New Tech Schools Foster Collaborative Learning by Design
By Christine Marson
Just as each New Tech student is unique, so are their learning environments. Not only does New Technology High School course content differ from traditional schools, so does the physical nature of the school’s facilities. Alan Veach, principal of Bloomington New Tech High School; Tom Wachnicki, director of Decatur Central’s New Tech School of IDEAS; and Mike Reed, principal of Columbus Signature Academy—New Tech, provided insight into the role that architecture has played in the development of their schools.
Bloomington New Tech High School
“Architecturally, Bloomington New Tech modeled itself after Napa New Tech. We attempted to create classrooms that were transparent to visitors so that it was readily apparent that what was going on inside the classroom did not resemble a traditional classroom. We accomplished this by putting large windows on all walls facing the atrium. We also tried to create some separate spaces that allowed for the students to have small group work areas. These have proved to be a valuable resource for both the teachers and students,” Veach said.
|New Tech School of IDEAS
Transparency and flexibility best describe Decatur Central’s NTHS facility. “The design of IDEAS was driven by the idea that we wanted large open spaces that can accommodate the one-to-one computer-to-student ratio necessary to run New Tech PBL, yet be able to be changed to accommodate the needs of the project. As such, we have double-sized classrooms for our integrated courses with computers that are working on a wireless network. Teachers, therefore, are able to change the layout of the classroom. The classrooms also have LCD projectors on each end of the room which allow teachers to conduct multiple workshops at once. Finally, another feature of each IDEAS classroom is our sound field system. Teachers wear lapel microphones that feed their voice to speakers around the room. This helps teachers effectively communicate in these large spaces,” Wachnicki said.
|Another important design element of the school is its openness. “When you enter the halls of IDEAS, you can walk and look into each classroom. Now, you can do this in most schools…but typically through a sliver of window on a door. Unfortunately, even these small slivers are often covered, not allowing for any glimpses into classrooms. IDEAS embraces transparency; as you enter the hallways, you look into classrooms through large floor-to-ceiling windows. Visitors often comment that IDEAS doesn’t feel like an institution, instead it’s a more open, business-like feel which is exactly what we wanted,” Wachnicki said.|
Columbus Signature Academy—New Tech
The Columbus Signature Academy intentionally created a non-traditional school facility. The school emphasizes a professional work atmosphere with an open-air concept and transparency. “We invested a lot of time considering the design and function of each area of our building. We worked closely with CSO Architects to define how each space would be used. One of our goals going into the project was to create a space that did not look like a traditional school. We wanted our space to reflect a 21st-century professional work environment,” Reed reported.
“We refer to our work spaces as studios, not classrooms. These spaces were designed to accommodate integrated courses with up to 50 students. The studios were designed to facilitate project-based learning. This means large open spaces with flexible, moveable furniture. The tables are all on wheels which allow facilitators to easily rearrange the layout for large group workshops or for small group project work. The desire for flexible work space to encourage collaboration also steered our decision to create a wireless laptop environment rather than using desktops. The studios are very open with windows, few walls, and no doors. This design was intentional to emphasize that the work of teachers and students is public. The traditional 900 square foot classroom where teachers shut the door and block the little window does not exist in our building. We provided student storage areas in each studio, rather than lockers. This and the exposed cable trays and server emphasize our culture of trust, respect, and responsibility,” said Reed.
Published: January 2009