Design for learning at BSN Connect (i) – Thornburg spaces

Design for learning at BSN Connect (i) – Thornburg spaces

Last October I described the “Three challenges with innovation in educational settings” as:

1: No compromise on academic standards;

2: What does the future actually look like?;

3: Communication.

The solutions revolved around the issue of communication and in the next three posts I will explain the “design for learning” principles behind BSN Connect.

Translating a philosophical approach for enhancing educational outcomes into a purpose-built physical space is a unique creative challenge. The whole community has been reading, absorbing, visiting and sharing for so long and now it is the time to see what it might feel like to work and learn in Connect.

On a National Leaders in Education study tour to Australia in 2013 I visited schools that had adapted Dr David Thornburg’s metaphors for differing functions of learning space. They are timeless, memorable and easily understood by students.

These concepts will underpin BSN Connect’s design for learning throughout the building:

The campfire – describes places in which we can share knowledge, expertise and information with others. Listening to others’ wisdom and experience through storytelling has always been a primary basis of cultural transmission. The campfire may well be the starting point for a learning concept or project, the stimulus or inspiration for study, reflection and creativity.

I remember a music teacher playing us Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture at full blast and then talking us through the music again with the historical narrative. Referring to the musical leitmotifs he asked us to compose something based on an event ourselves. Inspiring campfire input.

The watering hole – describes spaces where creative discussions take place, often with a shared purpose of refreshment, where we can come together and explore knowledge in the context of the community. These are the ultimate “water-cooler” spaces where it’s possible to interact, problem-solve, debate and collaborate:

The cave – is a place of solitude and reflection. Human beings are social animals but we also need somewhere safe to retreat to, where we won’t be disturbed. Everyone needs a place free from external influences to synthesise information and to think. One may speculate that in our increasingly connected world, the explicit design of these spaces is even more crucial. A place to dis-Connect within BSN Connect, perhaps:

The mountain top – is somewhere to publicly demonstrate knowledge and understanding having reached the peak of your investigation, the point of arrival and the delivery. These are presentation arenas in which it is possible to demonstrate mastery and teach others.

TED Talks are a great example of contemporary mountain-top activity. They offer original perspectives, based on research and experience, that change the way people think about technology, education, design and life.

These spaces will not be discrete rooms as such i.e one cave, one mountain top etc. but an approach to designing the stages and interactions of learning throughout BSN Connect. For example, a theatre could be a campfire and a mountain top depending on the stage of the learning project.

One person may use a favourite chair in their favourite spot in the food hall as their cave, someone else may use a chair like the ovoid one above. Indeed, learning and work spaces will be designed through both hard architectural features and the creative use of furniture.

Learning spaces at BSN Connect will also need to address the making and doing element of learning across all disciplines. Whether this be a “Hack-Lab”, “Green-screen media suite”, “VR Room”, “Maker-space”, “Terrace Garden”, “Art room” or any of the suggestions given by staff and students needs to be carefully considered. BSN Connect will also need the agility to change direction according to project requirements and community priorities. The flexibility of space was the most repeated principle from engagement events across the school.

Finally, whilst writing this piece it struck me that the Campfire, Watering-hole and Mountain top learning spaces in some ways mirror the “Trivium” model of learning to which I return continually. Please find a review of Martin Robinson’s book here – for a quick overview of Trivium principles. The deliberate preparation and practise of oracy skills, especially in a multi-lingual International School, is another philosophical precept that will be reflected in BSN Connect.

Campfire = Grammar (committing knowledge to memory)

Watering-hole = Dialectic (debating and justifying these ideas with others)

Mountain top = Rhetoric (presenting synthesis with skill and confidence)

Leading inexorably to my next posts:

Design for learning at BSN Connect (ii) – The Trivium.

Design for learning at BSN Connect (iii) – Inspiration Now

At the end of the brief for BSN Connect for the architects we wrote:

“Everyone who comes into BSN Connect will be inspired whatever their age. BSN Connect should, by creating internal and external connections, enrich learning and experience. BSN Connect will effectively become a learning HQ for every member of our community.”

Always good to remember the North Star, the purpose of our project.