about educational learning spaces and what is being done in different countries. Many inspiring points were raised around the management of education for example, how in more difficult economic climate there can be regression, the desire to go back in time, to do things more efficiently, cut costs. However, this is not going to get us to the point we need to get to. We need to do things differently.
For the price it costs the government to keep one soldier in Afganistan, Stephen says that he could build 10 of his schools. How many of the worlds problems could be solved if governments put the focus on changing the way our children learn.
He spoke about learning spaces that need to incorporate “me, we and see” areas of learning. The me space is dedicated to reflection, privacy and individual work. The we space is given to working in groups co-operatively and collaboratively. It is a space of mutuality. The see space celebrates the children’s work and allows them to exhibit, publish and share their learning with others.
Kids that are engaged with learning surprise us every time. As he states “ if we astonish our kids with the learning we build for them, then they will astonish us back.
If we combine kids with technology and give them a voice and allow time for reflection, it equates to STELLA PROGRESS.

Continue reading

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Architecture in Support of Learning.

Thought I would share this … Learning Corridors.

An interesting look at new school design. It shows how a well designed school really fosters a joy for learning.  The point is made that we all learn in different ways and schools need to have different spaces that support those different ways of learning.

The space allows for many age groups to be working in the same area. Room sizes and furniture are configured in a variety of ways to support different learning needs. Large, flat surfaces allow for project work and collaboration. The whole school is a library and a mixed media environment, its wired and allows for the learner to gather information from anywhere in the building. There are visual points of access throughout the learning spaces, this transparency allows for a greater connection between the learners.  The public culture of teaching in this school raises accountability for both students and teachers.

The new buildings allow for spaces within spaces. Smaller rooms designed for individual learning or small group work are still connected via visual cues in the walls. Within the large spaces children work together under the more informal supervision of many teachers thus allowing the children to become more independant and responsible learners.

“The whole school becomes a revolving artifactorium, like a science fair but it is happening all the time and its in every subject”

Acoustics, natural light and air quality were highlighted as aspects of  importance in the school design as these affect children’s learning.

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Learning Spaces : Prezi Presentation

This is my first attempt at a Prezi, although it is relatively easy to navigate, there were many frustrating moments. It was interesting because it made me take a closer at my approach to learning new things . There is the “I can’t do this” moment and then  “I’m going to give it up”.  I resist, complain and worry … a lot. Then I take a deep breathe and try to work through it then I googled. This didn’t necessarily take me where I wanted to go, it was a bit of search and recover mission.. but eventually I got there. Then the feeling of accomplishment and having conquered something I found difficult. Then you wonder to yourself “what was all the fuss about? Its not that hard”. Coming back to study as an adult I have found that like exercise if you don’t do it regularly you become stiff and rigid. The more you challenge yourself the better you eventually become. Even if it doesn’t all come together at the time, I  find that the soil is well prepared and those seeds that have been planted are starting to push through and open up their leaves to the sun.

Now for the Prezi… Investigating Learning Spaces

Learning spaces are interconnected and do not work in isolation. In fact they should flow into each other much like the ideas and learning they support. It is important that learning spaces are not only interconnected but also connected, with access to the Web and other related tools that help children connect to the world. The re-designing of our learning spaces does not necessarily require the demolition of the old and a complete rebuild. This would not be practical or realistic. It does however, require some new thinking, some serious re- jigging and much needed flexibility. Just as one size fits all does not suit children or teachers if we have a variety of learning spaces then we will have a variety of teaching/ learning styles. Is this not what we need?

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