Why is design not taught in elementary school?

How the design of classrooms supports creative thinking, among other things

The physical environment affects our well-being

The architect and designer Rosan Bosch, who specializes in the design of schools, believes that learning spaces have to be rethought. In the interview she talks about how the space in schools can be used to promote personalized and collaborative learning.

Ms. Bosch, what made you dedicate your work to the architecture and design of schools?

To be honest, my motivation was very personal: Children are extremely creative, they want to discover things and keep learning. When my two sons started school, however, I had the impression that they were increasingly losing their natural curiosity. The school, it seemed to me, suggested to them not to ask too many questions and restricted their desire to discover and their creativity rather than encouraging them. My children just didn't have that natural joy in learning anymore. They went to school because they had to, and learning was no longer something fun, but something you had to do. For example, my older son could read before he even started school and he loved it. But because of the school he felt it was more and more a duty and accordingly didn't feel like doing it in his free time. I regretted it very much and talked to the teacher about it. She said she was sorry and that she really would like to encourage the children more individually. With 30 children in a classroom, however, it is simply not possible to look after each child individually. Everyone would have to adapt, especially since there is only one room.
So I realized that the physical learning environment played a big role in her opportunities as a teacher and that I, as an interior designer, could help change the situation. My oldest son is now 20 and a lot has happened since then. But it still doesn't go fast enough.

Why do you think we need to rethink learning space?

Traditional school buildings are designed to teach a large group of students in one room at the same time. Everything else doesn't work. If only one person speaks loudly, it bothers everyone else. In short: traditional classrooms support an educational model that understands the students as a group and not as individuals and thus stands in the way of personalized learning.
Narrow classrooms also prevent children from taking responsibility for their own learning: if I do not have the opportunity to find a learning environment that suits my needs, it limits my ability to find out how best to learn. Children urgently need to learn to learn by themselves. 65 percent of the children who start primary school today will later have jobs that do not yet exist (cf., for example, World Economic Forum 2016). Schools must therefore enable independent learning in order to make the children fit for the future. Design can support this process by stimulating us to change our behavior. Another point relates to the emotional level: traditional classrooms all look the same, they have little stimulating effect on the children and they deny children their individual taste. On the other hand, if you create a physical environment that stimulates the students' senses, they will learn faster and more intensively. In a boring environment, kids quickly switch off. Every good teacher knows about the effect that can be achieved with surprising elements in the classroom.

What can such a “new” learning environment look like?

In order to create a personalized learning environment and space for different learning situations, we have developed six different principles or design prototypes:
Our "Mountain top"Element (English, mountain peak) enables traditional" face-to-face teaching "even in open spaces. It's not that this type of teaching is wrong. Our brain just can't stay focused for much longer than 20 minutes. Then the task is to activate the students. So that tasks can be worked on together in groups or in concentrated individual work in this active phase, additional room elements are required that make these forms of teaching possible. We have the elements "Camp Fire"
(English, campfire) and "Cave" (English, cave) developed. As the names suggest, "Camp Fire“About circular arrangements in which a team can work. "Caves“On the other hand are places of retreat for independent work.
The element "Watering hole“(Eng., Water point) in turn supports informal interaction. For example, these can be places where schoolchildren can exhibit their project work and thus inspire others, such as hallways or open libraries.
We call “hands-on” places where the children work with their hands, i.e. areas for art, music or scientific experiments.
Finally, we need space for sports, dance and exercise in general. With the help of all these elements, learning landscapes are created that make differentiated learning possible.

Concept furnishing - modern furnishing solutions in didactics

The changes present all those involved with new tasks. But how can change succeed if the learning spaces don't change too? School can no longer see itself only as a place for imparting knowledge. In particular, teaching and developing social skills will become a central task, as will the promotion of motor skills and balanced movement. So it is high time to take a fresh look at the school learning space with its furniture and facilities that are often still traditional.
“Today, extensive digital content is available,” says school furniture expert Karsten Flensberg, describing the situation. “You don't need clumsy furniture for this, but flexible solutions that make optimal use of the available space. With this in mind, we broke new ground years ago and looked at furnishing solutions outside of the classroom. For example our triangular table: This is used in many schools today. The success is not only reflected in the sales figures. We get a lot of positive feedback about this innovative piece of furniture. In the meantime, other intelligent, intelligent table shapes have been added, all of which combine that new configurations are literally child's play at any time. But the table alone does not matter. Of course, ergonomically shaped chairs for all age groups are just as important. This also applies to footrests that can be adjusted in height for elementary schools without tools, ”explains the Kamira managing director. “Mobile cabinet systems, roll containers and cases for tablets also belong in the modern classroom today - as does a modular board system with removable blackboard and projection surfaces. We are very successful with our media wall, a combination of cabinet furniture and multimedia presentation and work surfaces. A lot has happened in recent years and we are definitely one of the innovation leaders here, ”Flensberg describes throughout Germany
operating companies.
“For some time now, in cooperation with a partner company, we have also been offering individually manufactured upholstered furniture for schools and other educational institutions. The success of the furniture program clearly shows that there is a huge need for it. The furniture is ideal for equipping quiet and communication areas, as well as classrooms and canteens. The material is easy to care for and the substructure is virtually indestructible, "says Flensberg, describing the possible uses," This means that small and large rooms can be rededicated in a short time at reasonable costs. The possibilities are huge and the furniture offers the students the possibilities they need to feel comfortable in their school. "

More than ever, schools are now called upon to help shape the digital transformation and to meet the increasing demands with fresh ideas and innovative concepts.

Now it is not that this is not possible in traditional learning environments. But it is more difficult to implement because people find it difficult to change. Design can support us in this, for example by creating collaborative workspaces that encourage teamwork. Design is thus also a communication medium: it suggests to the entire school community that a different kind of learning is possible and helps us to try out new behaviors.

What can schools do in a few simple steps and on a shoestring budget to create such a learning environment?

When it comes to real or supposed reasons that speak against redesigning the learning space, the financial argument is actually always listed first. You hardly need any money for many changes. This can be seen very clearly in our work with schools in South America, which do a lot with very little.

Rosan Bosch, architect and designer, has been working at the interface between art, architecture and design for 20 years. She has designed various schools in Sweden, Spain, the United Arab Emirates and the Danish Faroe Islands. She is the founder of the Rosan Bosch Studio and internationally known for her innovative approach to how schools can keep children creative thinking.

Of course, you can't change everything with limited resources, but that shouldn't be a reason not to even start! The best advice I can give to teachers: give students more responsibility for their own learning and allow them to use the space in the school more freely. Open the doors, rethink the space in your school, use the corridors, and maybe even collaborate with other classes across the hall. The students will quickly find the right place for them to study. For example, at a school we worked with, we cut an old carpet into several small pieces. If the children needed a place to sit, for example for group work, they simply spread their pieces of carpet next to their tables and that was their new group workspace. As this example shows, you can create new learning situations with very simple means.

What influence does digitization have on the design of schools?

If students use laptops, the way they use rooms and their requirements for the learning space are completely changed. Many young people prefer to work lying on a sofa with their laptop on their knees. Furniture and interior design must take these new body positions into account. Classic chairs are not very healthy anyway, so we would do well to find new design options. Herein lies a great opportunity. Because the space in which we move has an impact on learning success.
For example, a student feels more comfortable in one room, presenting something to his classmates than in another. The physical environment affects our wellbeing, mind and body and we are still illiterate when it comes to developing awareness of this connection.
With the help of design, we can offer various options that invite us to change our body position and thereby become aware of our body and, accordingly, the space
affect our minds.

And how do digital media change teaching itself?

Digitization will change some things in schools, but nothing else either. For example, physical meetings and social interactions within a group, as we want to promote with our design elements, cannot be replaced. When I talk about the effects of digitization on teaching, I don't mean the use of smartboards or other technical gadgets, all of this is completely irrelevant. Digital media have the greatest impact in schools because they change the way we communicate, how we find and evaluate information.
The whole of society is changing, and fundamentally, as a result of digitization. Schools are an important part of society and shouldn't refuse to do so. A school principal once told me that the teachers at his school shied away from using digital media in the classroom because they felt they were not familiar enough with it. You don't always have to do this immediately. In English lessons, for example, according to the school principal, the task could be to build a website on which the students introduce themselves. How you build the website you have to find out yourself in group work, but if you have any questions about English, the teacher is your contact. That actually worked and shows well: With digitization, the role of teachers is changing, who no longer always have to know everything, but are supposed to support children and young people in developing themselves.

World Economic Forum: The Future of Jobs (2016), p. 1, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_FOJ_Executive_Summary_Jobs.pdf

Appeared in education + learning 2/19

First published on www.bpb.de - "The physical environment influences our well-being" -, 07.01.2019, publisher: Federal Agency for Civic Education / bpb, under CC BY-SA 4.0 license