IIW Minnesota

Learning Needs to Happen Everywhere

Can learning happen everywhere in your school – literally? It may sound far-fetched, but that’s exactly how school buildings are being designed today.

The current teaching model dates back to the Industrial Revolution when many industries shifted to mass production as a more efficient way of operating. Teaching applied a similar model. Class sizes grew and the traditional classroom was built around the concept that everyone would be taught the same. It worked best when the curriculum was somewhat limited to a set of core information.

Over the past couple of decades, we’ve seen many industries and businesses move away from that model with advancements in technology and an exponential growth in information.

Today, we recognize that we can create learning environments to engage students who learn in different ways and at different paces. Teachers constantly develop new curriculum to keep pace with technology and the skills that students will need to thrive in the 21st Century workplace.

We’ve seen creative teachers make a lot happen, but are constrained by their physical school buildings. Achieving better results for students often requires remodeling the school or constructing a new facility.

What worked for me and my kids does not work for my grandkids. How we consume information has changed and it’s affecting even our youngest community members. They can call on Google to answer their questions – in real-time. The rapid and almost indescribable digital shift has had a dramatic impact on how teachers deliver education and how students learn.

In this new model, high-tech fabrication arts labs supplement or replace libraries and become an important piece in schools for interdisciplinary learning. Project-based learning gives students better opportunities to learn at their own pace, apply their knowledge and fuel their interests. The focus has shifted from repetition and memorization to application, collaboration and coordination across academic subjects.

Here’s a look at the shifts:

  • Individualized Lesson Plans and Immediate Feedback
    Technology opened doors to improve individualized learning. Teachers giving one lesson to a classroom full of students sitting in rows of desks has become a less effective method for delivering education. Education can be more personalized. Teachers now can track how each student is performing in real-time and then provide individualized lesson plans or instant feedback to ensure each student learns at his pace.
  • Applied Knowledge
    I hear educators say it is no longer possible to teach students what they need to know by the time they graduate. Half of what will be important and relevant then has not been developed yet. We’re seeing a shift from content-based learning, where students learn a set of information, to application. Students can access the content, thanks to the Internet. Employers seek workers who can evaluate information, apply their knowledge and put information together in different ways to create something new. That’s led teachers to “flip the classroom” and have students watch a video or read the lesson as “homework” and then come to school to apply what they’ve learned.
  • Project-Based Learning
    Schools are opening up their floor plans to provide more project spaces and integrated learning to enable students to collaborate and work as a team while still under some supervision. It started with moveable, flexible furniture to enable teachers to adapt their classroom in minutes. Project labs are now becoming an important element in schools to also give students access to equipment and achieve outcomes that weren’t imagined even a decade ago. Where possible, schools integrate Career to Technical Education spaces into the core teaching areas of the building rather than as a wing off to the back or side. Built where everyone can see what happens in these labs, they demonstrate an interdisciplinary teaching approach to provide design, engineering, construction, operations and marketing experiences to appeal to a variety of students.

Walk around your school and ask yourself if learning is happening everywhere. Schools come alive when their corridors become collaboration spaces and their libraries become super-high tech fab labs. Where are your opportunities? Are your corridors empty and unused other than passing time? Is education visible, or only occurring behind closed doors and solid walls? Is technology embedded in your facility and in your teaching?

Our responsibilities to our communities require us to create spaces that provide opportunities for all students – no matter their learning styles, abilities and interests. We need to be responsive as communities to ensure we equip our students with the tools they need to lead, compete in a global society and prepare them for the next step in their lives.

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