NZ explores the impact of design on learning outcomes and stress symptoms

Published: Tuesday 30 October 2018

The New Zealand Chapter explored how learning space design is making a difference at Newtown School, the Mangere Refugee Centre, and to Christchurch students with PTSD symptoms from the city's 2011 earthquake.

Community and Connectivity: Newtown School, Wellington

This relaxed event gave attendees the opportunity to explore the completed new innovative learning environment (ILE) at Newtown School.
This new 2 storey building, designed and delivered by JTB Architects, provides 14 new learning spaces at Newtown School.  Its accommodates a variety of learning spaces including general learning, makers spaces, breakout spaces and outdoor learning spaces.

The evening kicked off with Mark Brown, Newtown School Principal, introducing the project and emphasising how the building successfully embraces the cultural narrative and local context within Newtown.  He also commended the Architects in addressing site constraints, such as traffic noise and access, whilst meeting all of the school’s requirements.  

John Tocker and Paul Crawford, project Architects with JTB, gave an insightful overview of the extensive processes involved, from student & teacher workshops during the design stages, through to the hurdles encountered during the construction stage.  

Experiencing the finished architecture validated that the building not only delivered new progressive teaching spaces, it also effectively strengthens the School’s presence within the local community.
Creating Spaces to Welcome Refugees: Mangere Refugee Centre, Auckland

Everyone agreed that the space created for our newest refugees to experience a New Zealand education is extremely special. A lot of  time and energy was put into creating a space that would welcome refugees of all ages to New Zealand, as the centre’s education section has children of pre-school age as well as adults to cater for.

Clive from Pacific Environments, (architects for the project), shared how the existing buildings were of no use to anyone and how the reconfiguration of the whole site was a massive undertaking with many companies involved, as the whole site was being re-developed. The new buildings needed to be constructed to be ‘temporary, but with a feeling of permanency’.

Maria the director of the education centre spoke of how the need to have people feeling valued and welcomed, was the priority as a refugee's stay at the centre is a total of six weeks. Tony, one of the educators, spoke with passion about how the environment had changed the overall feeling of being here, not only for refugees but also the teachers working in the spaces.

Tony and Maria acknowledged that the idea of flexible spaces initially were seen as a challenge to complete the intense work they do, however now they prefer the flexibility and the comfort that the spaces offer and can see every day how it allows for more movement and opportunity for students to connect with others in authentic learning situations, rather than being siloed by single cell classrooms. The event included a tour of the spaces in small groups and then a  question and answer session with Clive, Maria and Tony.  

We were all grateful to have this very special learning context shared with us, a huge thank you to all involved in making this event so successful.

Innovative Learning Spaces and teacher/student outcomes, Christchurch

A highly successful event with over 100 participants attending the evening held in a lovely space at ARA. Kathleen Liberty from University of Canterbury spoke for the first hour about some of the research related to children entering schools before and after the Christchurch earthquakes.

The research has shown that  significantly more children presenting with stress symptoms after the earthquakes- but little research about effective strategies for teachers in classrooms, around 70% of children in CHCH have 1 or more symptoms of PTSD and she looked at existing research and what new research was helping us understand about children is that very simplistic models of behaviourism- like time out- will not work with children with PTSD.

Research Question: Even events occurring before children were born can influence what happens later in their lives. The more adverse events that occur in your lifetime the more likelihood that you will develop physical and /or mental health issues in mid life. It’s not the specific event, it’s the number (accumulation of) that occur for you, and this can change our DNA and it can be passed on to unborn children though stressed parents and carers.

Our children in Christchurch particularly have had adverse experiences and so New Zealand is the 3rd highest rate of PTSD internationally. PTSD used to be considered an anxiety disorder but is now considered a stress disorder. The reality  is that schools can never be stress free, you learn new things at school for children who have had a lot of stressful events they see new things as scary and a threat. It was noted that 60% of studied children reduced the stress symptoms when the schools changed the learning environment – based on the recommendations and changes made to the spaces in collaboration with Dr Kathleen Liberity.

Chris Bradbeer: Updating us on the ILETC Project

LEA's Regional Chair Elect and ILETC Project Research Fellow spoke at the same event, highlighting that there is discourse around what learning looks like now and what it might look like in 20 years time? What might the space need to contain or even look like?

Chris informed the crowd of the idea that there is a direct link between pedagogy and space, and the information is growing. He explored the talk around the  stress of flexible learning spaces, but  what about the stress of someone in a ‘single cell’ environment? Having to stay in the same space for long periods for  example.

Chris emphasised that we need to move on from ‘our kids are guinea pigs’ thinking and that the teachers need to use these environments as they were designed. Some of the areas the study is looking into are:-
· Teacher mind frames and teaching approaches
· Deep learning- dispositions this is harder to measure than first anticipated
· Predominantly schools are still using teacher centric approaches
· Schools have a common pathway when they transition. Key ideas are an implementation phase,
and consolidation phase
· Developing a set of tools and strategies to support teachers on these journeys  of change

Chris’ key message is that an innovative learning environment is not innovative just because of the building, it only becomes innovative when innovative practice  begins to happen within it, with the learners needs at the centre.

Article: Jacque Allen

LE NZ Chair Elect

Photos: Mangere Refugee Centre, Jacque Allen