Green Schools: Architecture as Pedagogy

Green or high-performance K-12 schools have long been lauded by green building advocates for producing higher test scores and reducing student absenteeism. These claims have been reinforced by recent studies, such as the Heschong Mahone Group study that concluded that students with the best daylighting in the study progressed 20 percent faster on math tests and 26 percent on reading tests in one year than students with the worst daylighting.

While it may be difficult to prove that sustainable design improves learning, green schools offer a more tangible benefit as well. Elements of green schools are doubling as teaching tools – both for traditional disciplines and to help students learn about environmental stewardship.

“Architecture as pedagogy is the next frontier in the evolution of high-performance schools,” says Robert Kobet, president of Sustainaissance International and chair of the committee developing the LEED for Schools application guidelines. “There are many examples of schools that have building features that are introduced in a cross-curriculum manner. These enhance the educational experience and raise the overall awareness of the students. The extent to which they are integrated is the hallmark of a high-performance green school.”

“Using the facility itself as a teaching tool is a significant benefit,” says Jo Cohen, senior project manager for Fletcher-Thompson Inc. “The possibilities are endless and curricula are being developed to incorporate environmental design into school instruction.”

There are numerous examples of how green design strategies can both contribute to an environmentally responsible facility and act as a way to study everything from geometry to physics.

Alternative energy strategies such as photovoltaic panels can be used to teach about electricity and how it is produced. If electricity use is monitored and that data is routed to computer labs by a building management system, students can perform statistical analysis and report the data to administrators. Light shelves can be used for geometry lessons, allowing students to measure the angle of reflection of sunlight as it enters the building. Daylight combined with a flagpole creates a sundial that can teach children about the earth’s rotation and the measurement of time. Building product selections, such as products with recycled content or renewable source materials, such as bamboo or rubber flooring, present opportunities to teach about global environmental issues and responsible resource consumption. Storm water retention ponds can be used to study biological ecosystems.

This is just a sampling of the possibilities. The important thing, though, is that when building a new school, designers and administrators decide early in the planning process which elements will be incorporated into the design and how those will fit into the curriculum.

“The design process should set the goal from the beginning that the school be a three-dimensional textbook,” says Kobet.

That means facility executives, principals, teachers and school administrators should be included in the design process.

“Buy-in of the critical players is essential,” says Kobet. “This may even include several individuals not normally associated with the planning process: local businesses, TV and radio stations, farmers, waste management services, etc.”

By including a wide variety of stakeholders, conclusions can be reached both on what green facility elements can be incorporated into the curriculum and what existing parts of the curriculum lend themselves to particular green design strategies. Just as the green design elements are simultaneously teaching tools and components of an environmentally responsible design, the curriculum will double as an engaging way to learn a traditional discipline and also a lesson in how buildings affect the environment – a lesson students often don’t get at a young age.

“To do this, you need an awareness of how school architecture as pedagogy can enhance and enrich the learning experience while satisfying all state educational requirements,” says Kobet. “You need an understanding of how to make the process integrative, not necessarily additive. Telling teachers they have to do more is not going to interest any but the most ardent and dedicated. But tell teachers that their teaching could be more interesting, more fun, and better noticed and appreciated and you may get someone’s attention.”

Educating teachers on the merits of a green building is the first step in teaching them how to teach in a green building. After that, the challenge is showing teachers how to use the elements of green design in their lessons.

“Teachers and principals have to learn how to teach in a green building,” says Lee Meyer, principal at KKE Architects. He says one example is learning how to optimize a classroom that uses daylighting strategies. “It’s important for teachers to learn how to teach in a classroom where lighting is from the sun, not from fluorescent bulbs. Teachers feel like it is their constitutional right to have so much illumination per square foot. Adjusting to changing light and the movement of the sun is the key.”

But once the teachers are acclimated to the healthy, high-performance school, the result is healthy, high-achieving students, says Kobet.

Cohen agrees: “Clean, healthy, quiet spaces suffused with natural light are ideal teaching environments.”

Even beyond the benefit to students, green schools can give the community an identity as environmental stewards.

“A true green school is cognizant of the ecological footprint of the school on the community and vice versa,” says Kobet. “Schools are icons that interact with and share in the cultural, financial, human and ecological resources of the community. With a green school, there reside numerous opportunities to enrich the educational experience while benefiting the community.”

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Copyright Trade Press Publishing Company Aug 2005 – Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights ReservedBibliographay:
“Green Schools: Architecture as Pedagogy”. Building Operating Management. . 09 Nov. 2008.