BY Bob Binder, AIA, REFP, LEED AP
DLR Group Principal
President, Rocky Mountain Chapter,
Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI)
For today's students, the knowledge and skills they require today, and five, 10 or 15 years from now, will go far beyond the reading, writing, and arithmetic that we learned at school in our youth. This is why modern school buildings require architects to utilize much more creativity and design innovation to ensure that today's student can compete in the 21st century.
Due to the burgeoning world economy, many of today's college majors did not even exist ten years ago. Future careers are being created daily and include titles such as: Organic Agriculturist, Terrorism Analyst, Eco-Relations Manager, Alternative Energy Engineer, and Telemedicine Technician. Career paths that weren't thought of ten years ago are suddenly becoming a reality. Today's learning environments must invite education and activities to take place beyond the walls of a traditional classroom, preparing students for a changing world.
Some items that modern school design must consider include:
-wireless access in the entire building rather than just a few computers or spaces in the school
-learning communities which encourages student and teacher collaboration
-brain research driving new methods of classroom instruction which will replace traditional teaching practices
-an engaging and collaborative learning process which moves beyond having teachers instructing students from the front of a classroom
Modern school buildings can best be described as professional learning communities. These learning communities include large work spaces where teachers can easily layout assignments and curriculum materials to engage students into all aspects of the lesson.
Professional learning communities also require a work environment that is conducive to both quiet work and involved discussions. This demands proper lighting, directed air flow, minimal distractions, and comfortable seating. These communities must be flexible, and easily adaptable to modern technology for seamless access to internet sites and data files. Smart boards replace chalk boards for viewing websites, accessing notes, and participation in video conferencing.
As teacher and student needs evolve, a set of core design principles of the 21st Century school have been identified:
-21st Century Skills Outcomes - In order to compete with the global economy, students must be prepared with global skills. We must also recognize that individual students think, learn, and act differently. For that reason, schools of today must be prepared to facilitate emerging global skill sets to encourage learning.
-Relevance and Applied Curriculum - Combining traditional subjects with 21st Century themes will give students greater global awareness and core competency in finance, economics, business and entrepreneurship, and civic and health. School designers should consider creating learning environments and labs that compliment the career pathway training.
-24/7 Access to Tools and Resources - Students must have information and technology skills and connection to media and culture through distance learning applications. Schools must be equipped to meet these demands.
-Culture of Creativity and Innovation - Creative thinking and innovation will be the benchmarks of professional success in the global economy. School design must nurture students to think creatively, apply critical thinking and problem solving skills, and effectively communicate and collaborate in both individual and group settings. Though communication can occur anywhere, designing small breakout and meeting spaces will help facilitate a culture of collaboration.
-Social and Emotional Connections - School must prepare students with business and technology skills while ensuring they receive the social and life skills necessary for success. These skills include adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross cultural skills, productivity and accountability, and leadership and responsibility. Designers must provide spaces where students feel comfortable communicating and interacting with each other and staff in non-traditional, informal ways to facilitate personal and social growth.
Our future is in the hands of today's students. It is critical to provide educational facilities that will inspire learning and prepare them to compete in a global arena. Designing these spaces requires a thoughtful and innovative approach that is inclusive of the needs of our students, educators and communities.
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Published in the March 3, 2010 issue of Colorado Real Estate Journal.