The World is Changing, however, schools have remained pretty much the same over time.
With an agrarian society, the one room school was the norm and proved adequate for the time. As our society became more industrialized, the curriculum expanded from reading, writing and arithmetic to include basic science and the humanities. Just before and certainly after the Second World War, significant industrialization developed globally, but particularly in the United States. With that industrialization came a need for a much broader knowledge of science and engineering and many other technical pursuits. The need for education caused the need to increase the number and size of schools, since a much broader spectrum of society required more education in order to fill the new jobs that were created. However, the design of schools typically only enlarged the number of classrooms in each school, but did added specialty spaces for industrial types of training. Industrial Arts and Home Economics, as well as specialized science “labs” were vestiges of this initial attempt to meet the broader needs.
As time passed, this same model was replicated almost universally. Minor modifications began to be incorporated over time, but the single room classroom remains the basic building block of education. Some experimentation in design has allowed for additional spaces and programs in order to meet these minor changes in the educational process. As we have begun to see, however, that the spaces designed previously have not had the ability to adapt.
Because we, as a society, are beginning to understand that change, in every part of our society, is advancing at an accelerating rate, some experimentation is beginning to be seen in newer educational facilities. Beginning in the 1960’ and 70’s, we started designing flexible spaces that were intended for independent learning and exploration. Breakout rooms, common collaboration areas and computer labs were incorporated in some specific schools.
In today’s society, the complexity has increased dramatically since the turn of the century. Computers began to appear, in limited numbers originally, until now where they are ubiquitous. However, the introduction of technology has only exacerbated the obsolescence of only the “classroom” space. However, our global knowledge base has also grown, which has pointed to our recognition that students have a range of learning styles. Similarly, it is also apparent that there are a range of teaching styles. We now know that environmental factors also influence both teaching and learning processes. With the commonality of computers and other technology, information on most any subject can be obtained instantly. It can then be manipulated, presented and stored effortlessly.
However, our knowledge base has also shown that the social and emotional factors are as important as the methodology for presenting information. For a student to be able and ready to learn, they have to be “comfortable”. With students of the same age, the differentiation of levels of dependence to independence influences their capacity to acquire and retain knowledge. Also, we now know that environmental conditions heavily impact a student’s ability to learn. Quality and quantity of light, fresh air and ventilation, appropriateness of the space for the function all impact the ability to learn and retain information.
Recognition of the range of ways in which we best learn some things is being recognized but the recent focus on “hands on learning” or applied learning. The fostering of exploration and reaching conclusions is no longer limited to “chemistry” classes. This is in recognition that all students will not pursue the same work/life experiences or goals. Providing the ability of the student to learn basic information, utilizing their interests requires a rich environment where multiple options are available.
In the past few years, the concept of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) has been the focus of some new schools. This is often a step in the right direction, in that it frequently utilizes a great deal more of the “hands on”, applied learning approach. However, the same teaching and learning strategy can be used for art, music, economics, social studies and virtually every area of content. A student can learn what color you get if you mix yellow and blue as much as a chemistry student can use an experiment to see a reaction. An economics exercise can look at how much money you would have gained if you had a product that you sold for X dollar’s and had to pay Y for production and Z for overhead costs. Applied learning often requires a differentiation of spaces or furnishings to accommodate the process.
The big question then is how to we create the new generation of educational facilities that recognizes this ongoing progression of advancement teaching and learning and ensure that it is flexible or adaptable to meet the needs of future generations. In addition, we need to find strategies that allow the large stock of existing traditional schools to be modified to support this different approach to learning.
Questions that may be appropriate to consider:
1. Will we continue to need schools?
2. What is the single biggest element in schools today that needs to be changed?
3. What is the greatest obstacle for change?
4. What do we do with existing facilities that don’t accommodate this change?
5. What other elements would benefit from a change from current practices?
6. What do we not have today, that we need to plan now for in order to accommodate it later?
7. What would you anticipate would be the major curriculum changes that will require significantly different space than we see today?
8. What changes in society should we prepare for in the schools of today?
9. How can we accommodate the changes that need to be made?
10. What is the cost of making changes and what is the cost of not making changes?
11. What are the steps needed to accommodate the needed changes?