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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The school as a learning space

Usually the word school is related with the architectural space where most people spend his childhood and much of his adulthood. 
This is a place perceived as finite spaces where apparently the only one action necessary is sit down and listen to a person to learn. However, there is researchers looking at schools as part of the landscape of the environment where anything that happens inside will have an impact in learners lives.

At this sense, when we say the word school immediately  we think of finite spaces, and barriers that prevent children to run wildly. The next idea that emerges with this concept, is the built relationship between teachers and students and among students in that finite space. But a deeper look, allow us to see  the school is a space within a community, that no matter the culture, the country or the economy, it has been searched desperately to create cognitive tools for students, at any level, in order to solve the problems of the community in which they settle.

This article seeks to look at schools from the outside inward, different researches presenting elements that in particular have been analyzed in schools in different countries, but little has been revisedin some poor places. There are analyzed environments, buildings, walls, toilets and classrooms as environments for learning, and relationships with others, making a panning of out into that space we call school

The perception of the school space

When you ask children if their school buildings are nice, they almost always say that, schools are not nice, but that does not matter, they must go to it with a blind faith,  because they must be there, but when asked if they like to go to the Park, always respond with a big smile and say YES, because they feel free. 

From this difference in appreciation of the environment, Fisher and Frase in 1983 conducted a study analyzing the perception of school spaces through a comparative study on what children and teachers would like to see, compared to what they have in their classrooms. The study not only found differences between what they have and wish to, but between the children and the teachers. Their  conclusion is that although people occupy the same space, they observe it and live it different. Children saw it as boring, locked, without life, full of walls and doors that do not allow to feel freedom, while teachers saw it as your work center and without many options to change. 

With this study as a background Fraser a year later (1984), led the same study at another elementary school, and found similar differences, children feel trapped in spaces with walls and where often there is no chance of running or laughing.

Under the religious tradition, that was the niche of education for many years, education has been offering in closed places worthy of reverence and meditation, but the schools as places of education independent of religion, did not change too much this cultural perception (Burke, Cunningham & Grosvenor, 2010), and that’s why schools were designing as angular spaces, with seats for two or three persons and trying to front view as when you look at the priest in the Church (Dudek, 2009). 

Even when schools gradually tried to stay away from this conceptualization, with the increasing of  population and levels of violence, schools have eventually, to add doors schools and with it, from the outside, they give the impression that nothing can enter or leave them, they looks like jailhouses (Roeser, Midgley, Urdan, 1996; Burke, Cunningham & Grosvenor, 2010).

That’s one reason several studies seek to create better spaces for teaching and learning, even if socially, it seems that education is focused on the people, and forget the spaces, but the architecture of schools begins from the first glance that is made of them (Dudek, 2009; Bruff, 2009; Falk and Baling, 2010), however, while schools should be seen as a nursery where young minds blossom, spaces sometimes does not give that impression, especially for the children who look with not nice face from the exterior face of their study centers.

Therefore, currently is proposes to consider that if bars can´t been delete, there should be designed outdoor gardens where the community and children may have perception of a place of growth, change, in order to create visually inviting spaces to stay (De Giuli, Da Pos and Carli, 2012).

With this idea, Brink, Nigg, Lampe, Kingston, Mootz, and van Vliet (2010) performed a simple proposal in the United States: they renovated schoolyards, gave them a sense of freedom, where the children could run despite being confined spaces, eliminated barriers for children with special needs and begin to grow plants; in some schools the renovations were simple, in other papers were higher, all supported by the school community. These tasks, made it possible to increase not only the desire of movement in children, but his school notes.

This benefits not only the school rates, but the health of students, as shown by the project's active schools held since 2001 in different countries, that have adapted the model Move it Groove it (Zask, van Beurden, Barnett, Brooks, Dietrich, 2001). This model seeks to create activities of physical movement not only as part of a specific subject, but within the environment, for which the children must walk to reach classrooms, sometimes, lack of space labyrinths, are used and are stairs are appropriately designed so that kids use it as part of their physical effort. This would be particularly important in countries such as Mexico or the United States where overweight rates are notorious.

On the other hand, architect Gutiérrez Paz (2009) explains that while there are basic standards for school buildings, it is also undeniable that architecture expresses a way of thinking, and that schools play a same model, with the impression of being guarded inside and outside the enclosures, so it is suggested that school buildings must express inclusion and not exclusion as well as an image of openness to the community.

There are many proposals for improvement outside, but there are two that are especially motivating, the first is related with green spaces, so it proposed school gardens as places of learning, care and beautification (Blair, 2009; Cosco and Moore, 2009), with which children learn skills of care and up to science, can play in their communities (Miller, 2007), building a green thought for the care of natural resources, is also the connection with nature creates an affective link in children (Cheng Chen-Hsuan and Monroe, 2010).

 It is true that many places doesn’t have enough water, but there are options to choose plants that require less care such as roses, which survive to almost all environments. To this is added that children learn about biology, ecology and responsibility moreover all textbooks.

The second proposal has to do with art, which is kept away from the schools, but is capable of becoming an instrument of learning, where the community can choose topics and be part of the school projects (Dzib Goodin, 2012a). 

In general persons can think of the visual arts, but should include other proposals that it has been shown that children appreciate cognitively, respecting the environments and the idiosyncrasies of the communities where the schools are established (Bratteteig, & Wagner, 2012; Florence Oluremi, 2012), and without a doubt, the art is universally appreciated. Example are the murals that are painted on the streets that give a different figurative meaning for those who look at it. People no longer see a wall, to look at a reflective space.

The interior spaces: courtyards, toilets and stairs

Once  we are in school interiors, should be considered the common spaces and their dimensions. Children need space to run during breaks, these spaces must provide security and inviting physical activity, because in a country where the rate of obesity is so high, physical activity cannot be left aside (Brink, Nigg, Lampe, Kingston, Mootz, van Vliet, 2010;) Gorman, Lackney, Rollings and Huang, 2012), but the sense of movement not only produces it who moves into the same space, it can be produced by environments.

Of course, we not can forget that the quest for inclusion is not only inside the classroom, but outside them, as is proposed in the manual of friendly schools for the children of the UNICEF (2009). Adaptations can be creative, low-cost possibilities but which make a huge difference in the perception of the environment of children, before this proposal of the sustainability of the environments to respond to diversity makes its appearance (Zanoni and Janssens, 2009).

Even if there is a universal perception of environments and colors, they have to be used wisely, since for example the white color is related to hospitals and children don't like to be in them, there are cultural adaptations that must be applied (Sennett, 1992) with the goal that people develop a sense of belonging of architectural environments is therefore so important to think about diversity, while in the universality of public areas, since not only school children come, there are adults who live together and spend many hours a day in those spaces (Khare and Mullick, 2009; Falk and Baling, 2010).

In this sense, as in many other public spaces there is an environment that is a common space which can be analyzed as a public health issue, or as a socio-psychological space that can not be ignored.

The restrooms are a matter of health often neglected in public places, but mostly in schools. Schools should not operate without clean spaces and sufficient toilet materials, starting with water, soap and disposable paper enabling children to make their needs in a healthy and comfortable environment, Lau, Springton, Sohn Masonm, explain it Gadola, Damitz and Gupta, (2012) that found a close relationship between hygiene and absenteeism in schools mainly by diseases from diarrhea to respiratory and this hygiene is preventable.

Similarly, toilets must have doors to avoid the invasion of privacy or allow violence among children, often bullying occurs in these spaces away from the eyes of others, since reported assaults with and without violence, where people are vulnerable to run or even ask for help.  Even it has been noticed that children may suffer kidney damage by avoiding going to the rest room (Ingrey, 2012).

Stairs provide so much support when they have ramps for those who require them, however many schools still do not perform adjustments for the inclusion of people with disabilities being the most necessary for persons with motor, visual and even cognitive difficulty, as in the case of people with autistic spectrum disorders (Gutiérrez Paz, 2009; UNICEF, 2009; Khare and Mullick, 2009).

Classrooms as motivating spaces

When people think of the schools of the future, immediately come to their mind classrooms, so some beg to change the perception that classrooms are sterile spaces for ideas, with bare walls, dead spaces, without creativity, where students and teachers exchange ideas, since they can be much more.

Currently, Nations think of rooms with electronic equipment, where children can touch screens, having access to tablets and where smarts phones have a presence more prominent in learning process. All these proposals will accommodate groups where technology makes cultural sense, since the word is the protagonist of the presence or absence of people learning. Being the word the way of transmission of ideas and knowledge, and this is transferred by any means of communication, but we can’t forget that it’s possible to share ideas through stories to the most sophisticated computers.

The technological giant Apple with Steve Jobs´vision, began at the end of the 1980's, several studies where they examined how classrooms of the future should be. What they found they applied it on their computers, from computers to their tablets, and personally I think that it is the secret of learning: the intuition at the service of curiosity (Dwyer, Ringstaff, Haymore Sandholtz, and Apple Computer Inc, 1988).

Psychologists, however, have done analysis of the relation between the space of learning and motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic, to design halls as architectural spaces looking teachers as creators of knowledge spaces for generate curiosity and learning (Carole, 1992; Peter - Szarka, 2012), but that in the search for the magical recipe, lose many times environment. Focus on teaching models, not necessarily enhances learning.

In this sense, Miller (2007) proposed that if children can see gardens from their desks, allows spaces communicative, creative skills and development of welfare in the environment, which is added to the knowledge of the world and the environment, in such a way that the gardens not only beautify the space outside the classrooms, benefit them from the inside. Similar studies have been conducted with other populations and environments (Wells, 2000; Woolner, McCarterWall, and Higgins, 2012).

But the teachers as creators of education seek to create spaces for reflection and creative thinking, examples are experiences where children think, create they ask, they listen, they respect (Haynes, 2008), where the technology breaks creatively also has a space, not by obligation, not why other countries make your bet by technology, but when a natural response to the needs of students and teachers (Strømmen and Lincoln1992).

In this sense, when you think about the target population, they would learn in a different way, for example, when shown errors and held, the results are impressive, as samples so some schools in the United States where the learning of mathematics is an excuse when the error jumps, as a motivation to change the pattern of children (Ewart, 2012).

The experience can be even more rewarding, when you add the art, as a strategy to work the reading or writing that are key to the communicative competence (Dzib Goodin, 2012b), as if the words flow, the imagination makes its best effort to create. That's why metaphors are so important in the early years and for the learning of science. Because the word has the quality of listen or look, either represented through a photograph, painting, or a score with movement, as the dance let us express an idea. 

When creativity goes into the minds of teachers, spaces become infinite and tools are diversified, but above all, children are capable of have better experiences (Bruff, 2009, Bratteteig, & Wagner, 2012; Dzib Goodin, 2012b, Brown Martin,  2012).


Schools are much more than just walls and people who live together are, without a doubt life experiences that promote or hinder the academic and professional development of the people living in it. They are in practically all social, cultural and territorial environments and aim to pass on knowledge.

However, when you think about the school improvement thinking of objects, without taking into account the protagonists of those spaces, so that the environment takes on special importance, because schools are part of the communities that host them, because those families, put their faith in schools to give their children a better future and should be therefore should be reflected in those academic spaces and be seen as strange or hostile territories (Sang - Woo, Christopher, Byoung-Suk, Sung-Kwon, 2008).

As explained Brown Martin (2012) schools should be responding to the needs of a society that puts its effort in creating them as creative environments, where students can grow in all directions. Finally, the schools are the environments where the society changes, and active human capital (Dzib Goodin, 2012a).

Why should be designed so that all can live, where all find a place regardless of abilities, differences, preferences. They must be spaces of inclusion (Erkilic & Durak, 2012), where even children with fewer economic resources can feel proud to belong, as it will boost his future and that of their countries (Florence Oluremi, 2012), that schools are not only for those who can learn, but for those who wish to do so, including marginalized groups who must find an exact reason for which to attend. It begins outside of schools, with striking environmental spaces, interior spaces where they feel that they are part of something important: their own growth (McGregor and Mills, 2010).

But schools require ingredient that does not buy or operates from a Tablet, the motivation to learn and motivation to teach, they  can't be bought, even in the worst conditions when a person wants to know something, manages to succeed, as children from a school in India, taking classes under a bridge, so don't have a room architecturally appropriate (Medina, 2012), but your school has something that psychologists, educationalists and societies seek desperately: motivation to make children want to learn and be better to therefore develop auto companies motivated to change.

Viewing school environments has certainly a space for reflection, finally, children and students of all levels, need it.


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