Building Learning Through Design
School planners and architects need to talk more with teachers and students so that they create learning spaces that stimulate the brain, create movement, offer choice, and motivate learners.
SCHOOL building designs in Australia do not improve teaching or learning when poorly planned, according to an international school designer.
Peter Lippman is a school designer, education faculty planner, researcher and educator who has designed schools in the US, Europe and Australia.
His book, Evidence-based Design of Elementary and Secondary Schools suggests planners and architects need to understand and apply educational theory.
“Our learning spaces don’t just need desks and chairs because it is an environment that is owned and shared by teachers and students,” Mr Lippman said.
“We need to look at our classroom corners and design different zones to reflect the variety of ways in which people learn.”
Classrooms could be improved if students had a focal point where they could have discussions in a large group and zones where they could practise a range of different activities.
“Emotionally, it helps to build [a student’s] identity so that they can display their ideas and peers can see what they’re doing and grow at the same time,” Mr Lippman said.
Lippman claims that following trends like ‘open plan’ schools in the US and Australia led school-designers to copy ‘normative’ or historical practice, instead of using evidence gained from research and educational theory to design learning spaces.
“SUSTAINABILITY IS ABOUT DESIGNING LEARNING AREAS THAT INTEGRATE WITH THE CURRICULUM SO THAT THE ENVIRONMENT BECOMES A TOOL FOR LEARNING.”
“Part of the problem with open spaces is that you have acoustic problems and students and teachers get lost because they don’t have smaller spaces where they can work reflectively,” Mr Lippman said.
“School designers need to understand learning theory, research the environment, and talk to teachers to find out what works.”
Twenty-first century learning and the Australian curriculum encourage schools to use technology and experiment with STEM or STEAM.
Mr Lippman said schools should respond by planning technology use through integration with the furniture, acoustics, and other mechanical systems at the outset – and not treat it as an after-thought.
Linking technology in an integrated way with the environment, actions, motivators and operations created places where children wanted to learn.
The Australian Curriculum and Assessment Reporting Authority (ACARA) gives sustainable education priority, requiring teachers to bed its content in every curriculum subject.
Teachers must encourage a future-focused approach, giving students an opportunity to develop the knowledge skills and abilities to interact with each other and the environment.
“Sustainability is about designing learning areas that integrate with the curriculum so that the environment becomes a tool for learning,” Mr Lippman said.
“A building needs to include the wider community so that children can learn about the local birds and animals while interacting with their community.”
Making changes to learning spaces that stimulated learning did not need a big budget or complete make-over with costly new furniture.
Mr Lippman’s advice to schools is to “try before you buy” by obtaining old furniture and testing it to see if an idea works.
When working with a school in Sweden, Mr Lippman had staff obtain old furniture to observe how it suited the learning styles of students before they purchased new furniture.
He found that when planning a ‘break-out’ zone, schools needed to integrate students’ learning outside with what was done in the classroom.
Break-out zones should be crafted to incorporate brain theory, stimulate learning and be places where children could engage with nature, individually or in groups, with the teacher as a facilitator.
“We need to ask what different activities are going to occur between these zones and open up the space so that people can move between spaces easily while observing others,” Mr Lippman said.
“SCHOOL DESIGNERS NEED TO UNDERSTAND LEARNING THEORY, RESEARCH THE ENVIRONMENT, AND TALK TO TEACHERS TO FIND OUT WHAT WORKS.”
He said that teachers could learn from schools that had designed break-out zones, such as Yule Brook College in Maddington, WA.
Yule Brook College Associate Principal Doug Dearle said Mr Lippman had redesigned a former uninspiring classroom into a multi-purpose zone with break-out areas that integrated perfectly with its Big Picture Education vision.
“The staff love the opportunity that it gives them to use it for professional learning, curriculum planning, student break-out learning and other activities,” Mr Dearle said.
He said that the college’s planned integration of environment and curriculum created national interest when participants at the 2016 Big Picture Education National Conference held in Perth visited the campus to see the new approach.
Peter Lippman has designed schools in the US, Europe and Australia.