School-driven transformation delivers six modern learning studios in the ACT
30 Jul 2019
The ACT Chapter visited St Francis of Assisi Primary School, Calwell in March. The visit was to view the refurbishment of Classroom Block D which is the renewal of a 30-year-old facility.
When completed, the project transformed D Block’s six classrooms, built in the late 1980s, to six modern contemporary learning studios.
What was really interesting is that one could compare, from a historical perspective, the development of innovation in learning spaces and pedagogy over the life of the school through three of it’s six classroom Blocks:
- There is an original block, which is a very traditional structure with six discrete classrooms, no interconnectivity, which open through solid wooden doors onto a long corridor, with no common learning spaces. Teachers and children are constrained in their capacity to interact with each other, optimise common learning spaces, and cater to diversity in pedagogy.
- Another six-classroom block was redeveloped in the early 2000s and is still quite contemporary. Three ‘pairs’ of classrooms were established, each pair interconnected with large, glass sliding door, and open onto a wider common space (corridor) and some specialist facilities (sinks, etc.) and break-out spaces.
- The new ‘six room’ Contemporary Learning Environments with open-plan spaces have been designed to allow students to follow individual learning plans in a collaborative, flexible way. Many walls have been removed and movable furniture defines spaces as required. The spaces highlight a shared collaboration between maker space wet areas, tiered floor presentation space and a meeting room. Large sliding doors provide ease of separation but also the option for open collaboration for combined teaching spaces.
- A significant outcome of the master plan was to allow the bespoke joinery to combine with self-directed learning initiative to encourage and expand the opportunities for individual children. All spaces incorporate electronic technologies, writable walls and desktops, and acoustic display panels to assist educators to deliver the curriculum and encourage the children toward inquisitive approaches to develop their potential. There is a separate, well-defined ‘classroom’ with contemporary, flexible furniture, which caters for the learning needs of some students who can find an open structure more challenging, particularly those on the autism spectrum.
Kate Markcrow (Principal - St Francis of Assisi) spoke about her learning journey with the building project and its alignment with teaching and learning in the contemporary environment for St. Francis’s whole school community.
Kirsty Westaway (Project Architect - Munns Sly Moore Architects) presented the design brief and project outcomes highlighting how the journey of shared outcomes with the school was one where the architect’s firm encouraged the school to drive the project.
The open discussion between, and response to questions, by Kate, Kirsty and Bob Sly (Principal - Munns Sly Moore Architects) was really enlightening. It was obvious that a strong relationship, with a high level of trust and respect, had developed between the school and the architectural firm early in the project.
The firm brought a wealth of experience in school projects, and the school was on its own learning journey for students and teachers. There was some resistance by some teaching staff to the bold innovation that was being developed and, in fact, the learning and development envisioned for teaching staff lagged behind what the project was to deliver.
At one stage, in the initial phase of the project, a less innovative design was being considered.
In response, the architectural firm encouraged the school to stay true to its long-term vision, which it did. In response the school asked for expressions of interest from teachers who were keen to teach in the new spaces. Sufficient teachers expressed interest, and intensive learning and development was undertaken by them to ensure the culture that was envisioned would be integral to the new spaces once they became operational.
Inclusion, collaboration, stakeholder identification and good change management were very evident in the course of this project.
The children have control of the space and as such can move themselves and the furniture in order to maintain concentration through varied seating or standing positions. Providing a learning environment with a collaborative outcome between students and educators is integral to the outcome of the master plan.
Article and photos: Judy Apps