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Building outside the box

Gone are the rows of desks and precisely placed chairs.  The traditional classrooms are making way for designed spaces bringing a host of innovations and creative ideas to the learning space.  The classrooms of Generation Z are already here.

Alternative seating areas, hexagonal tables, colorful walls, eclectic rugs, customized niches – we’re not talking about a movie showing the future educational experience, but the new appearances of learning spaces in many schools in Israel.

In recent years the education system has undergone a revolution, based on an understanding that learning methods in schools must adapt to pupils with different characteristics and needs.  The vision of opinion leaders in education is to move from the traditional frontal lectures to alternative methods that are more flexible and individually tailored, using interactive means or small groups.  This presents a challenge for educators and teachers, who have to update their syllabus and adapt their teaching methods:  lesson plans based on frontal teaching are no longer necessarily suited to learning in the 21st century, and the methods and thinking patterns of teachers are adjusting to this new reality.

As a result of these trends – and from an understanding that the physical space must be designed to support pupils, teachers and learning methods – there have been significant changes in the concept of how schools and classrooms should look.  The learning environment and the school structure are adapting to the modern curriculum and learning methods.

The structure is rounded

In the past it was quite simple:  schools were like cold gray blocks.  Functional needs dictated a uniform design, lacking color or interest.  In recent years a fresh new breeze is blowing through school design.  In many countries, including Israel, innovative schools are being built using green construction methods to preserve the environment, while permitting maximum exploitation of natural light and better air flow.  Buildings with rounded elements, in which the passages between classrooms and corridors offer options for play and encounters between pupils, have replaced the older structures.

Colors have also changed completely.  Once the dominant color was gray, today’s buildings are a rainbow of colors:  orange, pink, green, blue and more.  This external transformation makes the buildings more inviting and friendly, arousing curiosity and stimulating the joy of creativity in schools that are like living beings, changing with time.

Pillow fights in class

We all remember the traditional classroom from our childhood, with the rows of identical desks and chairs, the blackboard and blank walls for the display of study material and the pupils’ work.  The classroom for grade 1 pupils was almost identical to the classrooms for older children.  For many years no serious thought was given to the subject of designing classrooms and learning spaces, staff rooms, corridors, lighting and so on.  Thus the learning experience involved very little interest or color.

In order to support the range of learning methods used in schools today, the rectangular desks arranged in rows or groups have been replaced with tables in a variety of shapes for a whole spectrum of changing purposes throughout the school day, for both individual and group study.  Alternative seating areas in or next to the classroom – pouffes, cushions, rugs and so on – offer a variety of seating patterns for different learners, and enable teachers to sit with groups of pupils and provide individual study material.   Once all pupils had to set at their desks throughout all the lessons, but today seating is dynamic.  Each child has the possibility of moving from one point to another, to sharpen their concentration and develop their full potential.

Rooms in all colors

Another element known as one of the most archaic and conservative elements in all institutions of learning is the library.  School libraries were generally described as sleepy, under the supervision of a librarian whose main concern was maintaining silence.  On the shelves the books gathered dust, and in most cases the libraries were almost empty.  This concept has also undergone a revolution in recent years.  Some libraries have been moved to open spaces, with additional seating corners and pouffes, where children can enjoy reading with friends.  The monotones have been replaced with a variety of colors that create a sense of calm.  Once the libraries were mainly intended for the loan of books, but today they are places for encounters, with other pupils and with authors who visit for story hour, for fascinating activities based on books, and other creative learning methods.

The innovative environment allows pupils to sit and interact with others, or to find a quiet spot for reading during the course of the day.  Recently, rooms have been added specifically for quality time and play during the day.  They are designed with brightly colored seating cushions, advanced computers, a projector to show study material, sensory rooms that involve all the senses at once – all these break the routine of the school day.

Since pupils spend many hours of their day in classrooms, and in schools in general, the advanced concept is vital and brings immediate impact.  Different colors in different rooms, possibilities for children to move around in the classroom, varied teaching methods, use of advanced technological tools – all these make the school day fascinating and exciting.  As the modern classroom designs and teaching methods gain momentum, the whole education system will undergo a positive transformation, so that it can provide each and every pupil with a study experience full of creatively, curiosity and challenges.  Now the question is – will robots eventually replace teachers?   At present there is no substitute for human capital, but in view of the growing shortage of teachers on one hand, and technological developments on the other, it is possible that we might see this science fiction vision become fact.

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