Typically when a fourth grader gripes about wanting a new school, the complaint is met with a dismissive response of: “Yes, wouldn’t that be nice.” But, when that same sentiment was expressed at Mills Lawn Elementary School in Yellow Springs, Ohio, the teacher transformed the grumble into an opportunity to learn—in a very impactful way.
Using the project-based learning (PBL) method , the desire for a new school became “Bella’s PBL,” named after the student who made the original comment. The goal of the PBL? To design a new elementary school, which would be complete by the time the current fourth graders are graduating seniors. As with any other PBL, the students learn by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge. In this case, the challenge was to program and design a new school.
To assist the students, designers from LJB worked with the students on several occasions to guide them in the steps to develop a functional design. The teacher, Brian Knostman, divided the class into six working teams (hallways, office, traditional classrooms, specials rooms, outside activities, and general building).
After designing and conducting surveys to better understand the needs and wants of the teachers, students and staff, the students worked on programming, floor plans, elevations, finishes, technologies and site features. They also researched potential innovations, such as rainwater retention cistern and geothermal radiant heat.
“They went from funky bubble designs to something really functional,” Mr. Knostman said. “The kids are coming up with everything, and we’re just guiding them.”
The Yellow Springs School District is a leader in this student-centered approach to learning, which leaves the students with important skills for future success, like critical thinking, teamwork, and communication. And, the students really seem to enjoy it as well.
“We could actually make the school. Instead of just writing stuff down, we actually get to work with real things,” said fourth grader Isaac Grushon. “Our goal is to make the school for the next generation. It makes me feel really good because it’s helping other people.”
This collaboration with Mr. Knostman’s class has been a win-win experience.
“This has been a very rewarding experience for us,” said LJB principal and director of architecture Tom Boardman. “It’s been inspiring to see how the students work together, solve problems and focus on the impact they can have on their community—it’s like seeing our act of service multiplied.”