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Designing for the Future of Schools

By David Driscoll, Director, Parkin Architects Limited and Robert Boraks, Director, Parkin Architects Limited

Education is undergoing massive change. Schools across the country are updating and upgrading their services to adapt to the evolving needs of society.

The traditional teaching and learning paradigm is shifting. In many ways, the need for classrooms is being diminished. Schools of the future are designed to enhance student-centred learning.

“Student-centered learning implies significantly changed roles for students and teachers. In student-centered learning environments, students are more engaged, responsible learners. They work to develop and explore their own unique academic and career interests, and produce authentic, professional quality work to demonstrate their learning. To support students in their new roles, teachers act as coaches, advisors, and facilitators of student learning. Instead of lecturing to a whole class as the primary mode of instruction, teachers provide opportunities for students to take charge of their own learning.”  (Clarke, 2003; Hargreaves, 2005; Keefe & Jenkins, 2008)

Technology-Rich Designs

Technology is revolutionizing the way we teach and learn. Contemporary schools will need to be electronically ‘tuned in.’ A student-centered school equipped with the latest technologies to enhance learning will:

  • prepare students with skills essential for work and life in the 21st century,
  • help diagnose and address students’ individual needs, and
  • provide an active experience for students.

Technology is being introduced in schools to help students communicate and work collaboratively. They’re also using this technology to demonstrate creative thinking and to develop innovative projects. These digital tools include:

  • video conferencing,
  • tablets,
  • wireless communication,
  • interactive tablet accessed curriculum,
  • immediate test results with feedback to address gaps in knowledge,
  • 3-D printers to encourage engineering and design, and
  • digital tools to communicate and work collaboratively.

Innovative Design Solutions

While technology plays an important role in designing for the future of schools, there is also a realization that, in order to prepare individuals to deal with social and physical realities, opportunities must be found within the school environment to support vocational and social interaction.

We are seeing a re-emphasis on vocational teaching rooms, physical fitness and gathering spaces, within the school environment.

In many ways, the recently designed schools in Nunavut set new standards for schools across the country. They are designed to support youth in the development of scholastic, social and physical opportunities, while at the same time recognizing the cultural and environmental attributes that define the communities.

Design elements introduced into the Nunavut community include:

1. Introduction of gathering spaces called “Kiva”. Inuit society has historically shared knowledge through storytelling within communal spaces. The Kiva spaces are well-lit open spaces, near the entrances of the schools. They invoke traditional spaces in which knowledge is shared and social connections are reinforced.

2. Connection to natural environments. The schools’ landscapes provide exterior classrooms for the very brief periods of time in which the outdoor environment permits. The landscape plan for the Arviat Middle School extends to the recently designed environmental reserve, primarily consisting of natural tundra, which now enters the school property and has become part of the learning experience.

3. Exposure to natural light. This is of fundamental importance to the Inuit way of life. Repulse Bay High School is located on the Arctic Circle, the point at which the sun disappears below the horizon for 24 hours. The design of the school responds to this opportunity by aligning one of its axes to be north/south. The southern façade includes for a delightful array of windows that open into the Kiva. The first appearance of the sun during the winter solstice will stream into the Kiva, and help celebrate the birth of another year.

4. Designs that are modified to follow topography. The design of the Repulse Bay High School adapts to the rocky and sloping grade by introducing a number of “plateaus” within the school. The floor of the Kiva descends to follow the topography. At the same time, the roof soars as the floor drops, helping to create a unique and responsive community gathering place.

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