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

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

My previous two posts explained the design principles behind BSN Connect – a new multi-user building for our large 3-18 school community in The Hague. These three posts together are an aide memoire for what we are trying to achieve and how we aim to avoid the many “bear traps” of innovation.

And schools are “innovating” globally. Many are doing so with the laudable intention of preparing their children and young people for what is perceived to be their future rather than our past. In this piece I want to share a few examples of new learning spaces that I feel are successful and why.

Of course, you need to know something before you can innovate. I have a vivid memory as a young lad of trying to invent something in our garage. My father collected all sorts of bits and pieces in jars and drawers and I would pile it all up and try and make something new. Of course, I had no idea what problem I was seeking to solve and no idea how the bits and pieces had worked in their original form. I failed to bring anything of use to the world. I remember the frustration.

Today, “Maker Spaces” are at the vanguard of the innovation movement. They carry an explicit design and technology focus but the rationale can vary in purpose and design. The Innovation Centre at Stamford American School in Singapore is a successful example because innovation is linked very deliberately back to the curriculum and core knowledge:

At its inception the centre was sponsored and brand driven but rarely used. Now the space is an exploration space for students and staff with a structured link back to the classroom. Students explore their own design projects with a range of resources and materials (including a highly popular textiles room), but are always challenged with excellent questioning about the foundation and destination of their thinking.

Craig Kemp and Thomas Tran – give these guys a follow

If sufficient students can demonstrate that they know enough about an area they wish to explore, the school will support it. For example, if ten or so students have enough knowledge and interest in coding Python they will receive resource and guidance. At Stamford, student tech. teams lead parent sessions and teach other students within a bespoke badging system. Great principles linked back to the curriculum and community building. Impressive.

A building with obvious physical similarities to our plans for BSN Connect has just been completed at Tanglin Trust School (TTS).

The Nixon Building at Tanglin Trust School, Singapore – more photos can be seen here.

The design emphasis was predicated on spaces that developed collaboration, team building and leadership – we can afford to be just as bold with these behavioural aims as long as they build upon the core knowledge within the National Curriculum and the IB programmes.

In addition to a clear policy of using space for innovation projects, before scaling across the school, there was a recognition that some rooms may be re-purposed from current functions. BSN Connect will have this agile approach to changing demands as a core principle also. A cutting edge doesn’t last long.

An example of a “Trivium” design for learning was clear in an ICT lab at XinMin secondary school. Spaces created for instruction, individual and small group work led to a cunning, bespoke fold-down presentation stage designed by the Head of ICT. Great innovation and a reflection of a genuinely shared culture of philosophy and creativity.

The new building at XinMin, “Xinnovate” generates income through its dance studio and flexible theatre space. There was also evidence of successful community engagement in these spaces, in particular with bringing older people into the school. This reflected what was seen as a “service” element of the school culture.

We could deliberately model a University feel at BSN Connect as they have at Hwa Chong International school (HCIS) – creating a bridge between our community and Higher Education.

A deliberate connection between inside and outside – creating light and serenity at HCIS

The atmosphere here was inclusive and recognisable for external users as well as being aspirational for all students. HCIS was not flashy in its design principles but very effective in its use of light, consideration of acoustics and flexible, multi-purpose spaces. Architects used the traditional Chinese theme of mountains, rocks, water, gardens and created a calm, seamless, unostentatious design. I like the concept of “rock and water” as a physical reminder to young people of when to take hard and soft approaches to challenges.

After attending the opening of the new Leiden University campus in The Hague last week, I came away with some helpful reference images for BSN Connect:

In the middle of the community

Retail standard working and social-spaces

Mixed suite of study spaces

These students felt very privileged. Many were working after 18:00 on a Friday evening. The atmosphere is akin to the after hours learning opportunities we will be providing at BSN Connect.

There are many examples of innovative, sustainable builds we can draw from. But actually it’s the principles for learning, described in these posts, that need to drive the design.

We are going into this process with our eyes wide open. We are clear that acquiring and retaining knowledge is our founding principle so that:

” 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.”