How architecture affects learning (Opinion)
Many schools are unable to rebuild or rebuild. Renovations are not uncommon, however. No matter where you are in the process, we think Frances Wilson’s guest blog * on the relationship between architecture and learning will be interesting.
Designing the most effective curriculum in schools is extremely important – but what about the design of the rooms in which we learn? Kindergarten to Grade 12 are incredibly formative years for kids and a lot of research was made confirming that architecture has a significant effect on our well-being. So what about the influence of architecture on the way we learn?
This is something that teachers and architects are now looking at. An example is the Khan Lab School. It is a school where teachers are already seeing the benefits of a more thoughtful design of educational spaces.
What separates Khan Lab School from the rest? Unique areas instead of traditional classrooms, ie “classrooms” that are not linked to a specific subject or teacher. Principal architect, Danish Kurani, explains that “each of these ‘zones’ supports a different way of working or learning. Thus, there is a discussion laboratory when learning takes place through discussion, dialogue, presentation and interpersonal exchange; a brainstorming think tank; a Make Lab for design, construction, prototyping; and a variety of other specialist fields. Considering how often schools change curricula and staff, this classroom model makes sense for the future of education. For now, all we can bet is that students will continue to learn through dialogue, brainstorming, crafting, presentation.
“The amount of light and the ability to increase collaboration in space improved the overall learning experience for students. -Megan Burns, STEM Specialist
The space also features interactive walls and exhibits, including a ‘passion project gallery’, writable walls, public question boards, and a welcome wall. Seating areas are flexible and allow for peer collaboration in smaller cafe-style seating arrangements. A library corner is a quiet place to read and think. Phone booths are enclosed spaces to encourage communication with experts and mentors via video conferencing.
“Due to the transient nature of the space, students are forced to approach different aspects of the community. Being able to work around and with other humans in a common space is a valuable life skill that is very relevant to adulthood. Overall, the benefit of the learning space design is twofold. First, the space offers several different options for its use. Two transitional and open workspaces align with 21st century working standards. -Dustin Pierce, math specialist
Many of today’s schools in the United States were built 50 to 60 years ago. These buildings were not designed for change – they are very static places. This has become a big deal for the United States as education is very different today and continues to evolve, as it should. Educators are constantly developing new and better ways of teaching. Yet they are stuck in outdated spaces that prevent them from providing students with the best learning experience.
The Khan Lab School is not a design model, but rather a design process model. What is unique about this approach to school design is its adaptability and commitment to involving teachers and students in the planning and design process. It is not a question either of making everything more “hi-tech”, but rather usable and adaptable to the discoveries of tomorrow. Each school designed this way will look different, but highlighting each will be a shared understanding of how space can enhance learning.
When teachers, students and architects collaborate, our environments begin to reflect the values and priorities of those who occupy the space. As Winston Churchill said: “We shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us. “
* Frances Wilson is a freelance writer who also works at Professional Women in Construction, a New York-based nonprofit organization.
For any inquiries, please contact [email protected]
Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book on leading the transition to 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or email.
Images provided by Kurani