Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Reorganizing Space and Time in Schools

Earlier this week we had an EdCampSTL planning meeting at the Cambridge Innovation Center. The center bills itself as "A coworking and entrepreneurial community for start-ups in St. Louis".  The building is in the Cortex district of St. Louis, a technology and biotech innovation area.

As we walked in the building, we immediately saw that this space was not a traditional office space. The start-ups were not really traditional technology businesses either. There were huge open spaces, offices of various sizes (from one-person offices to rooms the size of two basketball courts). There were small "telephone booths" for people to make private cell phone calls, communal meeting spaces that could be reserved at any time, and a "flow" to the building that was both logical and beautiful.

This building is what schools should be. The building facilitated collaboration among the start-ups. There were numerous meeting places, a cafe where people could brainstorm and develop ideas and lots of open spaces for pondering and wondering. Similarly, the people who worked in the offices regularly talk to others, bouncing ideas off each other, giving advice and troubleshooting for each other. The work grows out of the idea and the building seems to have been renovated with the growth of these small start-ups in mind. 

Our meeting ended at 8:30 pm and there were several offices where people were still working. Wandering around, we saw one group trying to solve a work-flow issue while another group was creating clothing on a 3D printer. In the CIC, the time and space are organized around the work and both the time and space can be adjusted based on the work. 

Schools should look a lot more like the CIC than they do. This center is a sign of things to come: flexible work hours, flexible work space, collaborative teams and the project work driving the agenda. Traditional schools do not operate this way. We still divide up work into distinct "disciplines", fragment the work day into 50-minute periods, ask kids to work individually too often, and consider collaboration "cheating" in many cases. Traditional schooling is rigid, competitive and fragmented. The environment of the CIC encouraged flexibility, collaboration and big-picture thinking. The problem drives the use of space and time.

Why can't schools evolve into places where a problem is posed to a group of kids, those kids are given the flexible time and resources necessary to solve the problem, and then skills from all disciplines can be taught to the kids along the way to solving the problem. The learning would be relevant and immediate and would also be a closer approximation of what the kids will experience in the world when they enter the work force. We don't have to offer 50-minute increments of each subject but we choose to structure school that way. Why? Because that's the way it's always been done. 

How many of us, when we tackle any project, divide it up into distinct "subjects" and work on those "subjects" separately for 50-minute increments? We never do. We tackle the project as a holistic entity, learning all "subject" material in an integrated, interrelated way as we work through the problem. This type of work was well-represented at the CIC and students would be much better off if schools could organize the time and space in a similar fashion.

No comments:

Post a Comment