Friday 23 June 2017

Caves, nooks and crannies in classes help learning

Interesting features abound in the rebuild of an Auckland primary school.

The rebuild of Freemans Bay Primary in central Auckland is seeing caves, nooks and crannies, and a tree house introduced inside the school’s new buildings, as a way to help learning.
Principal Sandra Jenkins says there is a strong relationship between school design and learning, and the redevelopment has created an opportunity to use innovative design elements that promote learning experiences as well as encourage physical activity.

The $19 million upgrade project is halfway through.

 


Above: An ‘Autens’ Danish soft reading nook or ‘pipe’ with integrated light and whiteboard surface on the outside that encourages children to write book recommendations to each other, designed by Lene Jensby Lange. This served as inspiration for the Freemans Bay redesign.

The school’s new spaces will all be innovative learning environments (ILEs), so they have no interior walls. But they do have cave-like spaces, including one under the stairwell, large window seats, niches that promote concentration and learning, and an indoor tree house. One wooden structure that has a cave-like space, based on a Scandinavian design, has been made for the school (photo).

Unusually for a primary school, there will be an indoor staircase. “Physical activity improves learning, so we have elements in the learning spaces that allow for and stimulate movement, such as places to climb, crawl and walk – especially climbing,” Sandra says.
At the top of the stairs is a ‘mountain top’, and there’s also a slide. “So the children can walk up the stairs, while singing rhymes or counting, and then slide back down. This opportunity for movement and action gives them energy to stay engaged in their learning.
“Adults are the same, aren’t we? Going for a brisk walk in the middle of the day perks us up.”
But it’s also important for play spaces to be fun, she says, so there’s lots of colour.
Under the stairwell is a cave space. The stairs act as gathering spaces, as Sandra says children love being elevated and being in enclosed spaces or niches that are inviting, when they want to concentrate on reading or need quiet time.
“The redevelopment has given us the opportunity to rethink our ways of operating, and to create an environment that adds to learning opportunities”. But as well as the niches, there are also large group spaces and learning hubs for group activity.
“These elements are included because thought has gone into the most important client – young children – and the way they are motivated to learn. The design encourages them to move around the building in different ways and to climb, crawl and run around installations.
“These spaces will also motivate them to engage and attend school. The vision behind our design elements is different from many other schools in
New Zealand and Australia, as it deliberately explores the relationship between play and learning.
“We are thinking about how school design incorporates physical challenges in students’ learning and to learn with others in different collaborative ways. We believe that opportunities for physical exercise and the way learners use the spaces will provide motivating spaces for new ways of teaching and learning.”
The design innovations are just part of the education process that is changing to support students by creating personalised learning experiences, and shifting from teacher-led to student-led education. Sandra says the ILE layout is also helpful in preparing students for their future careers, as well as future studies.
“It’s about joining the dots. ILE spaces encourage more self-management in their learning, which is good preparation for the future workforce and university study, for example, where there’ll be similar open office space environments, and flexible working arrangements such as hot desking.”
Sandra has long had a passionate interest in the links between school design and learning results. In 2015 she travelled to schools in the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Hong Kong and Singapore to study how they used design to improve learning, as the recipient of an Auckland Primary Principals’ Association/ASB Travel Fellowship. She was inspired by the practices and innovation she saw and that’s helped shape the new design of her school.
The big changes underway are aptly represented by the new roofline at the front of the school, which is shaped like a lightning bolt and painted yellow. It’s a bold design statement and the first thing visitors see when arriving at the street entrance. Sandra says it reflects the positive environment at the school.
“Collaborative, flexible, innovative – with fabulous, new modern buildings.”  
 
 
Principal Sandra Jenkins with a reading nook.