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How Architecture Affects Learning

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Many schools are not in a position to rebuild or build anew. Renovations however are not uncommon. No matter where you are in the process, we think Frances Wilson's* guest blog on the relationship of architecture and learning will be of interest.

Designing the most effective curriculum in schools is extremely important - but what about the design of the rooms we learn in? K-12 are incredibly formative years for children, and plenty of research has been done confirming that architecture has a significant effect on our well-being. What, then, about architecture's affect on how we learn?

This is something that both teachers and architects are now looking at. One example, is the Khan Lab School. This is a school where teachers are already seeing the benefits of more thoughtful design of educational spaces.

What separates the Khan Lab School from others? Unique zones instead of traditional classrooms--i.e. 'classrooms' that are not tied to a specific subject matter or teacher. Lead architect, Danish Kurani, explains that "each of these 'zones' supports a different mode of working or learning. So, there's a Chat Lab for when the learning is happening through discussion, dialogue, presentation, and interpersonal exchange; an Ideate Lab for brainstorming; a Make Lab for designing, building, prototyping; and a variety of other specialty areas. Given how frequently schools change curriculum and personnel, this classroom model makes sense for the future of education. For now, all we can bet on is that students will continue learning through dialogue, brainstorming, making, presenting."

"The amount of light and the ability to increase collaboration in the space has enhanced the students' overall learning experience." -Megan Burns, STEM Specialist

The space also features interactive walls and displays 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 café style seating arrangements. A library nook is a quiet place to read and reflect. Phone booths are enclosed spaces to encourage communication with experts and mentors through videoconference.

"Due to the transitional nature of the space, students are forced to address different aspects of community. Being able to work around and with other humans in a common space is a valuable life skill that is highly relevant to adult life. Overall, the advantage of the learning space design is twofold. One, the space provides several different options for how it can be used. Two, transitional and open workspaces align with 21st century workplace norms."-Dustin Pierce, Math Specialist

Many of today's schools in the U.S. were built 50-60 years ago. These buildings weren't designed for change - they're very static places. This has become a big problem for the U.S. since education looks very different today and continues to evolve, as it should. Educators are constantly developing newer and better ways to teach. Yet they're stuck in obsolete spaces that prevent them from giving students the best learning experience.

The Khan Lab School is not a design template, but rather a design process template.  What's unique about this approach to school design is its adaptability and commitment to bringing teachers and students into the design planning and process. It's also not about making everything the most 'hi-tech,' but rather useable and adaptable to tomorrow's discoveries. Every school designed in this way will look different, but underlining 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 afterwards, our buildings shape us."

* Frances Wilson is a freelance writer who also works at Professional Women in Construction, a nonprofit headquartered in New York City.

For inquiries please reach out to [email protected]

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

Images provided by Kurani

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