Thoughts on School Design


"School is a building that has four walls with tomorrow inside." ~ Lon Watters

If you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that in September I will be starting a new vice principal assignment at a large elementary school that is only 4 years old. In June as I met the staff and toured the school I began to notice things with the building that had me thinking about the principles of the design. It is a lovely new building with all the amenities that one would think a new school should have. However, that is simply a superficial look at the building. Looking deeper at the design I started to wonder how the school could have been built to suit the needs of students today. I admit that I don't know the building code or specifications for new builds from the Ministry of Education but I wonder if some innovative thinking could have been used. A passion of mine is technology so the first thing that struck me was the need for a computer lab or what that space should look like. I had my own ideas but I put the question to my PLN on Twitter and got some great responses. 

I love this idea from Jill. I envision a wide open space connected to the school library with big, comfortable chairs and couches where students could help their peers, as well as teachers, administrators and support staff! Not only would this space be inviting for everyone, it would serve a great purpose. Just imagine the message it would send to students ~ teachers and administrators are learners too!

Then Jennifer came along and added an important aspect of design, and I couldn't agree more (check out her website here). It was then that I remembered about our district's Student Voices Forum on Technology in 2008 that I organized. The report on the day of learning I wrote was later used as part of our district's ICT Strategic Plan. It was a great day where 46 students representing all our high schools came together to learn about how we operate from a technology standpoint and to gather their thoughts on what we need to do in our schools to promote the effective use of technology. In the culminating activity for the day groups designed their "ideal school". The ideas were amazing and very thoughtful. Number 1 on their list ~ access to wireless throughout the school. We moved on their input, and in this upcoming school year all schools will become fully wireless.

I realize there is more to design than just being mindful about the role of technology. Areas to consider are furniture, equipment, organization, and the role of nature among many. It's something I learned about this year as we implemented full day kindergarten ~ importance of the third teacher. You can read more about the importance of the third teacher here. If you want to learn more about design you might want to consider taking a PD session with Jennifer this summer. You can read about it and register here.

Back to what really had me thinking about new school buildings was the idea of the computer lab. As I toured my new school I learned that because there were over 700 students and only 1 computer lab, most classes only got one 40 minute period in a 10 day cycle. That, coupled with my thoughts on the relevance of a computer lab today had me consider alternatives to a building a computer lab. A radical thought, but what if there wasn't a lab? What if that space was turned into a multimedia studio, equipped with sound proof rooms and green screens for student projects. Just one idea. I thought about this as I watched students create amazing videos, podcasts and voiceovers this past year. The one thing that all the students asked for was a quiet space for better audio and video production. 

Janine hit the nail on the head for me with this the 2 tweets above. The technology should be seamless, not to mention ubiquitous, if we are going to successfully integrate technology. We need plug in stations where devices can be charged, especially if we are implementing BYOD. There are just so many innovative and creative ways we can make our school settings work for students. I've touched on a few, but would love to hear what you would do if you had the opportunity to provide input on the design of a school. What process would you use? What would you consider for the design? You never know, a new school may be built in your area soon enough!

P.S. I haven't even talked about the classroom setting, the most important room in the school!

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