If the results of a new contest tell us anything, it's that students care about space. Last week Slate announced a winner — and 10 finalists — in its ongoing design contest: "The Twenty-First Century Classroom." For context, a few weeks ago, the site's editors asked readers to send in their ideas for improving the fifth-grade classroom, looking for new ideas about what a "classroom of the future" might look like. Designs were sent in by students and teachers — and a handful of architects.
One thing that's especially interesting about the contest is the fact that so many readers voted for designs that had an emphasis on natural elements, like light or school gardens. In summary, Linda Perlstein writes, "When students are asked to reimagine their learning spaces, they often put classes outdoors." That might say less about the kids' enthusiasm for nature than it does about what they can't stand about their current classrooms, and is their reaction so surprising, considering the depressing condition of so many school classrooms?
The winning design, the "Fifth Grade Exploration Studio," was no exception to the theme, what with its "water course" — and "crops." Another entry that received a lot of votes from readers, "The Integrated Green Rooftop Learning Lab," a design submitted by Studio G Architects, envisioned a school where laboratory-style learning takes place on a rooftop outfitted with solar panels and science stations. If it's not the most practical vision, on the other side of the spectrum, advocates of Montessori-style learning sent a design — an unaltered Montessori classroom — that also made it onto the list of top five vote-getters.
Not all of the designs require massive construction projects, and one of the judges' picks was a submission sent in by a teacher called "Guided Learning in a Complicated World." The teacher's design focused on reorganizing classroom space more effectively, creating work spaces, a "library corner with comfortable bean chairs," a "shared supply closet," and a "shared conference room that encourages group learning."
But are these designs at-all feasible in most schools? Some aspects of the designs — the bean bag chairs, the patio painted by students, the arrangement of the desks — might not be too difficult to incorporate, and even if they end up being just elaborate exercises in wishful thinking, the ideas are thought-provoking, and definitely worth checking out.