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District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like


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  • Lisa Irish/ Arizona Education News Service

Canyon View High School Principal Phil Nowlin, Center, Talks About How This Learning Suite Helps Students Work In Small Groups And Then Share Out What They Find And Create. Photo By Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

One of Arizona’s newest public district schools is drawing international attention for an innovative structural and interior design created to improve student achievement by fostering engagement, collaboration and creativity.

Educators, researchers, policymakers and architects from around the world gathered earlier this month to discuss the impact of design on educational outcomes at Canyon View High School in Waddell, a school built with that in mind. The two-day symposium was organized by The Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change project based at The University of Melbourne in Australia.

District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Canyon-View-Courtyard

Canyon View High School in Waddell includes outdoor learning areas like the campfire style ring along the xericaped habitat that runs down the center of the school. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

“We looked at the activities that we know define what good teaching and learning are, and then we tried to reflect that in developing learning spaces to facilitate that,” said Phil Nowlin, Canyon View principal.

The school opened to students for the first time on Aug. 6, 2018.

“There’s already so much existing research about what conditions are optimal for children and adolescents to grow and develop, but not a whole lot about it is being used in our profession,” said Dina Sorenson, an education designer with DLR Group and a member of the The American Institute of Architects Committee on Architecture for Education and one of about 70 symposium participants. “The question is no longer if the built environment affects us, but rather how much it is affecting us.”

Agua Fria Union High School District leaders will find out. The design of Canyon View is dramatically different from the other five high schools in the district, but you can see ideas tried out at newer schools like Verrado High School refined at Canyon View.

Outside, stairstep seating creates a classroom in the central gathering space between buildings, as do benches in campfire-style rings along xeriscape habitat that spans the length of campus.

District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Fort-FeaturesHP

ILETC participants in one of Canyon View High School’s forts, or large flexible learning areas. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

Inside, flexible learning environments, separated by glass walls, replace conventional classrooms. Not all chairs are behind desks, and not all desks have chairs – some are for standing behind, which some students prefer.

School furniture is light and mobile, enabling teachers and students to quickly and easily create spaces that match their learning needs and objectives for the week, day or even hour.

When not with students, teachers utilize teacher centers to carry out their other duties.

In the centers  – one is located in each building, teachers have computer workstations, personal lockers, a shared worktable, lunchroom amenities and two sound-proof booths, where they can make calls to parents.

Eliminating teacher desks, file cabinets and bookcases from learning spaces frees up more flexible space for student learning, said symposium attendee Erin O’Reilly with the University of Montana’s teacher education program.

These innovative learning environments help teachers “deliver instruction in a variety of ways so that students are constantly engaged,” said Nowlin.

Video by Brooke Razo/AZEdNews, edited by Alex Zapata/ASBA: Innovative learning spaces at Canyon View High School

The event highlighted how teachers are using innovative learning environments, what support they need to transition out of traditional classrooms, and how the new spaces can best support students’ learning, said Joann Cattlin, project manager of The Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change project.

District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Learning-Stairs

Participants in The Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change project gather on the learning stairs part of an outdoor amphitheatre at Canyon View High School. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

The Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change project has been holding events like this for the past seven years.

The group aims to engage researchers, architects, educators and policy makers in discussions about how to adapt instruction in these spaces to boost students’ learning as well as provide easy access to current research and research-based best practices.

“Design matters and it’s important to teaching and learning and how we shape our learning experiences, said Caroline Lobo with AIA’s Committee on Architecture for Education during the event.

Mobility, flexibility in learning spaces

District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Innovative-Learning-Environments-Sidebar-BKGCanyon View teachers don’t have a set classroom, their class rotates through the school’s different learning areas, Nowlin said.

“In these environments, we get to allow students to be creative  with how they learn,” said Sholanda Smith, an exceptional student services teacher at Canyon View High School who co-teaches with the algebra teacher.

Smith said she’s learning how to use these learning environments to engage students on a deeper level that “includes those critical thinking pieces, that collaborative component and lets them come up with projects to show them the value of learning.”

These innovative learning spaces help students of all abilities, said Raechel French, an education planner with DLR Group.

“People who need to be more secluded can find that quiet space, but still be in the classroom,” French said. “You’re not singled out for going to a different area, because everyone is going to a different area and finding a place that works for them.”

DLR Group, along with Steelcase Education and Ecophon Saint-Gobain were event sponsors. DLR Group also was the architect for the Canyon View project.

Teachers have struggled for many years to be creative and differentiate instruction for students within a traditional classroom with four walls and tables and chairs that don’t move, Nowlin said.

“Now, what we’ve done is we’ve given our teachers an opportunity to be creative in a space that allows for that, which automatically gets the mind going and generates a different level of instruction,” he said.

Architecture can facilitate the collaboration and creativity valued in education and the workforce, said Anat Mor-Avi, an architect from Israel working on her Ph.D. who will present her research on the social aspects of innovative learning environments at the conference next year.

These innovative environments let teachers and students “choose where to learn, because the where is very important today and part of the innovative engine,” Mor-Avi said.

Non-traditional learning spaces can help teachers grow and learn, too.

The glass walls between learning spaces at Canyon View means that teachers can see what their colleagues are doing, Smith said.

“You get to learn from your colleagues, as well as refine your own practices,” Smith said.

Building process

Hundreds of people were involved in the nine-month process of designing Canyon View with architects from DLR Group and Chasse Building Team, including students, teachers, faculty groups, the governing board and community members, said Dr. Dennis Runyan, superintendent of Agua Fria Unified School District.

The group knew they were “not building a school for today,” but for the future, and after visiting many schools “what came out of that was this,” said Maxine Hill, a member of Agua Fria Unified School District’s Governing Board.

To create these innovative learning environments at Canyon View, the people involved in the design process visited many schools, learned more about learning communities, listened to what teachers were looking for and talked about the importance of choice, activities and creating a positive culture and environment on campus, said Pamela Loeffelman, principal architect with DLR Group’s K-12 practice in the Southwest.

“This process was really driven by the vision of all of the stakeholders,” Loeffelman said. “Agua Fria has a high appreciation for risk, and a high appreciation for success. This is important because it reduces the risk for other school districts when they want to do something like this.”

District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Chris-Bradbeer-and-group-talk-about-activity

Chris Bradbeer and a group of participants talk during a priority setting activity during The Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change project symposium at Canyon View High School. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

A partnership with the Arizona School Facilities Board, which helped with some planning and design, was also key to the school’s construction, Runyan said.

While construction like this takes time, schools can adapt these concepts on a smaller scale to their existing campuses now, said Paul Bakalis, executive director of the Arizona School Facilities Board and a licensed architect.

“I say we start transforming schools next semester,” Bakalis said. “It doesn’t need to take a long time if you’re focused and deliver.”

Key features of the school’s design include increased integration of technology, flexible instructional space, blended communication formats for teaching and learning, real-time accessibility to practical learning and potential cross-age demographic learning, Runyan said.

School’s role as a community center

Adjacent to one parking lot is the school’s Accelerator, which includes an auditorium with flexible space, a large open area and small offices including the school’s broadcast studio, maker space and concession area.

District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like From-the-Accelerator

Canyon View High School’s Accelerator, which includes an auditorium with flexible space, a large open area and small offices including the school’s broadcast studio, maker space and concession area, and can be used by the community when school is in session without disturbing students. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

The Accelerator can be used by the community when school is in session without disturbing students, Runyan said.

It’s also used for teacher and staff training sessions, and has two-way communication with the innovation lab at each of the district’s high schools so students on any campus can take part in events on any campus, Runyan said.

Recently, the Acclerator hosted 24 high schools from across the Southwest for a robotics tournament and each area of the Accelerator was used, Runyan said.

Applying what’s been learned to other schools

Canyon View High School was built in 14 months for about $78 million, and has a lower cost per square foot than any of the other schools under construction in the district, Loeffelman said.

“Even though there’s conversations about this feeling like a Taj Mahal, there were a lot of intentional decisions in terms of use of materials to make sure that it was on time and on budget,” Loeffelman said.

Buildings are positioned to provide wind tunnels and shade the outdoor gathering and eating areas, and xeriscape landscaping saves water and reduces maintenance, Loeffelman said.

District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Robotics-Lab

Canyon View Principal Phil Nowlin answers questions in one of the school’s robotics areas. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

Also, a Bio-Phase Change Material ENRG blanket in one building provides a new approach to thermal storage for heating and cooling buildings, Loeffelman said.

Now, DLR Group is taking what they learned from building Canyon View, applying it to older schools and customizing the design to each school’s campus, culture and specific student population, Loeffelman said.

“These spaces have to stand the test of time,” Runyan said. “What does this look like to students in 10 years? What does it look like in 15 years? We know what the square box looks like, and what it looked like 40 years ago. It’s our hope that these spaces are adaptable to the ever-changing face of education.”

 

 

Slideshow by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews: The Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change project symposium at Canyon View High School

  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Fort-FeaturesHP
    ILETC participants in one of Canyon View High School's forts, or large flexible learning areas.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Canyon-View-Interior-e1540322733385
    A view along the shaded interior learning areas and habitat between the buildings at Canyon View HIgh School.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Campfire
    A close up of one of the campfire style outdoor gathering places at Canyon View High School.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Board-Members
    Agua Fria Union High School District Governing Board Member Maxine Hill and Mary Kay Utecht chat at The Accelerator at Canyon View High School during a break at the ILETC symposium.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Anat-Mor-Avi
    Anat Mor-Avi, left, and another ILETC participant during the small group activity in one of Canyon View High School's learning suites.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Accelerator
    The ILETC attendees gather outside Canyon View High School's Accelerator.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Working-in-Groups
    Working in groups in one of Canyon View High School's forts, or large flexible learning areas.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Wes-Imms-and-group-talk-about-activity
    Wes Imms, right, talks to a group about a design priorities activity in a learning area.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Wen-Wen
    Wen Wen, standing, discusses the findings of his research at The Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change project symposium.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Welcome-Center
    The Welcome Center at Canyon View High School.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Teacher-Center2
    Architect Pamela Loeffelman with DLR Group talks about the features in one of the Teacher Centers at Canyon View High School.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Teacher-Center
    Canyon View High School Principal Phil Nowlin talks about some of the features of the teachers center.Teacher Center
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Small-Group-2
    Participants in the ILETC symposium prioritize design concepts in a small group activity.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Shaded-Gathering-area
    One of the shaded gathering areas outside at Canyon View High School.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Plants-as-cooling-elements
    Growing plants are some of the cooling elements used in the outdoor areas of Canyon View High School.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Phone-area-e1540320235299
    A room in one of the teacher centers at Canyon View High School where teachers can have privacy when they make phone calls.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Philip-Idle
    Architect Philip Idle sums up the research discussed at the ILETC symposium held at Canyon View High School.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Phil-Nowlin
    Canyon View High School Principal Phil Nowlin answers questions about the learning environments at his high school designed to improve students academic outcomes.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Paul-Bakalis
    Arizona School Facilities Board Executive Director Paul Bakalis, center, discusses priorities during a small group activity at the ILETC symposium at Canyon View High School.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like MiraGambhir
    Dr. Mira Gambhir with the Chandaria Research Centre at Branksome Hall in Toronto discusses her research on teachers and students responses to innovative learning environments.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Lunchroom
    One of the student eating areas at Canyon View High School.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Ile-Participants
    Participants at The Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change project symposium talk during a break at The Accelerator at Canyon View High School.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Habitat
    One of the design team members from Arizona State University answers questions about the xeriscape habitat and outdoor cooling features at Canyon View High School.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Group-in-Fort
    Canyon View High School's flexible learning spaces.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Gathering-Area-along-hallway
    A gathering area for students along a hallway at Canyon View High School.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Robotics-Lab
    Canyon View Principal Phil Nowlin answers questions in one of the school's robotics areas.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like From-the-Accelerator
    Canyon View High School's Accelerator, which includes an auditorium with flexible space, a large open area and small offices including the school’s broadcast studio, maker space and concession area, and can be used by the community when school is in session without disturbing students.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Chris-Bradbeer-and-group-talk-about-activity
    Chris Bradbeer and a group of participants talk during a priority setting activity during The Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change project symposium at Canyon View High School.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Learning-Stairs
    Participants in The Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change project gather on the learning stairs part of an outdoor amphitheatre at Canyon View High School.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Learning-Suite
    Canyon View High School Principal Phil Nowlin, center, talks about how this learning suite helps students work in small groups and then share out what they find and create.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like Canyon-View-Courtyard
    Canyon View High School in Waddell includes outdoor learning areas like the campfire style ring along the xericaped habitat that runs down the center of the school.
  • District gets international attention for re-thinking what school looks like WesImms
    Wes Imms, center, speaks with educators, researchers, policymakers and architects from around the world gathered earlier this month to discuss the impact of design on educational outcomes at Canyon View High School in Waddell, a school built with that in mind.