School of the Future: What We Talk About When We Talk About Space
In 2013, at the end of my first year at Malvern Prep, we gutted the library. Over the summer, we covered the walls with whiteboard paint and swapped immobile furniture for tables and desks on wheels.
Some teachers were upset.
“You know what they’re going to write on the walls,” one dissenter said. “Curse words and dirty pictures.” (My response: “Fortunately, if and when that happens, you can easily erase it… unlike when they do that now.”)
Another complaint: “If they can move the furniture around, it will be impossible to maintain order in there.” (My response: “Kids weren’t using the library anyway, so if chaos is the price we pay for a little learning, I’m ok with that for now.”)
Within 48 hours, the students had self-organized around the writeable surfaces and flexible furniture. When they saw peers writing notes or working out problems on the walls, they floated across the room to join them. When one table couldn’t accommodate a study group, they rolled over an extra table and chairs. Of course, this redesigned space didn’t ensure that these adolescents were always on task—they also sometimes socialized, goofed off, and napped (ie, the things that kids do whether or not we like it).
When our Asia school design project kicked off last week, we talked about the ways in which healthy learning is more like an evolving ecosystem than an engine. As one colleague noted:
Space affects behavior.
Behavior evolves into culture.
Culture becomes self-regulating.
At Malvern Prep:
Writeable surfaces and flexible furniture changed student behavior.
Their behavior evolved into a culture of student-centered learning.
Six years later, student-centered learning is continuing to become the prevailing paradigm. As more spaces on campus allow for students to configure and reconfigure themselves and to make their learning visible, that culture will become self-regulating.
When you talk about space at your school, are you talking in terms of ecosystems or engines?
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