On Thursday, September 25, MKThink hosted an inspiring panel discussion examining how schools must evolve alongside today’s quickly changing curriculum, technology and students. We brought together folks from very different teaching institutes, to discuss how the brick and mortar schools that students enter every day should be seen as more than just a place to house learning, but as a living breathing part of the curriculum.
One of the first questions from MKThink Principal and moderator Nate Goore sparked a discussion about buildings influencing student motivation, creativity, and inspiration. Scott Doorley, Creative Director, and Scott Witthoft, Director of the Environments Collaborative of the d.school Stanford University, chuckled and equated the d.school walls to looking similar to the walls of a third grade classroom where finger-paint and macaroni art are proudly on display.
“The buildings reflect the current state of work. Ambient connections can happen when buildings allow people to demonstrate their progress.”
-Scott Witthoft, Environments Collaborative, d.school @ Stanford University
Although it conjures up a comical image of elite, adult students admiring the finger-paint artwork of their fellow students, Doorley stressed the importance of students being able to see more than just their own project.
“It’s about putting students in a space where the focus is on what they are collectively creating rather than receiving,” said Doorley.
It’s beneficial for students to see how their fellow students tackled the same problem, often coming up with a vastly different solution. When the cloak is removed from what other classmates have created, students can begin to interact with, question and understand their classmates’ way of thinking.
“The buildings reflect the current state of work,” echoed “Witthoft. “Ambient connections can happen when buildings allow people to demonstrate their progress.”
Dr. Nick Cofod, Assistant Headmaster and Upper School Director at the Town School for Boys chimed in regarding the new Town School building, which was similarly developed. Cofod added, “the building is providing a framework for questions and inquiries by the students to the teachers. The building itself becomes a catalyst for students to ask more questions, ultimately learning more.”
A shift in the conversation came when the socio-economic disparity between schools, even those within the same system, came up in a discussion surrounding the state of national standardized tests. Said Tim White, Deputy Chief of Facilities Planning and Management of the Oakland Unified School District, “a 60-watt light bulb, overhead projector, chalkboard, even an Apple IIe is not going to cut it. [Test] outcomes are influenced by environments. You can’t expect a kid to be competitive if he doesn’t have the same access as that given in a more affluent community.”
White also acknowledged that emotional and social issues often plight and affect children from poorer families, and that dedicated unique building space can help tackle those problems.
Doorley agreed that learning is impaired, “if [students] are not in the right emotional state.” He continued, “they might as well not be in the building.”
“We’re a full service community district that serves the whole child,” said White. “And some kids come to us with social and emotional issues, so we have spaces for that too.” As space for education continues to evolve rapidly over the next decade, it seems that student health and wellness is a topic that will remain at the forefront of educational design and built environment transformation for years to come.
Most attendees lingered after the panel ended to further discuss how schools can evolve in today’s fast-paced, technology-led environment. In the same light, to continue the conversation, we’ll be hosting a second of four education-focused event in November. Stay tuned for more details and the topic to be discussed.