Tuesday, November 9, 2010

5th Grade Exploration Studio

The votes are in.  Slate's call for entries to reimagine the 5th grade classroom is complete and our entry has been declared the winner. 

You can read more here:
The Winner in Slate's Contest to Reinvent the American Classroom

This is our entry into Slate On-line magazine's call for the 5th grade classroom of the future.  It is one of 10 finalists.  Viewing this on the Slate site is difficult so I have included it here on my Blog.  Here is a description of our entry:

Kids learn in different ways and at different paces so their place of learning must be personalized, yet flexible enough that they can explore many different roads to learning.  They must be able to gain foundational knowledge but must also learn to work alone, work in groups, cooperate with others, and use modern tools to acquire knowledge.  They need the ability to connect to the world and to the environment to become responsible citizens.
The 5th Grade Exploration Studio allows a variety of learning to take place and is flexible enough to be physically transformed on a regular basis by students and teachers.  Each student has a home base organized into 6 student learning teams. The teams are separated with a low partition allowing the teacher to see all stations at all times.  Each student has a computer with internet access and each team shares a common area that allows them to work alone, work together on projects, and view web and video content from their stations.  The ends of the central stations have a round collaboration table with a large flat screen monitor to allow even more flexibility in how teams collaborate.
The entire class shares a central project area in their studio that is equipped with a variety of seating and work surface choices.  This area contains a wet area with 2 sinks for science and art projects, as well as adjustable height tables, tables for group projects, and soft seating for informal discussions or private reading.  A large “smart board” computer screen between the sinks along the window wall can be used for student presentations, lectures by the teacher, or to connect to other classes in other parts of the world via Skype or similar programs.
Arranged around the perimeter of the room, the student stations and computer screens can be seen by the teacher at a glance from the center of the room.  Mirrors placed behind the computer screens and tilted up slightly allow teacher and student to make eye contact without the need for the student to turn around.
The room is long and shallow in the shape of a trapezoid.  This shape helps acoustics by reducing reflected sounds and creates a base location for the teacher.  The narrow classroom allows natural light from the windows to penetrate deep into the room. The studio is connected to other studios not with a corridor, but with a shared project/large group area equipped with a variety of seating, tables, kitchenettes, and with light wells to allow plenty of daylight into the space.  The Studio is separated from this project are with a glass wall that folds out of the way to create an even larger space.
The Exploration Studio does not stop at the exterior walls, but extends to the out of doors where a covered plaza equipped with freeze proof sink and work bench allows outdoor experimentation.  On one side a door and windows connects students to the exterior, while on the other side a roll-up glass garage door can be opened on nice days allowing class activities to spill out to the exterior.  A story telling circle and a garden for growing food nudge into a natural landscape which includes native vegetation and a water course so students can study their environment.


  1. An interesting concept. One question I have is how many students will inhabit this learning lab at one time. It appears to be a very large space.

    A criticism: Placing the smartboard against the exterior wall surrounded by glass creates a severe visual contrast issue that will leave students visually fatigued after only a short while.

  2. Michael...sorry to take so long to reply. The learning lab shown has 24 students in 1000 SF, but in testing it, I find it will easily accommodate 32 in the same size. You can also get 24 or 32 in a 900 SF lab by taking the space out of the project area in the middle. This doesn't eliminate this space, it just makes it 6-8 feet narrower.

    Relative to glare, the goal would be to have an overhang on the outside that prevents the direct incidence of sunlight on the glass. Contrast may still be an issue but by this configuration you avoid having the sunlight wash out the projection on the screen. If contrast can be controlled sufficiently eye fatigue would be lessened. it will take some more design work and measuring to get this right,