Asumag 4288 Headshot Paul Erickson

Facility Planning: Designing in Future Tense

March 1, 2017
More tips for designing forward-facing educational facilities.

As laid out in the two previous Facility Planning columns, school designs are drastically changing because of these trends in K-12 and postsecondary 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. To complete the topic, let’s address design examples for trends 6 to 10.  

Interdisciplinary vs. Siloed Curriculm. Students recognize that the fragmented school day with regimented periods isn’t how life works; this often leads some to question the relevancy of school. In the real world, multidisciplined teams tackle problems, generate ideas, research possibilities, and deliver solutions.

Transform several “egg crate” classrooms into one large presentation space with movable tables and seating along its perimeter (for flexible teaming arrangements), strategically placed small-group glassed-in conference spaces (for teamwork), wireless and wired technology access throughout (for research and analysis), transparent wall-writing surfaces at teaming areas (for idea generation), and markerboard-painted walls (for brainstorming). 

Flexible Learning & Social Opportunities. Transforming spaces quickly via mobile furniture enables students to select the desired settings and configurations for learning activities. Eliminate sterile corridors for “herding;” it’s okay to walk through a space to get to another space, learning or socializing along the way. Turn hallways into ‘learning streets’ with genius bars, help desks, and learning stairs for harnessing personalized learning, group inquiry, and socializing. Provide windows into learning spaces so that students can “see learning” and stimulate their curiosity. Casual seating around a fireplace, fountain, or sculpture encourages introspection. 

Teacher as Facilitator/Mentor.Traditional education emphasized the teacher as “the source of wisdom.” The new model is teacher as facilitator, coach, questioner, and instructor—this increases students’ accountability for their own learning. Designing learning space to support this trend eliminates the “front” of a classroom and challenges instructors to rethink the way they teach. Create staff planning areas that are open (with glass walls) to emphasize connectivity with students. Alcoves enable quick “pull-aside” teacher-to-student coaching, which enhances a teacher’s relationship with a student. 

Careers yet-to-be Invented. Knowledge content is essential, but focus also should be on multicultural literacy, problem-solving skills, inventing, inquiry, resiliency, creativity, and character formation. The media center is becoming a learning commons that emphasizes student collaboration. Maker spaces provide opportunities for students to invent, create, explore, and get messy. Provide walls and table surfaces that foster this activity. Incorporate power tools, art supplies, and technology to empower students to create. STEM spaces should have movable tables and seating, connectivity, presentation monitors on all walls, portable storage units, specialized equipment, and plenty of display space.

School Attitude. How students perceive their educational experience affects the school’s culture. Incorporate varied or whimsical building materials, color placement and contrasts, interesting finish materials, daylighting, spaces with volume and height, and wall transparency. Spaces such as niches, “caves,” presentation areas, individual study spaces, “learning stairs,” and team collaboration areas reinforce the learning culture. Movable, varied furniture, inviting common spaces, displays of student art and creations, and gardens all enhance a school’s attitude.

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