Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Getting Serious About Being Playful in School Design

Fast Company's online site Co Design (left) has an article about What Schools Can Learn From Google, IDEO, and Pixar.

The article points out that the country's strongest innovators in business embrace creativity, play, and collaboration -- values that also inform their physical spaces. When we are about to build or rehab a school, however, we create checklists of best practices, looks for furniture that matches the school mascot, and order shiny new lockers to line the corridors.

According to the article, what makes the Googles of the world exceptional begins in the childhood classroom -- an embrace of creativity, play, and collaboration. 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the number-one leadership competency in the global marketplace.

The article maintains, "We can no longer afford to teach our kids or design their schoolhouses the way we used to if we’re to maintain a competitive edge. In looking at various exemplary workplaces such as IDEO, Google, and Pixar, we can glean valuable lessons about effective educational approaches and the spaces that support them."

"What would it mean for schools to have a culture centered on design thinking and interdisciplinary projects instead of siloed subjects? What if the process of education were as intentionally crafted as the products of education (i.e., we always think about the book report or the final project, but not the path to get there). What if teachers were treated as designers?" There are some schools out there that are doing just that, including High Tech High in Southern California, and the Blue Valley Schools Center for Advanced Professional Studies (BVCAPS).

The article also points out that "Pixar, arguably the greatest digital storyteller of our time, is an easy source of school-environment inspiration: Its studio is a place where magic results from a potent blend of art and science, work and play, digital and analog."

The giant technological company Google realizes that valuable innovations are born from serious play, deep teamwork, and a holistically engaged (and cared for) staff. A playful strain runs through Google’s office culture.

We are challenged to imagine what might happen if students had the same power to edit and make their own spaces within the school environment as employees do in "serious" players in global economic markets.

The article maintains "There is much to learn from our innovative corporate giants, and some schools are already taking note. But ironically, the true genius of these work spaces is how they’ve been inspired by lessons from children. (The ability of top executives to incorporate playfulness and internal strategy has even become a topic of discussion for major corporations.) Yes, school designers and leaders should make learning environments that reflect dynamic workplaces. But school leaders would be remiss if they didn’t critically re-examine (and support) the power of play and creative arts that these leaders have gleaned from them."

The writers of the article, Steven Turckes, leads Perkins+Will's global K–12 design practice and is the director of the K–12 Education Group for the Chicago office, and Melanie Kahl is an educational design researcher in Perkins+Will's global K–12 Practice.

Click on the heading above to see the whole article.

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