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Another Reason to Care About School Design

Researchers at the University of Salford say well-designed schools improve the academic performance of elementary school students by 25 percent.


Last fall during a stop in Los Angeles promoting his latest book Fire in the Ashes, education activist Jonathan Kozol spent some time discussing the impact of school design and environment on children. Wealthy children, he noted, tend to go to attractively designed schools with plenty of natural light, while low-income kids tend to be shuttled into ugly, windowless, stench-filled buildings that "coarsen their mentalities and tell them how little value they have in our society." Now a year-long study by the UK's University of Salford Manchester and architecture firm Nightengale Associates reveals that a well-designed school doesn't just impact student's mental state. It affects academic achievement, too.

The researchers studied 751 students in 34 classrooms at seven schools between September 2011 and June 2012 and collected data on students' "age, gender, and performance level in maths, reading, and writing at the start and end of an academic year." They then "evaluated the holistic classroom environment, taking into account different design parameters such as classroom orientation, natural light and noise, temperature and air quality," and took into account "issues such as flexibility of space, storage facilities, and organisation, as well as use of colour."

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Is Sweden's Classroom-Free School the Future of Learning?

Vittra Telefonplan takes away the formal classroom, desks, and chairs.

The traditional setup of school classrooms—straight rows of desks with accompanying chairs—doesn't do much to foster creativity or collaboration. Many experts have proposed redesigning classroom furniture, but a Swedish school system wants to take things a step further. Vittra, which operates 30 schools in Sweden, is seeking to ensure learning takes place everywhere on campus by eliminating classrooms altogether.

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Desks in the Hallway: A Texas School Takes Learning Out of the Classroom

Hallway learning stations prove that learning can happen at any time and in any place.


In any traditional school, the hallways are empty during class periods. Indeed, if you find any students wandering around without a hall pass, they're in trouble. So I was pretty intrigued to read about the innovation happening in the hallways of Dubiski Career High School in Grand Prairie, Texas. The school is bringing learning out of the classroom and putting desks and whiteboards into the space usually reserved for passing periods.

The two-year-old vocational school set up hallway-based learning stations across the three-story campus "to allow for presentations, formal lectures, and other similar learning experiences to occur." The school made the move to convey "that learning occurs in many different places and in many different ways." This doesn't mean there aren't still traditional classrooms at the school, but the hallway opens up a new realm of possibility. Literally.

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