Sol Harris Day Architecture

Sit & Listen or Participate & Learn

Tuesday, December 12, 2017
By Melinda Scalfaro, Partner - Sustainability Leader
In Design, Planning

Sit & Listen or Participate & Learn

When children are young, parents and teachers tend to go out of their way to incorporate learning into engaging activities and play in hopes that the child will enjoy it. Historically as children got older and progressed through school the activities or projects became more limited as they were now expected to be more mature and to sit and listen to the teacher who was responsible to deliver the content. This was exemplified in the classrooms where we spent our youth with desks in straight rows facing the front of the classroom the majority of the day. It should come as no surprise that not everyone learns in the same way, so this environment and delivery model was not ideal for everyone.

With the world we live in transforming each year into a society our great grandparents would barely recognize it's no wonder that the education system has been rethinking how to best educate our children. Our educators are striving to prepare them for jobs that don't yet exist using technology that is evolving on a daily basis. Another reality is that the teacher no longer needs to be relied upon to be the expert and deliver all content. Information is abundant and accessible so the role of the teacher has begun to transform into that of a guide or coach. Their efforts are expended to help kids seek, harness, and apply the wealth of information available at their fingertips.

Sit & Listen or Participate & Learn

So why are we, as architects, writing about this educational transformation? Well as you can imagine, all of these changes have also spurred a transition in how we are thinking about and designing school buildings. We have found ourselves immersed in research and dedicating endless hours to figuring out how to create spaces that better serve the next generation of teachers and students. Spaces that encourage communication and collaboration, two qualities that the majority of employers today report to be seeking in prospective employees. And above all spaces that are flexible enough to facilitate a variety of educational activities that encourage students to participate and learn. So what's the result? That's the best part, it is different for everyone. Like all projects, it is about aligning the physical building with the goals of each district. We will share a few educational goals and outcomes that we have identified and incorporated in our work thus far:

Project-based learning: Projects often and ideally incorporate more than one subject. Think Art + History + Math. The learning concepts are introduced and/or accessible to students who use them to develop their project. Fosters collaboration and creativity. Engages students to improve concept retention.

Students teaching students: Fosters oral communication skills and social interaction. Engages students to improve concept retention.

Flipped Classroom:
Instead of content being delivered at school and practiced with homework, content is made available to students at home leaving classroom time open to use the content in an engaging way.


Extended Learning Areas: Spaces outside the classroom that are utilized by teachers and students. It has been a goal of many projects to utilize every space in the building for learning in some way. This has most often manifested itself into creating opportunities for learning in what was previously dedicated corridor space. We have been carving out spaces within the corridor that are outfitted with furniture, whiteboards, and technology to act as an extension of the classroom.

Sit & Listen or Participate & Learn

Maker Spaces: Spaces that are used for making things. This is also different for each district and can vary by age. It can be anything from an art and science type lab to a digital fabrication lab or wood shop. This space varies from the 'wood shops' of the past in that it is intended to be used by all teachers for projects.

Flexible Furniture:
Furniture that is suitable for a variety of activities, is easy to reconfigure, and also offers student choice.

Interconnection of spaces: At Lake Local Schools we stacked the learning spaces and provided movable walls between classrooms to support interdisciplinary learning, teamwork and collaboration. Each space also has a glass garage doors that opens into an extended learning area. With the door closed the teacher could have students on either side and still offer supervision. With the door open the extended learning area acts as an extension of the classroom. With multiple classrooms with the garage doors open, all of the classrooms and extended learning areas flow together.

Designing schools has spurred the creativity and collaboration within our office in a way that we can only hope transfers to the future inhabitants of these buildings.

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