December 06, 2010 AdminHBA Design, Front Page

Educational Facility Planning & Design – Project Based Learning

KellamHS_dollhouse¬†Learning Community – Project Based Learning – spaces designed for the activities they’ll house…how logical!

Most of us who are involved in planning and designing K-12 educational facilities have become aware of a growing movement to shift the paradigm of education delivery in our schools. In a time where the primary focus seems to be on accountability, standards, and high-stakes testing, we are asking ourselves “how can schools prepare students to be effective life-long learners and how can we prepare educators to be more effective teachers in a fundamentally different world than the one in which we grew up in?” Our country appears to be suffering a crisis in education that threatens the ability of an entire generation to achieve success in life and work, a crisis that also threatens America’s ability to remain competitive on a global stage.

When business leaders across the world are asked what skills are most needed for workforce readiness for today’s business environments, they do not answer “math test taking” or “reading comprehension”; rather they talk of critical thinking skills, creative and innovative thinking skills, problem solving skills, listening, communication and collaboration skills, media and technology skills, self-direction, accountability, adaptability, and global awareness.

Today’s student has grown up in a world where mobile computers and cell phones with browsers are common tools, and where instant messaging, blogs and wikis are common modes of self-expression. We are gaining an increased awareness that these “digital natives” will find it difficult to succeed in a classroom environment where the “sage on the stage” is the most common form of education delivery. Not surprisingly, today’s students expect to learn in an environment that mirrors their lives and their perception of the future – one than seamlessly integrates today’s digital tools and mobile lifestyle, and one that encourages collaboration and teamwork in both physical and virtual spaces.

Study after study has shown that the level of learning that takes place is directly proportional to the learner’s level of engagement in his or her own learning. How do we go about planning and designing learning environments that support a curriculum that seeks to engage learners in their own learning experience and sustains a learner’s intrinsic desire to know?

In 2008, our firm, HBA Architecture & Interior Design, was contracted to plan and design a replacement high school facility for one of the oldest high schools in Virginia Beach, Kellam High School. From the beginning, this new 2,000 student school was being envisioned as a prototype for 21st century learning. We established four clear objectives that would define success for this project and guide the Owner, the users of the facility, the planning and design team, and other stakeholders toward achievement of a truly remarkable educational facility. The objectives are:
1.) Involve full spectrum of stakeholders in a collaborative planning and design process to achieve user and community “buy-in”.
2.) Design a high school facility that will facilitate and support the implementation of a new curriculum and assessment model founded on the principals of challenge-based learning.
3.) Create challenge-based learning opportunities for Kellam High School students that are integral to the planning and design process for the new high school and that are collaborative efforts with the design team.
4.) Incorporate planning processes and design elements into the school facility that will encourage students to be “sustainable citizens.”

We have long believed that engaging the stakeholders in the planning and design process contributes mightily to the ultimate success of the facility, and stakeholder collaboration is an integral part every school facility design on which we embark. Because of the unique challenges presented by our objectives for this project, it was especially crucial to involve all of the group types that were most likely to be impacted by the final solution in the planning and design processes. It was important for curriculum developers be a part of planning the environment that would facilitate the desired learning and assessment models they were developing. It was important for future teachers and administrators of the school to have a say in envisioning the new learning environments and support spaces that they would one day be teaching, learning, and working in. It was important for students to impart their perspective as “the learner” into the planning and design process, and it was important for parents to visualize their new role in supporting the learning of their children within the context of this new pedagogy. It was important for local business leaders to be engaged in the discussion about how this new curriculum and this new school will better prepare students for the 21st century workplace. And finally, it was important for neighbors and community leaders to be a part of a collaborative planning process that developed the most advantageous solutions to planning the site.

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C. Michael Ross, AIA, REFP