When we started designing our first school, ground up, our simple brief to our architects was “Every space is a Learning space”.
The story of how we arrived at this “brief” is slightly long, but I believe that our experience may have some key takeaways.
Designing K-12 schools: Our Experience.
Obviously, when we were designing a school, K through 12 from scratch, there was the luxury of time to think through all details, and think from a pedagogical approach we wanted to adopt for different age groups. Hence, we looked at it as a collection of “Learning Spaces”.
It was collective thinking of a group of Educators, Designers, and Architects. Many sessions, and many arguments, debates helped us emerge with a conceptual design of the school that met pretty much all the needs. I should mention that We have nearly 60 member exclusive team, that has always comprised of best-in-class learning research group comprising of accomplished pedagogical specialists, and subject matter experts. It is a group of 60 resources, many with PhD. They determine the desired learning outcomes, based on the learning objectives, upon which learning strategies are worked out.
From taming the terrain, the edifice, the internal spaces were all aligned to the Educational outcomes we wanted to deliver. It took into account all stakeholders requirements, teachers, students, parents, maintenance, technology infrastructure, to spaces where curiosity, creativity and design thinking is encouraged.
Design of Classrooms, Laboratories – Connected Laboratories, Utilities
Every classroom, laboratories, spaces for learning activities, library, liberal arts, sports and Makerspaces for multidisciplinary learning were designed to minute details. Ventilation, natural light, break-out spaces, ample open areas, green areas were also carefully designed. The interplay between these spaces are important to deliver effective learning experiences.
We designed the entire campus to be a “connected” campus, including laboratories. From Microscopes to Telescopes, all are networked, and we are able to stream from most laboratory devices to classrooms, or any display device in the campus. We conduct multidisciplinary learning events, which our learning design team designs and develops in close collaboration with the teachers at our school. The key enablers for being able to do this were:
As an Edutech company working with world’s best education companies and having delivered products and solutions to different education systems, in different countries, we had the exposure of best-in-class processes, and pedagogical approaches to learning, and particularly the first-hand experience of how technology has been leveraged in Education, and its evolution from the beginning of this Century to the current COVID times!
The workflows were also accommodated, to ensure smooth flow of logistics. From Bus Bays, to holding areas, all the way upto waste disposal and recycling. We designed it to be a Green campus.
It was also necessary to work closely with the builders, to ensure full compliance to building norms of the local authorities and also to the affiliating Boards.
Innovation Centre, the design and its space in education
We designed, and developed, built, and equipped an Innovation Centre. This centre has a large space, and they are divided into zones. The Zone is an Inspiration Zone. Lots of inspirational books are available vide Print resources, and access to variety of Digital Resources too. Usually a team of 4 works in each Zone, and at the end of the designated time period they present Who, What, Why and How the Inspiration happened. As long as it reasonable, we let them move on to zone “Ideating and Problem Solving“. In this, we have made available to the teams, many ideating tools like the ideating tree, and ideation boards, in addition to the software tools they use to ideate. Once the design is finalised, they move on to the Prototyping Zone, where validated ideas will be prototyped to prove its viability, If unviable, that will iterate back to the ideation problem solving mode, otherwise they move to the prototyping stage where they will face challenges of material to use refining designs where too it will take a couple of iterations. Once a production or demonstration quality product is done, the students and their team comprising of mentors will get to demonstrate to the claimed pre-conditions during design stage. Such Successful products are innovative, they bring out the best creativity in the minds and more than anything, we would have installed infinite curiosity to wherever they proceed for their Higher Education.
We have emphasis to Liberal Arts, Performing Arts, Crafts and Theatre.
Learning activities we perform in the class during there class section to enhance the learning effectiveness.
I and my colleague @prashanthbhat were involved in the design of the lab furniture, keeping in mind there following:
The School in the city of Mysore is successful, because it a great brand. Our satisfaction comes from two things: 1. All of us in eluding the management are all learning all the time, and so are the teachers too. The COVID break has intensified the learning process, and when things return to normal, you will see more competent teachers, and the Principal, Correspondent and Secretary.
An example is the chemistry lab which myself and Prashanth worked out many designs, and finally converged. Similarly we procured a lot of sensors and data collection units of 30-40 numbers, 34 types of sensors available in each kit, which comprised of motion sensors, eight sensors, motion sensors, light sensors, soil moisture sensors and many more. That gave us the ability explaining some of the concepts easily and enabled a lot more Activities to do.
We obtained software for like “Geogebra”, “Geometr” sketchpad, google maps, “stellarium” and “celestium” (for learning astronomy, and of course a real observatory with multiple telescopes and related equipment
All children will face the demonstration workstation meant for teachers. There were also other factors to consider, designing the table with three individual workstations each and such stations arrange in rows, so that they can have clear visibility of the demonstration experiments. We measured the distances between stations on the same platform, ensured sufficient distance, just in case an acid or hazardous materials leaked. Of course there are firefighting equipment including high pressure pipes that was designed, planned and installed in case of any eventuality.
We have deployed a full-fledged weather monitoring system using which multidisciplinary activities are carried out.
Our approach was to get the best architect, best builder and all the educators and Education Technology team, IT Infrastructure team piled on them to the core team and then started the structural design process. I am surprised about the high quality among all stakeholders, nearly 13 months of construction we were there.
We have adopted a rural government school and work closely with them too. I am proud to say that we have not laid off a single teacher nor have we retrenched them.
We started it all by creating a script of a full working week of a school child. All learning pretty much happens at school. Parent engagement with their children, in helping them to real world issues, current issue and General knowledge will be more useful than doing home works, when they are at home. With the right kind of children in the neighbourhood, the interactions are more informal and playing games/sports is a good complement to what happens at school. In the current systems even if we create refreshing learning spaces, it is available for them to do all the “so called” co-curricular, and extra-curricular activities, as the were outliers.
It is a long story if we get into details, it may be worth writing a book titled “Making of a School”. All of us enjoyed the outcomes. That provides immense satisfaction.
With NEP2020 we can bring this all and fit them nicely in to the time table and school timings.
I can’t wait for it to be implemented.