So much about how and where kids learn has changed over the years, but the physical structure of schools has not. Looking around most school facilities — even those that aren’t old and crumbling — it’s obvious that so much of it is obsolete today, and yet still in wide use.
1. COMPUTER LABS. Students are connected to the Internet everywhere except in school. Regardless of their income bracket, most kids carry around a world of information in their pockets on their mobile devices, and yet we force them to power down and disconnect, and we confine them in obsolete computer labs. A modern school needs to have connectivity everywhere and treat computers more like pencils than microscopes.
2. LEARNING IN PRESCRIBED PLACES. When you ask people to remember a meaningful learning experience from high school, chances are the experience didn’t take place in a space designed for learning. Working in groups, while on a trip, while doing a project or learning while talking with friends — those are the lasting, meaningful learning experiences. Yet we don’t design schools to accommodate these activities and focus only on the formal spaces.
6. SCHOOL CORRIDORS. Corridors take up a lot of valuable real estate in a school and are unoccupied most of the time. If rooms are arranged in groups around a common space, corridors are not necessary. And unused corridors can be made into informal learning spaces.
7. TRADITIONAL SCHOOL LIBRARIES. In a modern school a library should be more of a learning commons able to support a variety of student activities as they learn to access and evaluate information. Books have their place but they are not the end-all of libraries. A learning commons is no longer the quiet sanctum of old, rather it is a space that can be central or distributed, used formally or informally, and one that can stimulate a spirit of inquiry in students.
9. LARGE RESTROOMS. Students try to avoid using school restrooms even in new schools because of concerns over privacy, bullying, and cleanliness contribute. To avoid restroom use, students stop drinking water and become dehydrated, and unable to focus. In Finland and other parts of Europe, they use individual restrooms that are located in the shared learning areas between classrooms. There seems to be a feeling of ownership for these, so they don’t get trashed. Also, they have more privacy, and there’s less bullying.
10. INSTITUTIONAL FOOD SERVICE. School food service usually involves folding tables that are placed and replaced throughout the day. With cleanup activities it takes the commons/cafeteria out of action most of the day. Why sacrifice this valuable space when it could serve multiple purposes? Creating spaces that require less movement of furniture while remaining flexible will allow them to be used more effectively. Common spaces can also be less institutional, which in turn increases their flexibility. Decentralizing food service allows students to eat in smaller groups and also allows multi-use of spaces. Even if the food isn’t better, the space can be.