The classroom as ‘exploration studio’

The Fifth-Grade Exploration Studio, imagined by Greg Stack and Natalia Nesmeainova of NAC Architecture in Seattle, is the winner in Slate’s contest to reinvent the American classroom.

In their classroom, small student learning teams share a common area. Students can work alone, work together on projects and view web and video content from their stations.

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 trapezoidal shape of the room reduces noise, creates a base location for the teacher and “allows natural light from the windows to penetrate deep into the room.”  The studio is connected to other studios by a shared project/large group area.

Outside, students can use a covered plaza for experiments.

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.

More than 350 entries were submitted, writes Linda Pearlstein.

To what extent can classroom design improve learning? I’d guess it falls fairly low on the priority list.

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  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    That’s a beautiful, decentralized room for a manageable number of students.

    On the other hand, you could spend the same amount of money and get nine of those trailers set up like the traditional school-cum-prison and house 200 students.

    And you wouldn’t need to find a site with a stream in the middle of your district, either.

  2. <<< To what extent can classroom design improve learning? I’d guess it falls fairly low on the priority list.

    Color me skeptical. Tech enthusiasts and others in the thrall of the New love to make rueful jokes about how classrooms have not changed in a century. I suspect, however, that classroom layout and design has little to do with our present problems in education.

  3. One feature that this classroom has is worth noting: lots of natural light. It’s too sadly lacking in many classrooms, and has a documented effect on mood and energy.

  4. A story telling circle? You can’t just sit people in a circle and talk? It’s not the room, it’s the actions in the room.

  5. Most of the new ideas I’ve seen over the past 50 years have been harmless, at best, and usually harmful (open classrooms, whole language, balanced literacy, new math, new new math, spiral math curricula, Writers’ Workshop, credit recovery, full inclusion, differentiated instruction, 8th-grade algebra for all, social studies, multiculturalism, ad nauseum) but natural light is a plus. Moreover, it’s a plus that was the norm for at least a century, until widespread AC arrived. Its absence is really missed; two of my kids attended a HS with very few windows (except for the admin dept, of course) and the widespread rumor was that it had been designed by a firm that usually designed prisons; because it felt like one.