|Rocking Reading Duck|
First: What is the point of your school, in blunt terms, or, in more "professional" words, What is your school's ethos? Why should a child come to your school? What will your students have at the end of their time in your school which will move them toward being happy, competent, capable, passionate adults who will have real choices in their lives in the Mid-21st Century.
And Second: What is the "User Experience" of your students, and what should that User Experience be to best move all students who come through your doors to get to their goals?
Only if you answer these questions can you begin to imagine/design/create the "User Interface" - which in schools is our building, our grounds, our schedules, our curriculum, our pedagogy, and all of our rules - so that all that our "process" is contributes to our goals.
A few days ago I asked a group of elementary (primary) teachers who were wondering about their cafeteria, "begin with, what are you trying to help students learn while they are eating together in your school?"
In the user experience of "school" our users, our kids, see and respond to absolutely everything. Yes, adults do that as well, but adults, in that "the more you know the less you see" filtering, actually see/hear/feel/smell/taste far fewer environmental clues than do kids. So, when a group of American teachers told me, after I had told a story from an Irish Primary School, that "those teachers are teaching life philosophy and not just content," I responded, "I think we are teaching philosophy every minute, it just might be life philosophies we don't much like."
Kids respond to everything...
Henry Barnard, the "evildoer" who designed the American multi-classroom school as we know it, wrote that everything which students saw and did from when they first saw the school in the forming was important - that every entrance, corridor, even where a child hung up their coat was part of the educational process. And he was, in this, absolutely right. It explains why school architecture from 1850 to 1950 often mimicked the authority structures of their age, from churches to courthouses, and it explains why students were pushed to line up - to form queues - entering the school, as compliance, order, and hierarchy were being enforced long before a kid ever got to his or her seat. And why schools after World War II looked like the factories and military facilities of that age.
|An hour before school - high school library, Charlottesville, Virginia|
|website where I found this 1960s|
school image sees nothing in doors
to the outside but, "poor security"
Simply put, the reason we find ourselves stuck in Industrial Revolution Era schools, the reason school success in the United States has only crawled from the 1850s adult design of succeeding with 20% of students to our present succeeding with 33%-40% of our students, lies in our inability to begin to match the User Experience of education to what we really want education to accomplish.
|Third graders create their computer lab|
So, what do we want for our children? If we want them - all of them - to grow up to be critical thinking global communicators who can investigate and succeed with the widest range of choices possible... effective citizens of democracies able to collaborate with each other and make a better world... voracious creators who absorb stories and information and use all that to dig out the problems which bedevil us and build solutions to those problems... empathetic, healthy members of a planet, a society, a tribe, and a family... well... what is the design of our schools - again, spaces, schedule, pedagogy, curriculum - contributing to those goals? and what is doing the opposite?
|Working voluntarily and comfortably, in many ways|
We got many, many ideas - from Kindergärtners wanting cow tables and a castle with a dragon (what good is a castle without a dragon anyway?), to multiple requests for rooftop reading decks and reading treehouses, a cafeteria softserve machine, a soft student lounge, rolling science labs, movable cubes to read/work in, carpets, bean bag chairs, more outside doors, a big slide to get between the upper and lower playgrounds (ending in a trampoline or not), more art, gym every day (they currently have it four times a week), a zip line to get from one end of the school to the other, far more color - and kid-relevant color - in the school, a "giant robot bluebird which would walk the hallways saying hi to students," and choice - choice - choice...
|Third and Fifth graders at work in Charrette, we had paper, and we had video cameras|
they could explain ideas to...
|The ideas spilled out in all directions...|
And why can't school teach constant, continuous, internal feedback informed choice? How else can we help kids grow up into citizens of a true democracy, and able to make choices which work for them as adults?
|Fifth graders eat lunch and debrief the ideas - "what will grownups say no to, and|
how do we argue with them?"
Anything radical there? Anything which really isn't part of our kids learning how to be the mid-21st century citizens and humans we want them to be?
And we think the end result will be a better school, better learning, and kids with more skills and more capabilities. Which is what we want our user interface to help create, right?
- Ira Socol