There is something that is very engaging about aerial photography. See for yourself:
(This post originally appeared on this blog over three years ago. Now that we are preparing to open the new PHS, it is interesting to see that we managed to capture some of the best features of the schools we visited when we were researching school design.)
I am a very lucky educator. I have the opportunity be a part of building a new school for our learning community. What an awesome task, responsibility, and opportunity. As part of this undertaking, I have been able to visit modern schools and not only see the physical spaces, but also observe the learning activities that occur in them. It was so interesting hear to a lead science teacher tell us about students studying cancer cells and looking for ways to disrupt their growth. She told us how one particular student had the opportunity to work with bacteria and try to disrupt their communication patterns. His research had progressed so far that he was able to meet with several Nobel Prize winning scientists at science exposition that he was invited to attend. At first I was amazed that high school students were involved is this kind of research, but as it these stories sunk in, I could not help but feel that the students in my school were being robbed of these types of learning opportunities. Should we simply say we cannot afford to put in a laboratory where this type of research can be done and leave it at that? I am determined to find a way that our students who wish to study and research such topics can do so in a local lab. At the very least, we must build spaces that promote active learning where Science is a verb and students can explore and discover. Active learning must take place in all subject areas and we must seek to integrate them where we can.
The above photos were taken in Niles North High School’s state of the art STEM lab. It is a large learning space with a corner “think tank”. This is where short, whole group learning activities take place such as a like a mini lecture or a student presentation. The makeup of the room shows what is important–active learning. The rest of the space is dominated by large tables, deep sinks, and a multitude of tools to experiment with. A scientist’s dream. We will not be able to replicate this room. I am not so sure we would want to, but we need to see that learning spaces need to be flexible to accommodate different kinds of learning and learners.
Some of the schools we have visited have been very traditional. The learning environments were not much different than what we have used in our school for the last 100+ years. Rooms as boxes, filled with student desks, and a central learning focus that cast the teacher as information giver/subject expert. Other schools have moved away from the traditional design and have spaces that suggest other models of learning.
The four photos above were take at the the Columbus Signature Academy High Tech High. The school uses a project based approach to engage its students. What stood out to me at this school was how the student work and the vision of students collaborating were the architectural features. Learning studios were transparent with movable glass hallway walls, that when moved created very large learning spaces for large group instruction or presentations. The hallways were filled with different seating configurations. Some of them resembled restaurant booths, others were library like configurations with comfortable furniture. Design shaping function or function shaping design….either way the way students learn in these environments reflects a social, transparent, and integrated approach that allows students to do real, meaningful work in ways they will outside of the “school” when they matriculate to other endeavors. Exciting times indeed!
I have found myself immersed the past three years in a new school building project. Being a part of the team that oversaw the creation of the new building has been an exhilarating experience. I am excited about the new learning environment and the possibilities for our community. Today was the last day of student attendance in the old building located at 309 South Main Street in Paris, IL. I will have to say that I found myself to be very emotional as the day ended. I guess you don’t just shut the book on 26 years in one place without feeling some kind of attachment to it. Those feelings inspired this attempt to catch the moment. I hope you enjoy!
The drone’s view of the new Paris Theater of Fine Arts
Making today’s school relevant to the needs and wants (yes, I said wants) of today’s students needs to start with the adults who work for the kids. The narrative of the school has to change. It cannot be told by the adults in a first person vernacular. We, the educators have to learn that our part in the learning process is to help set the stage for student learning, not dictate it. The “I” part of the story needs to disappear from all parts of the process except for in the students role. “I do not have to make all of the decisions.” “I do not have to be the only source of information.” “I am not the expert and my role is to facilitate.” “WE are only as good as we let the students be!” The change starts at the top of the school organization. The leaders in the process must model for the staff and the learning community. Like the teacher in the classroom, the leader needs to do all that can be done to set the stage, provide for the conditions needed, and work on getting out of the way.
To my dismay, I had a fellow administrator tell me that their school was going to do mock PARCC exam drills this coming month. Every part of the day is going to be “test-like”! “We really need to get the kids ready for the test conditions they are going to face”….???? Maybe I am wrong, but I think the thing we need to QUIT getting kids ready for tests. We need to quit letting testing drive our proverbial “school bus”! We need to get to quit doing anything that does not have our students engaged in asking questions, testing ideas, and attempting to make physical solutions to everyday needs.
Pledge with me to stop teaching answers! Let’s concentrate on questions. Not so much on our questions, but the questions of our students. How can we fire their curiosity again?
Imagine a space in a school building where students spend time working with research specialists from throughout the region in a state of the art research laboratory. A student may work along side a research professional from Lilly Labs researching pharmaceutical health solutions, collaborate with a chemist from General Mills to create tasty new corn products, communicate with a bio-medical research team in Israel about a current local experiment involving the study of cancer cells at PHS, or study the latest in robotics and their applications at local industries such as North American Lighting or Simonton Windows.
The goal of the inclusion of this lab in the new Paris High School is to create “real life” learning experiences where students are linked to the rest of the world through research projects. The STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics) room will be larger than the size of four regular classrooms and will be zoned to have biological, chemistry, and physics centers where regular classes can go to conduct research and participate in various projects related to course curriculum. The room can also serve as a center for advance projects done by upperclassmen under the mentorship of classroom teachers and outside experts.
The students will be able to present findings in media rich environment in the room’s “think tank” area which will be equipped with monitors, speakers, and computer that will connect them with the world as both an audience and an academic resource. Over all our goal will be to have students conduct high-level research, communicate with local, community, and worldwide audiences via web-based videoconferencing, and partner with a number of universities and corporations to learn practical applications of current science and technical studies. The room will allow students from vocational and academic courses to co-mingle as they prepare for further academic study or entry into the workforce after leaving high school. The funding for this venture is available because local philanthropists care about the education of the youth of this community and we could not create a space like this without their help. If you would like to know how you can become involved in this venture, please contact us at PHS (217) 466-1175.