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Form Follows Function in Classrooms, Too!


Lori Nazareno

It only takes one glimpse into a classroom from 100 years ago to realize that, other than updated desks, colorful posters, and the presence of a computer here and there, little of substance has changed. If you take a broader perspective, it is quite easy to spot the outdated remnants of the industrial age in both form and function in schools, as well as classrooms.

For example, principals serve predominantly as managers of quality control; teachers act as assembly workers responsible for adding something to the product (students); and students get pushed off the assembly line at the end of their time in school. This structure also re-creates itself in classrooms and is quite efficient at perpetuating the industrial model. This would be all well and good if we still needed large numbers of assembly line workers as we did when the current school systems were designed.

But that is not the case.

A fundamental concept in architecture, organizations, and science is that form follows function. In the case of schools, our age-old industrial model forms will never be able to prepare our kids for new functions in a knowledge economy. Today's students, as well as their teachers, need to learn, and be able to do, complex work that requires thinking, collaborating, problem solving, and creating.

Schools and classrooms must be redesigned to allow students and teachers the needed space and opportunity to do the types of things that will create the leaders of tomorrow. These include opportunities to:

  • Think in order to envision new possibilities. Teachers and students need individualized workspaces that are technology-enabled so that they can engage in individualized learning and have space to make meaning of that learning.
  • Collaborate so that they are able to work with others. Collaborative spaces should be flexible and comfortable to allow varying sized groups to be able to work together. There should also be supports in place for both teachers and students to learn how to collaborate effectively.
  • Solve problems in order to address our most pressing challenges. This is more mental than physical. Teachers and students must be given the time and space to be able to solve real-world complex problems, not just learn how others have done so in the past.
  • Create in order to design the products and solutions of tomorrow. Teachers and students should have materials readily available that allow for creativity and the creation of prototypes that can be built, tested, and redesigned.

What do you think? Can today's forms meet tomorrow's functions? If not, how might we redesign schools and classrooms?

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