2015 CEFPI Conference Thoughts - Day Two

Published: Saturday 27 June 2015

Day Two

Day Two saw us concentrate on journeys of learning as Dennis Yarrington, Principal of Harrison School, commenced with his take on the development of his brand new school from sketch to reality. Once again it was heartening to see a speaker engaged with the social capital created by a school environment, endeavouring to showcase the human side of schooling. The focus on the contemporary learner in the digital landscape, blended with the site-specific rural location and historic farming neighbour, made interesting bedfellows. As was evidenced at yesterday's site visit, the Harrison School was developed with sustainability at its core and with an emphasis on the social capital inherent in the building / design process, to showcase 'the human side of schooling'.

Dr Stuart Kohlhagen from the National Science and Technology Centre, Questacon, engaged delegates with the many ways creativity and innovation are evoked through hands-on learning. Stuart built on the famous Confucius quote "I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand" with "I create and my mind opens, I innovate and the world opens." This desire for innovation by exploring the possibilities of active learning within Questacon's vision has led to some amazing examples of creative thinking amongst students young and old. The second part of Stuart's talk focused on his research into Embodied Cognition, a truly incredible concept of the connection between our bodies' physical impacts and our psychological understanding. Many subconscious learning opportunities happen in our minds every instant, with the impacts of our bodies and our immediate environment amongst the largest influences. Too complex and fascinating to be described in this brief summary, I recommend a quick on-line search to discover more.

Following the morning's main speakers was a mixed set of speakers on a variety of topics. I attended the A stream of speakers, which included in depth discussions on the St Francis Xavier Student Services Hub and the design process behind the St John Paul II College development. Both speakers described a student-centred design philosophy with stakeholder input not just during design of the building, but in design of the whole educational philosophy. It was interesting that both schools focused on student-led education with individualised learning and collaborative teaching styles. Dr Kendra Wasiluk of the ACT Education and Training Directorate explained why all the Canberra projects we had seen had such high environmental standards – the incredible incentives and grants available for schools to head the territory towards a carbon neutral future. I found this whole philosophy so heartening, in that the territory had made some big bold claims (to reduce greenhouse gases by 40% by 2020, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060) and then put in place the systems to ensure businesses make these bold aims happen. Every public school in Canberra is fitted with a 10-20kWh solar PV array and smart metering of energy, water and gas. Schools (and therefore students) can monitor their usage patterns and adjust as required. Grants and interest free loans were available for items such as LED lighting, shade sails, window film, rainwater tanks etc, and it seems all schools I witnessed were philosophically committed to the idea of ensuring a sustainable future. The final speaker in the quick snapshot session was Vanessa Miller, who explored her recent visit to Reggio Emilia and the lessons she had learnt there on how to create the third teacher. Focusing on the important spaces of Piazza, Atelier, Dining Space and Courtyard, Vanessa explained how the design of these spaces could be influenced by the principles of visibility, multi-sensory activity, flexibility, light and shadow, and reflection.

In the afternoon it was back on to the buses, and I again explored two schools. We started off at Neville Bonner Primary School, named after the first Aboriginal person to sit in the Australian parliament, designed by HBO+EMTB and Peck Von Hartel Architects. Interesting art elements included at this school included impressive entry gates featuring laser cut aboriginal words in a feather motif. The celebration of aboriginal culture was integrated into both the learning programme and the built landscape of the school. Three sided classrooms joined by operable walls allowed for team teaching and flow through to community spaces, and the acoustics of the open spaces worked surprisingly well, given the number (and age) of students. My second visit was to the impressive Gungahlin College, with its integrated on-site public and higher education facilities. The College buildings had an adult feel with large open learning zones allowing for a multitude of activities to be happening in small and large groups. Including a commercial hospitality kitchen, professional theatres and sports facilities, and a public library, means the College is used all-day (and evening) which allowed flexibility in the timetabling for more courses to be run, and also accommodates a very large student population. Once again integrated sustainability measures including solar chimneys, an underground labyrinth and a natural wetland were integrated as standard features rather than green-washed add-ons. The impressive facilities including large artists, recording and photography studios ensured a mix of educational opportunities and pathways to higher learning and beyond. Both schools were dealing with particular urgent student increases in one of the fastest-growing areas in Australia, and were obviously expanding quickly to keep up. Within this though, there was no compromise to their quality of learning style or space, nor the philosophy underpinning their development.

Dani Martin

EIW Architects

Photos by Dani Martin