Form Follows Function

Throughout the class we’ve been discussing the shift in pedagogy that informative technology use can create.   The next step is to take these practices and ask what do they mean for school design.   In the article provided in class last week (Jonah Lerner, New Yorker, Group Think) certain buildings were highlighted for their collaborative nature.

The video below challenges certain beliefs about school design.  The “cells and bells” model defines perhaps every school in the Peoria area in terms of the architecture.

If the form of the building were actually designed around a more constructivist pedagogy what would schools end up looking like?   A hard question to answer but I want you to take some time and dig through the following websites:

Fielding Nair

Design Share

1.  What do you like?

2.  What troubles you about these designs?

3.  Is there a certain number of students when a school just gets too big?

4.  What is that number and why?

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27 thoughts on “Form Follows Function

  1. School 2.0: Learning Communities for the Next Generation
    Wow – awesome! I think that this idea of creating these “learning centers” or “learning communities” is a great direction for our students and design of our schools. My personal pedagogy has always embraced social learning theory and constructivist views. I firmly believe that creating an environment like this truly allows children to explore and learn using multiple intelligences and a variety of learning modalities.
    One possible concern, is that the teachers working in this environment must collaborate often, have similar views and beliefs, and need to communicate well so that the learning environment embraces instruction that is needed to challenge students to think critically and be problem solvers. I guess I was a bit confused on the teaching design, teachers still having a home base, but using the community area for collaboration? How is that structured?
    I also like the idea that teachers facilitate learning in areas that they are more experienced in, assisting more students with greater expertise. I’ve never heard the current model referred to as “cells and bells,” however, I do agree that our current building design embraces “one kind of intelligence – listening, and one kind of teaching – lecture.” I wonder if our district would let us experiment with this concept and design? (As were continue to build more “cells and bells” style buildings.)

    • Your comments about “….. teachers working in this environment must collaborate often.” In the designs on the website and the video I’m lead to be believe a key difference is the ability of teachers to collaborate in designing high quality learning experiences. It certainly would be a different type of experience. I’d like to visit some of these places to see how the work of teachers in these buildings is different.

  2. This is a true example of how collaboration can and should start at a young age. This design looks and sounds like an effective learning environment where students are engaged. School 2.0 embraces the multiple intelligences in a variety of ways and I feel that this type of environment has the ability to take students to the next level of learning and prepare them to be lifelong learners.
    Witt that being said though, I do feel there are some concerns. I completely agree with the points and questions you brought up, Julie! Would it be difficult for teachers to structure their lessons? I just question the structure of this model. I see how it can truly benefit students but how it effects teachers and their planning/ collaboration, I am unsure of. I am wondering if this model will be implemented in the districts in our region since, on most of the websites, a lot of these schools have been implemented all across the world.
    To sum up, this design has the ability to take our students to higher levels of thinking and learning. How could we make this model work in our district? Would teachers/administrators embrace it?

    • “Would teachers / administrators embrace it?” If I had to guess would they embrace it now – probably not. In ten to fifteen years as the whole web 2.0 strategies become more natural I could see it becoming more and more a likely possibility for a number of schools.

  3. 1. What do you like?
    I think that is a great plan for structuring a new school. It appears the students are more engaged and willing to learn on their own throughout the school day, while teachers are there to be what appears as “the guide on the side.” The line in the video that says “teachers are mentors while the students are the workers” makes complete sense in watching the video. The students are gathered around tables working together, helping each other, and collaborating, while the teachers are watching and offering up their support when needed.

    2. What troubles you about these designs?
    Troubles I see, as a teacher you have to be a great facilitator during the activities and make sure you are checking the students for understanding on a frequent basis. Planning the groups and pairing up students may be difficult at the beginning of the year with trying to pair up the different levels of students into a mixed group to help progress the learning of all the levels of students.

    3. Is there a certain number of students when a school just gets too big? And 4. What is that number and why?
    With students being in groups I think it would be hard to come up with a number where the school would be too big. If you have the space and stations in which the students are rotating between, then the number most likely can be higher than a traditional classroom. You can either add groups to the rotation or make your groups slightly bigger. I think eventually the school will have to expand just like any other school.

    • to # 2 I think every teacher struggles with how to perfectly pair up students for group projects and group work. Usually it seems the more the students get to know each other the easier it is for these groups to produce high quality work.

  4. Wow, talk about collaboration and teamwork! Of course, this would be a challenge for teachers/administrators, but what change isn’t? We are teaching the 21st century and the old way (cells and bells) is not working for our students. School 2.0 is about the students, the learning, and the future. A teacher should be the guide on the side! We need to stop thinking it’s MY classroom and be more open to OUR classroom. Change is coming!!!!

    If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.
    – Maya Angelou

    • @ Lisa. I like the comments about “our”. This is hard for a number of people to get in large parts because teaching is often a very isolated profession. We’re given the key to the room, the lesson plan and grade book and for the most part left alone. This is beginning to change and probably is for the best.

  5. Think everyon has already mentioned the collaborative nature of the learning centers. I liked how open and transparent everything was that was going on. I think what Lisa said about the ownership of classrooms that teachers can get is very true. Many times those teacher get very nervous when you talk about having other teachers and administrators in their classrooms. I think really good educators don’t care about who is in their classroom because they have a confidence in what they are doing as a teacher. I think the openness of the learning centers highlights the fact that everyday need to have transparency about how we teach.
    The question about school size is a little loaded because it is so rooted in your personal experience. I am sure that most people would say the size of the school they went to. With larger numbers you are able to take advantage of economy of scale but many people feel there is comfort level with knowing almost everyone in their class. I went to a HS of about 800 and work in one with 1000 and so thats the range I am most comfortable with.

    • Interesting reflections on the school size. We’ll have to poll the class Monday and see what type of high schools and elementary schools everyone went to.

  6. 1. What do you like? I like the shared multi use space (commons). These learning communities allow for the different modalities of learning and teaching. This in turn allows students to express themselves in a way that they are comfortable. These learning communities offer a variety of spaces to facilitate direct instruction and then the ability to change instruction/learning modes without leaving the learning community. I also liked that some schools shared a campus giving the opportunity for mentoring and multi age groups.

    I loved all the “green” components of the PK Young Developmental Center in Florida. It not only benefits the financial bottom line and the environment, but it teaches children about being “green”.

    2. What troubles you about these designs? I am somewhat troubled by the almost complete makeover of traditional schools. In some, no classrooms, shared office space for teachers. This is a “big rock” for many educators. I am also concerned about children with attention issues. Perhaps this environment will be too stimulating or too distracting for learning.

    3. Is there a certain number of students when a school just gets too big? I believe there is a certain number where a school gets too large. The number would differ depending on the type of school (elementary vs. high school). With too many children, the feeling of individualized attention would be difficult to attain.

    4. What is that number and why? I don’t know that there is a specific number. An elementary school with a large number of poor children or ELL children might need fewer children that one in an affluent suburb.

  7. On the class size issue and individual attention for the students there is a great presentation here by Johnatha Kozol. About half way through it gets pretty good.

  8. I love the concept of School 2.0! I don’t see any troubles about the design of a school like this. The only troubles I could possibly foresee is from the teacher aspect, especially those not completely onboard with the 21st century concept. With some effective professional development and the constant reminder of the fact that our students needs and education come first before our own would probably do the trick. Sometimes as teachers we lose focus of what we’re here to do. How could anyone argue with an environment like this if they are truly dedicated to children.
    With our third grade intervention block this year we have really tried to engage our students in learning communities and for those students that struggle we as teachers have recognized our strengths whether it be reading, writing, or math and those students come to us for small group instruction. I have enjoyed opening up my classroom’s 4 walls to the other third grade class and the students have benefited greatly from this daily 30 minute block. I know this is a small version
    of what happens in the schools on the video, but it’s been so effective. How great if we could apply this on a larger scale.
    I would like to learn more about how they accomodate their special education students needs in such a colloborative environment and the question of class size is always an imporatant issue as well. I do think in order for learning communities to be effective, class size should be small particularly at the elementary level or at least 2 teachers per classroom.

    • @ Heather
      In general I’d agree that teachers can be brought to these conclusions through appeals to the aim of their profession. From what I see, and maybe others disagree, it would seem elementary and middle level teachers are much more apt to teach in collaborative ways in terms of peer collaboration. Are high school teachers a different group?

  9. “The difference between yesterday and todays schools is that children must now think for themselves.” I really liked this quote that was stated in the video. I believe that we were all made to think for ourselves to some extent when we were in schools ourself, but now it is a much higher expectation. Time and time again I hear that we are preparing our students for jobs that do not even exist yet. The only way to do this is by teaching them life long skills, not necessarily content. Skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving. A shift needs to happen among professional in our field to allow students to discover their new responsibilities. Teachers need to transform their roles of instructors into mentors if we want children truly thinking for themselves. The video showed how the children could take advantage of what mode of learning best suites them in this School 2.0 Community with the guidance of teachers.

    In the video I saw a correlation among the article we were given in class last week and learning communities that are being created. Steve Jobs changed the way Pixar worked due to the building design he created. It spoke of how the best ideas sprouted when you bumped into a colleague from a different department on your way to the cafeteria or restroom. If this is happening for adults, I can only imagine how beneficial it would be for students who are that much more eager about life.

    I instantly thought of the future of my students when watching this video. It is already a competitive market, think what it will be when these young generations are competing for jobs themselves. If we effectively transform the way we teach to meet the needs and expectations of future positions, we will be vying for our own positions at the same time from these young, innovative thinkers. I can only hope this happens because it will mean we did something right.

    • The more ideas exchanged and discussions had the quicker the learning takes place. I’ve heard someone use this to explain the value of travel. When traveling abroad one is immediately confronted with a different system. The exchange forces learning that otherwise would not happen.

  10. Felding claims they are “change agents” I completely agree. This is a huge but much need paradigm shift. As an educator I continually hear about many of our practices, including buildings now that are extremely dated. It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s hard to find something in our culture and world today that is the same as it was 75 years ago (cells and bells).
    I love the idea of providing the students with multiple teaching and learning. In Dunlap I feel like teachers work very hard to differentiate their instruction and meet the needs of all of their learners but our environment is not set up as affectively as it could be to promote this. The learning that I saw happening seemed very seamless and as I teacher this would be necessary for me to feel successful.
    Some of the things that caught my attention were the outdoor learning communities. Kids outside working in groups and it seemed very structured and conducive to learning. These observations as well as the comments made by the parents in the video made me think that these kids are used to this now. I think that once they had been in this environment for an extended period time behavior, noise, transition would be easy. It would be practice and procedure just like any school or classroom.
    I wonder how a child in this type of environment would transition back in to a traditional school. Is there any data to support learning in these types of settings? I also question how kids in these environments move into society. For example do they tend to pick careers that are very collaborative, busy, and active? This looks like a wonderful place where kids are actively involved and engaged as long as this is happening I do not think there needs to be a number. The number depends on the facilities, teacher, climate etc.

  11. I totally agree that school isn’t all about academics. Students definitely need to learn how to get along with one another, problem solve, etc. As educators, we need to prepare students for life outside of school. I like the idea of small learning communities, especially at the elementary school level. The trouble that I see with this isn’t a trouble in the physical lay-out; it’s more about what students will experience at the college level. Most of our universities are still built using the old physical model of hallways and classrooms. Most universities are still typically using the lecture model as well. So I see students having a hard time adjusting to college.

    I don’t know that a school can be too big nor have too many students. If we are truly teaching them how to collaborate, teamwork and share leadership, then students in bigger schools will have more opportunities to put their skills to work. We all know that life is about who we know. If students are learning to build those relationships in big schools, it should greatly benefit them as they grow older and start to work in the “real world.”

    • @ Antonio @ Nicole
      Both bring up great points about how does this type of learning prepare our students fro college. The concept has always been that pedagogy has been dictated in a top down manner. Colleges to high schools, high schools to middle schools, middle school to elementary schools. Academia is oriented towards producing PhDs or those at the top of the academic circle. Should this be the focus? Or should schools in general be preparing students to succeed in broad areas of their life? From social, co-curricular, economic, and intellectual.

      In our transition at PND the biggest objectors to my surprise where a handful of college professors. In my conversations with them i was often surprised by their inability to describe learning as anything other than being rapt in attention during a lecture. My guess would be if we’ve created authentic learners and critical thinkers they would be able to “tolerate” being talked at for the few hours a week that traditional intro level college courses require.

      But one interesting dilemma college professors have is that selection of their courses after the freshmen year is often driven by student demand. If you have a professor with a more engaging pedagogy the pressure on the lecturer goes up. in high school we call it the right fielder effect. If you want to gracefully rid yourself of a crappy teacher then assign them to teach only electives. After a while no one chooses their course and you don’t need them.

    • Off what Antonio said about school not only being about academics, I totally agree with him. In PE, of course I want the students to learn how to do each skill for whatever activity we are playing. That is not my only standard that I need to teach the kids. I also have standards dealing with team building skills, and the kids can learn so much more about how to be a good teammate and person, in PE class.

      I also feel that this model works because it gets kids moving around. They aren’t just sitting there for hours on end. By moving them around, it keeps them engaged. This would be great for students with short attention spans because they wouldn’t be confined to the same area all day.

  12. I really like the idea of classrooms or areas being more conducive to collaborative learning. Even though many teachers promote and practice collaborative learning in the classroom, I think having these spaces would let students interact beyond the 4 walls of a particular room. The open concept and being able to look through windows into other learning spaces reminds me of the article we read this week. Even though classes may be separated at some point, the opportunity for interaction and sharing is much greater. The more ideas available the more creative a student can be.
    As far as problems, I agree with Antonio. I wonder how students would adjust to the lecture routine of our high schools and colleges. It might be a difficult transition for many students.
    With working in collaborative groups, I think a school might be able to accommodate more students per class. Students could come together as a whole for certain lessons and divide into groups for learning centers, much like the differentiated instruction many teachers incorporate into their lessons.

  13. @ Janelle
    The use of green space is certainly an interesting concept. An interesting book by Louv “Last Child in the Woods” outlines his theory of nature deficit disorder. In Norway they are now having all outdoor prek and kindergarten. Looks like fun but I’d need to buy a warmer jacket.

  14. The learning environment in this school seems so engaging. I can think a more than a few students (former and current) that would thrive in a situation like this. Not only do must the students work collaboratively, but as a number of you mentioned, so must the teachers. I enjoy collaborating with my teaching partners, however, until this year when we never had a specific time carved out to do so, finding the time in the past has been a challenge. Even though we have PLC time this year, it is only once a week. With this kind of learning environment, I would think you would be collaborating on a daily basis in order for it to be successful. My question is, when making the shift from traditional to this type of school, what would change as far as daily tasks (grading, planning, answering emails or phone calls, data collection and evaluation…) that would allow for more time. I would love to see how the teachers organize and implement this to meet the needs of all students.

  15. As I look at these schools and how open they are all I can imagine is how would my classroom that I currently have change? I know a lot of students really enjoy when they can get up, sit where ever they please and really get comfortable. That’s where my best learning take places in my classroom. As you see pictures of these new 2.0 schools that is what I can imagine. A school where students work collaboratively and not competitively. It’s inspiring to see another student teach their peers when given the environment and the chance. Unfortunately I don’t see troubles with this designs for students I see the biggest trouble with teachers. I teach in an environment where competition is the utmost important factor, who can out due the other. Whereas in this environment teachers would have to make sure they are collaborating, sharing, incorporating their lessons, and just above all hoping for a true learning environment for all individuals. I think this would be a struggle for many who love to shut their door and do their own thing. I think for a collaborative environment to work you wouldn’t want a group too large that you are not able to meet and observe all learners.

  16. School 2.0 has a great impact on how children learn in the future. I believe that students should learn to collaborate a young age. I believe that a lot of learning will occur during collaboration because they can work together. Every kid has had different life experiece to share and brainstorm their ideas with. When I read the article about collaborating together, I really liked how it talked about how no one should be judged when working together. All ideas can be bounced off each other. I think this is important to students. I also think that if a student is in a group does not understand, once brainstorming occurs, they might understand and make a connection of what they are talking about. . (You learn by listening) Today, in the work world, employers want you to collaborate together to make things better and more efficient. I feel that a good class size is no more than 20. I know that collaborating in groups is good, but when there are a lot of groups and too many kids, I feel that it is hard to manage. The way the school was designed in the video is a lot like the way our new school is being built.

    Stacy Lingenfelter

  17. 1. What do you like?
    The other entries have touched upon this, but I love the idea of the shared space. I think it would allow for many more units of instruction that reach across the curriculum. Also, this would aide in connecting subjects to one another-which is what students are expected to do in the real world. Imagine connecting musical concepts to math, science, social studies, and language arts. When the subject is being taught, that teacher could come in to facilitate the learning.
    2. What troubles you about these designs?
    Nothing.
    3. Is there a certain number of students when a school just gets too big?
    That’s a difficult question for me to answer. As an orchestra teacher, I typically have smaller classes until the middle school and high school level. I still try to make sure that I see the older students in smaller groups for one-on-one attention and instruction. Also, I spent my late elementary school and middle school years in a Catholic school. The class sizes were smaller, and the school environment really felt like a community. I believe that was due to the smaller class sizes and overall enrollment numbers. It also allowed the teachers to have a firm grasp on each students learning and what he or she needed to succeed. It becomes increasingly harder with large class sizes, especially at the elementary school level.
    4. What is that number and why?
    I’m not sure. I do know that high schools that reach populations of 1,500 or 2,000 students need to be split apart. I graduated in a class of over 400 students, and I didn’t know everyone I graduated with. Also, some large suburban schools keep large student populations for the sole purpose of sports. (They have a larger pool of athletes to draw from.) I think we need to keep in mind what is best for students….I find it hard to believe that (prior to college) large enrollments benefit the overall learning environment.

  18. A week late, but with the internet up and running I finally got to see the video. I first want to say that the pod style school is much more to my liking all the way from elementary through high school. I think it is a much more architechurally pleasing, and functional design. What changes between elementary and high school is how the space is utilized. I have seen many different versions of such pods and the main differnce is in how the space is utilized. At Dunlap Valley I feel as though the commons area is very sterile and uninviting, where as in the video the commons areas presented seem to be more exciting to the senses. Of course the biggest difference between the two is not the sterile vs exciting atmosphere, but instead the pod vs only a commons area. Speaking to the pod idea I believe there are some neccessities in order to make the space work in a school setting. The first being that you must classrooms for students to got to at some time and such rooms must have blinds on the windows such as are at Dunlap Valley. My reason is that with students only in a commons area, noise and classroom size must be limited. In a pod situation those whom are old enought o easily see out of the windows, such students may become distracted by activities occuring within the commons area. The second reason is for lock down situations. A school must be able to blind out all windows. Though this does create another question on safety and that is what are the windows made of, can they be easily broken. In lock down scenarios, though it is not impossible I would venture to guess that my traditional room would be harder to break into than ones with windows all around. This is minor and not something I worry about but, is something that comes to mind. I have worked in a rural 4/5 building, an urban neighborhood school, a suburban pod style mega school and now a small town k-8 school. What I have seen is a drastic difference in numbers and from this I beleive I am more of an expert in this area than most having spent so much time in almost all types of schools. I found the most success in students in the urban neighborhood school, followed by the rural 4/5 school. The reason was that the buildings and class sizes were small. I believe the cut off for a building should be around 3-400 students, and neighborhood schools are great as I knew almost everything I would ever need to know about parents, students and such because without busing I was able to meet almost every students parent on a nightly basis as they walked to pick their student up from school. In the suburban mega school this was completely lost.

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