Space: The Third Teacher The child starting kindergarten this fall will graduate in the third decade of the 21st century. All we can know about the work she will step into is that it will have challenges and opportunities beyond what we can imagine today, problems and possibilities that will demand creativity and ingenuity, responsibility and compassion. Whether this year's kindergarten students will merely survive or positively thrive in the decades to come depends in a large measure to the experiences she has in school.Those experiences will be shaped by adults, by peers, and ultimately by places, by the physical environments where she does her learning. United in the conviction that environment is our children's third teacher, we can begin anew a vital mission: designing today's schools for tomorrow's world.
Introduction to The Third Teacher: 79 Ways You can Uae Design to Transform Teaching and Learning
With the explosion of digital tools over the past several years, much is written about the virtual learning environment. However, the Virtual environment is just one of several environments that make up the learning ecosystem.
One environment, of which we are all aware but talk little about, is the physical learning environment. These are all the formal and informal spaces that make up our school campuses.
Based on the model of Ford's assembly line, these spaces have changed little in the past 100 years. However, there are many exciting things happening in the development of new learning spaces and the renovation of our current spaces to support active learning art all levels. But before we can talk about the design of new innovative spaces,
..it is valuable to take another look at what the classroom represents. The classroom is the most valuable symbol of an educational philosophy. It is a philosophy that starts with the assumption that a predetermined number of students will all learn the same thing at the same time from the same person in the same way, in the same place for several hours each day. A classroom's simplistic design also assumes that the significant part of the student's learning occurs in the transmission of knowledge from the teacher to the student in a somewhat linear fashion. A 750 square-foot space with 25 student armchair-tablet desks and a teacher's desk at the front of the room makes eminent sense if this is, indeed, what learning is all about.
The Language of School Design: Design Patterns for 21st Century Schools. PNair, R. Fielding, and J. Lackney. p. 25.
But we know that the transmission model, while it still has its place, is no longer sufficient in the digital world. Therefore it is critical for educators to become knowledgeable about the impact of space on learning and how easy it often is to make minor changes to improve this space.
Four Metaphors for Space David D. Thornburg, in his work Campfires in Cyberspace: Primordial Metaphors for Learning in the 21st Century, posits four primordial spaces for learning: Camp Fire, Watering Hole, Cave, and Life. These metaphors porvide a good foundation for discussing space. The following is a brief description of each from Campfires. We suggest you read the whole work here.
The campfire… For thousands of years, storytelling was a mechanism for teaching. While it was not the only mechanism, it was (and is) an important one. Through storytelling, the wisdom of elders was passed to the next generation. Good stories have always embodied a blend of the cognitive and affective domains — in fact, in story, there is no separation between the two. This quality of nuance and multiple interpretations is common to storytelling. It is one reason that adults and children can enjoy the same story together — each age takes from the story the elements that are appropriate. The power of storytelling is so great that even in more recent times (c. 250 BC,) we find Socrates responding to his students on occasion with the Greek equivalent of “That reminds me of a story.” There is a sacred quality to teaching as storytelling, and this activity took place in sacred places, typically around the fire or under a tree. The focal point of the flame, the sounds of the night, all provide backdrop to the storyteller who shares wisdom with students who, in their turn, become storytellers to the next generation. In this manner, culture replicates itself through the DNA of myth. The often tangential nature of storytelling, its use of metaphor, its indirect attack on a topic, all combine to make storytelling an effective way to address topics that might be too confrontational to address head on. Story crafts its own helix around a topic. As Robert Frost said, “We sit in the circle and suppose, while the truth sits in the center and knows.” The watering hole… Just as campfires resonate deeply across space and time, watering holes have an equal status in the pantheon of learning places. Virtually every hominid on the planet has, at one time in its historical existence, needed to gather at a central source for water. During these trips to the watering hole, people shared information with their neighbors — those within their own village, as well as those from neighboring villages and travelers on their way to or from a distant village. The watering hole became a place where we learned from our peers — where we shared the news of the day. This informal setting for learning provided a different kind of learning community from that of the shaman or troubadour who regaled us from the podium of the campfire. The learning at the watering hole was less formal. It was peer teaching, a sharing of the rumors, news, gossip, dreams and discoveries that drive us forward. Each participant at the watering hole is both learner and teacher at the same time. Just as water is necessary for survival, the informational aspect of the watering hole is essential for cultural survival. I’ll have more to say about this later. For now, suffice it to say that the watering hole is alive and well in corporations where people gather around the water cooler (or, more recently, the copying machine) to continue a tradition of archetypal proportions. Executives and support personnel alike reenact on a daily basis scenes that have been played out on the plains of Africa for tens of thousands of years. Any disconnection from this informal learning community risks a disconnection from one of the things that makes us human. The cave… The learning community of the campfire brought us in contact with experts, and that of the watering hole brought us in contact with peers. There is another primordial learning environment of great importance: the cave — where we came in contact with ourselves. Through legends and artifacts we know that, throughout the planet, learners have needed, on occasion, to isolate themselves from others in order to gain special insights. Whether these periods of isolation took place in the forest, or in caves, whether they were the subject of great ritual, or just casual encounters with personal insight, the importance of having time alone with one’s thoughts has been known for millennia. The “vision quest” practiced by some indigenous peoples of the Americas represents one of the more formalized renditions of this practice. After a lengthy period of preparation, the learner is led to a cave with nothing but a blanket and is left for two days without food. During this time, through meditation, the learner may have a vision that can shape or guide him or her through the next phase of life. In addition of being a place of learning, the vision quest also becomes a rite of passage. This rite of passage has another interpretation in modern parlance: the passage of knowledge from an externally accepted to an internally held belief. This internal “knowing” involves far more than memorization — it involves true insight. When Carl Jung was asked if he believed in God, he smiled and said, “I don’t believe, I know.” We all have times in learning any subject when we need to internalize that knowledge. For Newton, it may have been under an apple tree. For Moses it was the wilderness. For us this internalization may take place during a walk in the woods, but is just as likely to take place during a quiet moment (or day, or week) in relative seclusion in a library (another sacred place), office, bedroom, kitchen or den. Learners have long gathered around campfires, watering holes, and have isolated themselves in the seclusion of caves. They have experienced all these learning environments in balance and, if the balance is offset, learning suffered. These three spaces, while important, are not enough. There is one more space that must be considered. Life... Whether our insights are established through campfires, watering holes, caves, or (more likely) a combination of the three, we don't really know what we know until we have tried to apply it. The application of knowledge, what I will call Life, is an essential component of the learning process. My guess is that, like me, you may have seen a demonstration of a task that made wonderful sense until you tried to do it yourself. At that point, you realized that there was something missing from your knowledge. Had you not attempted the task, you might never have known that you really didn't have the skill you thought you had. This is one reason there is much to be said for “just in time” instead of “just in case” learning. Much of our school curriculum seems devoted to having us learn things just in case we will someday need to know them. Yet, when we learn something in anticipation of its immediate use, we not only reinforce our understanding