Welcome back, Natural Pod™ LIVE, Episode ten is available to watch!
About this Episode: Since the beginning days of the industrial model, learning environments have been anchored to direct instruction and information-giving models. A place where students, or pupils, show up to a building to learn because that location was the only place for it to occur.
Fast forward more than 100 years to today, we are stuck in a game of tug and war between the endless availability of information and the spaces that suggest the teacher still holds all the keys to the information. This juxtaposition showcases the need for skills and space alignment to support curriculum tied together between content and skill-based learning.
In this episode of Natural Pod LIVE, our host, Michelle Carpenter, explores a possible path to disrupting the traditional education model through student co-authorship of learning places. Guests: Enrico Giori with Fielding International, Heather Breton an educator at Garden City Elementary School and Megan Breton, a 5th grade student also at Garden City Elementary, discuss how their school has begun to impact cultural change by inviting student engagement throughout every step of the design process of their new school currently under construction and how their insights have informed the project.
Enrico began the conversation by explaining how the project got started with Jill Ackers-Clayton inviting the design team at Fielding International alongside the planning team at Natural Pod to first explore what the students, specifically the 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders of the new school needed from their learning space. Rather than designing from an adult’s perspective and traditional assumptions, the team really embraced both the educators’ and students’ feedback. The students shared their ideas in the form of models, drawings and many group discussions.
The student’s ideas were incredible. They were all so very different and yet there were common themes that showed up. Having smaller more intimate spaces for quiet focused work was important to them, along with choice of where to learn in the space. What become so apparent was students, even by 2nd grade, already know what they need in order to feel comfortable, safe and how to achieve their best learning outcomes.
Megan, the 5th grade student and possibly the star of the show, shared her ideal learning space.“I designed a learning cave so there’d be a quiet space for any kind of learning. With comfortable bean bags and color-changing rugs. We’d have fairy lights, and the shelves would be made out of the rocks of the cave.”
As an educator, Heather explained how through this process the end result will mean the spaces really work for them and their teaching styles and how fulfilling the experience has been, she states “for us to have a voice as well; educators normally have spaces designed for them, but this experience where we got to explore how we wanted to teach has allowed us to do more joint planning and have unity around cross-subject and cross-grade collaboration.”
An example given by Enrico of the importance of educator voice as well, was when it came to the ‘boring’ subject of power outlets. He explained that traditionally in a school build the architects would make the choice of where the outlets would go. But when the educators were involved it illustrated that the design would have failed to meet the needs of the teachers or the activities taking place within the space. That example lead to the exploration of where else those assumptions were being made, and that is a cultural shift within the existing design process.
This learning led the conversation to uncover other ah-ha moments along this co-authorship journey.
“Co-authoring spaces matters. The biggest architectural mark you can make is ensuring the way the building is configured is responsive to who is occupying the space. In other words, we need human-centered design and people-friendly spaces.” – Enrico
“The students have really enjoyed being involved, their experience of being heard with their feedback actually being acted upon has offered them such ownership. We were blown away by the student ideas, but even more so by hearing the WHY they wanted things that way, and how amazingly they articulated their needs and learning styles. They stepped up and exceeded all of our expectations!” – Heather
“ I loved how all our ideas were so different and yet how they fit together; like how this treehouse idea and my learning cave were different but could have interchanging flexible furniture that looks like it was still made for that space. It shows how we [the students] can all have different ideas but still all work together.” – Megan
There were many key learnings in this episode alone, and as Enrico summarized “students have a lot to say, and it feels great to know that students are being given the lead on setting the tone of what will happen to schools over the next 10-15 years.”
That is a process we can all look forward to! Many thanks to our guests for sharing their experience of this project. We hope this episode offers you food for thought and possible actions for ways to involve student voice in your work.
About Heather Breton – A second grade educator at Garden City Elementary School in Cranston, Rhode Island, Heather continuously seeks new opportunities to connect her classroom protocol to deeply rooted connections within her students’ lives. Heather also serves as a district instructional coach for Cranston Public Schools, working to promote district priority practices as well as supporting educators as they expand their blended and personalized learning strategies.
About Enrico Giori – Enrico is an Italian architectural designer with Fielding International and graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design’s Architecture Department (Barch/BFA). Enrico is deeply interested in principles of participatory planning and co-design strategies, and has incorporated these design principles in his practice during his studies. Interested in the intersection between architectural design and community building, his design practice aims to involve all constituents of design projects from conceptual ideation to final development. Enrico is deeply committed to making architecture accessible to all.
About Megan Breton – Megan is a 5th grade student at Garden City Elementary School.
About Michelle E. Carpenter – Michelle is the chief strategy officer (CSO) at Natural Pod, a company focused on creating better learning environments. Michelle specializes in developing, communicating, executing, and sustaining strategic initiatives, ensuring Natural Pod thoughtfully supports students and educators within their learning environments. Michelle is actively involved in supporting organizations that advocate for and create better learning environments, such as A4LE, Green Schools National Network, and FLEXspace.
About Natural Pod LIVE
Natural Pod™ LIVE has been created for, and by, our incredible community of educators, students, architects and anyone with a stake in creating better learning spaces and experiences. It’s an online streaming talk show where we interview education leaders who are sharing their personal stories behind the challenges and opportunities of creating exceptional learning environments. Join us as we explore the new approaches for what’s possible in the future of education with the people who are making it happen. This is your opportunity to learn directly from them about the challenges and successes and how they are approaching this work.