It’s alive! Future School Buildings as Active Partners in Learning

It’s alive! Future School Buildings as Active Partners in Learning

Prediction: someday soon we’ll stop designing schools as passive, inert containers, like warehouses or soup cans, and more like interactive extensions of teaching and learning. This will come as a natural extension of the current shift toward project-oriented, multi-dimensional programs, for which we’ll need:

Flexible spaces. People may need to confer in small groups, in quiet spaces, then in larger groups, then break into teams to physically carry out projects using computers, 3d printers and larger tools. Our buildings should help them DO these things. For this we’ll need project-oriented spaces.

Project-oriented spaces include workshop spaces, with storage areas and building supplies, mud rooms, greenhouses, appropriate tools, tool storage areas, and power sources.

Transparent components. Here’s where the building starts shifting from a passive to an active role in nurturing an education. Every element of the school building relies on specific construction materials and the application of certain skills; most of both the materials and the skills are invisible to mere mortals, hidden away by the time we move in. Those materials and skills can translate into a gold mine of learning opportunities if we dig in a bit. For example, many spaces need insulated walls or heated floors, so let’s expose sections to show how this is done. (Photo above: Douglas Park School, Regina, Saskatchewan; Fielding Nair International architects)

Show how the structure meets building code requirements. Post the requirement right next to real life examples, so the connections are clear.

Interactive components. Leave a modeling area where I can replicate the transparent wall. Teach me the science behind why the insulation does what it does. Challenge me to invent ways to improve it.

If you want me to learn to build, give me something to work with. Have you ever found it hard to get kids to build with Legos? The urge to build doesn’t go away–just the opportunity. So bring it back. Give me a hammer, saw and nails. Let me throw together a tree house or a garden shed and learn from the experience.

Increasingly, schools will become energy neutral, and within a few more years energy positive, generating their own power plus a little extra. They might create electricity with wind mills, solar panels or high tech roofing tiles. The Boulder Valley School District, for example, has installed panels on 14 schools.

Whatever measures we take, we can maximize the return on our investments by exposing the components. Caption the sections with an explanation of why and how they function. Provide modeling materials for replication purposes. To teach me math or science, have me demonstrate competency at building those models, explaining why I’m doing what I’m doing, and what the end result will be.

We’ve long had a concept in CPTED known as “dead walls.” These are walls that just stand around, being walls. “Live” walls do something more – they carry messages, windows or mirrors to reflect on or see through. We’re now seeing this concept leaping forward as conventional chalkboards give way to electronic, interactive white boards, a tool for which we’re only beginning to understand the potential. A multitude of guides to using such tools can be found on you tube, including the following:

It’s only a matter of time before all surfaces become interactive: not just conventional whiteboards, but walls, windows, doors, floors, ceilings – the whole shebang!

As futuristic as this may sound, the technology has already arrived and is commercially available. Touchmagix is just one of a number of companies already offering touch and gesture interactive walls, floors, tables and kiosks. Check them out at

Tod Schneider
Written by Tod Schneider

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