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 Looking around most school facilities — even those that aren’t old and crumbling – it’s obvious that so much of it is obsolete today, and yet still in wide use.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.
3. TEACHER-CENTERED CLASSROOM. Classrooms were designed for lecture and crowd control, with the teacher as the central figure of knowledge and authority. The teacher had knowledge to impart through direct instruction and the current classroom structure works pretty well for this. This basic classrooms structure is the same, though in some schools, the chalkboard has been replaced by the interactive “Smart Board.” In progressive classrooms, the structure has changed: small groups of kids working, project work, and student presentations require rethinking this model.
4. ISOLATED CLASSROOMS. Tony Wagner of the Harvard School of Education and the author of the Global Achievement Gap says: “Isolation is the enemy of improvement” and yet most schools are designed in a way that isolates teachers from each other. Teachers often learn to teach in isolated boxes and perpetuate that style throughout their career. Interior windows get “papered over” and blinds are shut. Yet out of school, people work in teams and are visually and often aurally connected.