Facility Planning: Future Tense

Dec. 1, 2016
Anticipating school design trends shaping PreK-12 learning.

According to educators/futurists, 10 trends will drive PreK-12 education: 1) multicultural fluency, 2) intense data, 3) integrating arts-tech-engineering, 4) customized learning, 5) project-based learning, 6) interdisciplinary-vs.-siloed curriculum, 7) flexible learning and social opportunities, 8) teacher as facilitator/mentor, 9) preparing for careers yet-to-be invented, and 10) nurturing school attitude. Let’s expand on the first five trends and their effect on school design from an architect’s perspective.  

Multicultural fluency connects different cultures and promotes opportunities to learn and share. Exposure to various cultures enables students to celebrate uniqueness and become aware of one another’s similarities. In terms of design, upon entering a facility, one can initially sense the school environment through color, materials, shapes and space. Colors may associate with cool/warm climates or geography, and some hues may complement a person’s features. The use of wood, stone, brick, textures, fabrics and other materials on floors, walls and ceilings can bring cultural familiarity into the space. Abundant display areas provide opportunities for students to highlight their culture and heritage.     

School designs must support the emerging industry of intense data, robotics, genomics and coding languages. Young digital natives need a learning environment that blends quantitative skills with communication skills (machine and mind). These designs consist of small-to-large group spaces provided on and off a school campus. Wireless technology access should be ubiquitous so that data and presentation media can move with the student. Flexible learning space is paramount so that research activities can quickly convert to settings conducive for communicating the idea. Makerspaces with tall worktables for team activities, wall space for presenting ideas, Wi-Fi to support personal devices, and equipment pertinent to the curriculum enable the blending of quantitative and communication skills. “Genius bars” in circulation spaces enable students to drop in for help with technology and problem-solving strategies.  

Integrating liberal arts and technology/engineering is a trend that affects school designs. STEAM curricula bring learning spaces together to enhance the understanding of subject integration. One example is a school that decentralized the library/media center into student learning clusters. In each cluster, a dedicated space supports teacher-to-student instruction. Afterward, students move to a research area with technology support. Adjacent to this area is a Flexible Team Learning Area (FTLA) for student collaboration on project-based learning activities. 

Customized learning fosters a student’s ownership of his or her education, reflecting that student’s interests. Small group conference areas serve as meeting spaces for students, teachers, parents, and community, linking curriculum with students’ personal goals. Learning spaces for individual study, small group sharing, and large group presentation support various learning strategies. Staid libraries have become interactive “learning commons,” enabling students to flow through easily and gain access to materials and technology that advances their individual learning plans. Meanwhile, staff offices feature glass walls that promote literal transparency and greater staff-to-student interaction. Wi-Fi and technology kiosks throughout a school promote anytime/anywhere access to learning networks for uploading and downloading student work and project assignments, as well as engaging in school-sponsored social media. 

Project-based learning occurs in spaces much different from the traditional classroom. To support this trend, designs incorporate large spaces with movable tables for small group work, and clear floor areas for presentations and conducting experiments. Prominent features include presentation technology, storage space and utilities needed for project work, and adjacent spaces for conferences that mirror real-world business interactions. Off-campus settings, including learning spaces in office developments, further connect students with the business world. 

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