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21ST-CENTURY LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

SDA’S TEN TIPS FOR CREATING a 21ST-CENTURY LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

For more than 25 years, since Stephen Donald commenced teaching in various schools of architecture and design, throughout the UK, Stephen Donald Architects Ltd has spent a lot of time and effort thinking about education. We have also practiced extensively in the field of education and vocational training. Originating in 1996 with the firm’s work with the Royal Schools For The Deaf in Manchester and more recently with the Rosemary Works Elementary School, in Hackney North London, we have produced our B(e)-SMART @ School work experience programmes in which we have worked closely with numerous local London Education Authorities, especially Waltham Forest Council. By creating stimulating and innovative learning programmes we have helped support a special “investigative-learning” curriculum that inspires students to be seekers of knowledge. Stephen Donald, who heads the B(e)-SMART @ School initiative at SDA Ltd feels very strongly that stimulating learning environments for young people, whilst requiring well-trained, committed and experienced staff can also benefit significantly by working in a calm and secure environment, free from distracting architectural clichés, but which nevertheless facilitates the integration of good teaching practices and materials into education settings and emphasizes research-based practices. High standards of sustainable environmental design provide a powerful stimulus for creating the learning environments of tomorrow: to paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill; “First we create our learning environments and then they create us”

1 PULL, DON’T PUSH. Create a learning environment that stimulates each of the students, and help them translate that into insight and understanding. Education is too often seen as the transmission of knowledge. Real learning happens when the student feels the need to reconcile a question he or she is facing – and can’t help but seek out an answer.

2 CREATE FROM RELEVANCE. Engage students in ways that have patricular relevance to them, and you’ll capture their attention and imagination. Allow them to experience the concepts you are engaged with at first hand; discuss them and even better, work to address them with the students instead of just relying on explanation alone.

3 STOP CALLING THEM “SOFT” SKILLS. Talents such as creativity, collaboration, communication, empathy, and adaptability are not just useful; they are the core capabilities of our 21st-century global economy which is currently facing many complex challenges.

4 ALLOW FOR VARIATION. Evolve past a one-size-fits-all mentality and permit mass customization, both in the system and the studio environment. Too often, equality in education is treated as sameness. The truth is that everyone is starting from a different place and probably going to a different place.

5 NO MORE SAGE ON STAGE. Engaged learning can’t always happen in neat rows. People need to get their hands dirty. They need to feel, experience, and build. In this interactive environment, the role of the teacher/ mentor is transformed from the expert telling a student the answer to become an enabler of learning. Step away from the front of the room and find a place to engage with your learners as the “guide on the side.”

6 TEACHERS ARE DESIGNERS. LET THEM CREATE. Build an environment where your teachers are actively engaged in learning by doing. Shift the conversation from prescriptive rules to permissive guidance. Even though the resulting environment may be more complicated to manage, the teachers will produce amazing results.

7 BUILD A LEARNING COMMUNITY. Learning doesn’t happen in a child’s or student’s mind alone. It happens through the social interactions with other pupils, students and teachers, parents, the community, and the world at large. It really does require the creation of a learning environment, which sits both within, and outwith the classroom or studio setting. Schools and colleges need to find new ways to engage parents and build local and national partnerships. This doesn’t just benefit the pupils – it brings new resources and knowledge to your educational establishment.

8 BE AN ANTHROPOLOGIST, AS WELL AS AN ARCHAEOLOGIST. An archaeologist seeks to understand the past by investigating its relics and digging for the truth of what was. An anthropologist studies people to understand their values, needs, and desires. If you want to design new solutions for the future, you have to understand what people care about and design for that. Don’t just dig into the past for the answer – use this knowledge to connect with the future.

9 INCUBATE THE FUTURE. What if our schools and colleges took on the big challenges educational that we’re facing today? By enabling pupils and students to see their role in creating this wider world by studying topics such as the local and wider environment, global warming, transportation, waste management, health care, poverty, and even education. It’s not necessarily about finding the right answer. It’s about placing people in a place where they learn about ambition, involvement, and responsibility, not to mention science, maths, technical skills as well as literature and the arts.

10 CHANGE THE DISCOURSE. If you want to drive new behaviour, you have to measure new things. Skills such as creativity and collaboration can’t be measured on a bubble chart. We need to create new assessments that help us 21st-century skills. This is not just about measuring outcomes, but also measuring process. We need formative assessments that are just as important as numeric ones. And here’s the trick: we can’t just have the measures. We actually have to value them.

Stephen Donald Architects Ltd 09-03-09

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