A week off the east coast

By Kristen Houghton posted 19 days ago


            Day one I walk into the Kansas City Convention Center(KCCC) and I am immediately surrounded by brilliant exhibitors and architects. Where do I go? What do I do? After figuring out that I’m on my own and am as clueless as some others around me I feel a sigh of relief. My first session I attended talked about furniture and how just changing and moving furniture within a classroom can change the space and that it can create flexible areas for new learning environments, I began thinking to myself ‘oh dear what have I gotten myself into?’. While the first session wasn’t the most helpful to me I did come out with a few common terms that I would hear during the rest of the conference like, flexibility, collaboration, innovation, and creativity. As I walk out of the first session, not having talked to new people, thinking this was a mistake to come to a conference like this because it will not help my thesis I found the table for complimentary coffee and gave myself a pep talk. I told myself it was only the first session and the first hour, to take a step back and breathe because with time I’ll meet new people and grow confidence to talk to others.

            Well… turns out I was correct! The plenary session was next where I stopped at a table with two architects and asked if I could sit with them and a conversation started to flow, then a few others sat with us and the session began. The plenary session was extremely mind blowing and eye opening that at the end I knew my thesis advisor Cara Armstrong had sent me here for a reason and I had found that reason. Sir Ken Robinson, a man I had never heard of before but over thirteen million people in the world had from his spectacular TED talk. Sir Ken Robinson talked to us about how our environment has a significant impact on children in how they learn and where they learn. He told us that he believes every child is unique and has their own special disabilities. Within this one session, I learned that we as designers need to think about the next generation and how we are going to be teaching them to better our world. We can help this idea of collaboration and community through design. By creating open floor plans where students can gather together and discuss their projects, and have class held in the middle of the school because there is a flexible learning space there that is always ready to be used by a new class of different ages we will start to eliminate this segregation between grades and will start to reduce bullying within schools. A few sessions followed the plenary session and exploring began on my walk home.

            Day two I began with a brisk walk through the wind tunnels of the high rises along the streets and a quick stop for a morning coffee. The first session I attended Thursday morning was based on healthy schools and healthy communities. The session started by discussing a case study where the architects took the concrete playground and created an environmental and educational playground for the students. The architects of the project presented the different ideas and their process of taking the most financial aspect of the project to design basketball courts, playground, outdoor classroom, garden, and their parking lot. The design was successful through three goals with community engagement which were health and wellness, outdoor play and learning, and stormwater management. There is a three-stage process to the design. Stage one is being invited to apply for the school design. Stage two is the application review and rank which includes school readiness and community. The last stage would be a partner review of geographic equity and site suitability. This session is one that I did not believe would be very beneficial to my thesis but I believe it will be beneficial when I start looking at site selection and site development.

            The second plenary session was a discussion from Jaime Casap, a Google education evangelist. Jaime’s focus for the session was iteration and innovation in education. Jaime started the session by talking about how he grew up and how education shaped his life and ideas for his future. He stated the importance of education and that education changes family destiny, and education disrupts poverty. Jaime said, “The impact we have in education isn’t just for the students we face.” When Jaime said this I agreed with him and education is constantly changing and as educators and designers we are the next step for our education system. Jaime Casap talks about generation Z and what they will be facing. Generation Z is facing job loss because jobs are being replaced by automated machines which means our roles are changing and we need to think about what and how we are teaching generation Z. We should be asking them questions along the lines of; what problem do you want to solve, what do you need to learn to solve that problem, how can you get that knowledge, how do you want to solve it, and what motivates all of us as human beings. These questions will further education than the question of what do you want to be when you grow up. Jaime talks about how we live in a world of collaboration but we aren’t teaching students to collaborate. We are segregating students in school when real collaboration is the ability to ask questions, the ability to give and take feedback, and the ability to change your mind. We need a culture shift but we need to understand that we live in a new world and we need new questions. Through collaboration, we can make a culture shift and we can convert information into intelligence, we can design spaces of collaboration and as educators, we can help influence generation Z can be our culture shift. The last few statements Jaime said were, “Education is the silver bullet and technology is the support system. We need and can bring education to the next level.” Lastly, he said, “Iteration and innovation drives transformation. The transformation has no endpoint. There is no future classroom there is just a next version.” I say we create the next version of the classroom through design and intelligence.

            Day three, Friday, the last day of the conference is when I attended one quick hour-long session that brought up the idea that school is not a building but about the process and about learning. The session was titled ‘Creating the world’s most pedagogically advanced school building’. The session focused on a school that created collaboration spaces with a concept that is student-centered. The school is about how the children process their learning and the different classrooms throughout the building. Not each class has the same starting room every day and the children choose their seat each day. This gives the students a sense of choice which students and learners need a sense of choice. The school creates a sense of transparency and openness. The ending statement from this session was “Any school can be the most pedagogically advanced school if the school is focused on the children”. From this session, I was off to the airport to catch my flight home to Vermont.

            My overall experience from this conference was amazing and I am hoping to attend the spring conference in Baltimore, Maryland and the AIA forum in New York City this summer. I met many new people from architects to educators to exhibitors. I discussed my thesis research and my plans for my own future and got feedback on my topic as well as many people interested in the final product. I am thrilled with all of the information I received and I cannot wait to present it to my colleagues and professors here at Norwich University.