New classroom furniture facilitates 21st-century instruction

Soft, comfy chairs contain a built-in electrical outlet and USB port at their base, so students can plug in their laptops while they sit.

Those bland, standalone classroom desks arranged in neat rows could become a relic of the past, replaced by stylish tables and chairs with built-in power sources and wireless charging capabilities, if furniture maker Bretford Manufacturing has its way.

In a growing number of schools, classroom instruction is changing from a passive experience in which students sit and listen at their desks to a more social activity in which they learn in groups, often with an electronic device at hand.

Recognizing this shift, Bretford has introduced a new line of furniture that helps educators implement a more social and technology-rich learning environment in their schools.…Read More

New federal program promotes ‘green’ school policies

A new federal program will recognize schools that are creating healthy and sustainable learning environments.

As the “green” movement sweeps across the nation, prompting citizens to buy organic produce and reduce their energy consumption, schools are following suit with lesson plans that teach students how to value environmental resources and with practices that save energy—and money. Now, a new federal program will honor and encourage these efforts.

The U.S. Education Department (ED) created the Green Ribbon Schools program to recognize schools that are creating healthy and sustainable learning environments and teaching environmental literacy. The new awards program will receive support from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Preparing our children to be good environmental citizens is some of the most important work any of us can do,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said at an event announcing the new program. “It’s work that will serve future generations and quite literally sustain our world.”…Read More

New program brings solar panels, and education, to schools

Johnson Controls will install solar photovoltaic panels at 73 different Utah schools.

With energy efficiency becoming a universal concern, it seems natural that the conversation should move to schools. Johnson Controls’ Solar for Schools program brings the focus to the scientific application of solar energy both inside and outside of the classroom.

Solar for Schools has been enacted throughout Utah to teach students “the value of renewable energy first hand.” Johnson Controls was selected by the Utah State Energy Program to install solar photovoltaic panels at 73 different schools throughout the state, with at least one set-up in each school district.

The program also includes an educational component, and now Johnson Controls is rolling out the initiative nationwide as well.…Read More

What’s more important: School buildings or the teachers who fill them?

With an eye-popping price tag of $578 million, the opening of the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools will mark the inauguration of the nation's most expensive public school ever. (AP)
With an eye-popping price tag of $578 million, the opening of the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools will mark the inauguration of the nation’s most expensive public school ever. (AP)

A new public school building in Los Angeles that cost more than $500 million to build–at a time when the city has laid off more than 3,000 teachers and cut several academic programs–has raised eyebrows across the country, adding fuel to a national debate about how important one’s environment is to learning and how best to spend limited educational resources.

Next month’s opening of the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools will be auspicious for a reason other than its both storied and infamous history as the former Ambassador Hotel, where the Democratic presidential contender was assassinated in 1968. With an eye-popping price tag of $578 million, it will mark the inauguration of the nation’s most expensive public school ever.

The K-12 complex to house 4,200 students has drawn national attention as the creme de la creme of “Taj Mahal” schools, $100 million-plus campuses boasting both architectural panache and deluxe amenities.…Read More

Solar power making a comeback among schools

The Athenian School's solar panels form the shape of an 'A' near the school's baseball field.
The Athenian School’s solar panels form the shape of an ‘A’ near the school’s baseball field.

Web surfers requesting a Google Earth view of the Athenian School in Danville, Calif., are greeted with an image of what school officials call the “solar A”—a mass of 1,300 solar panels on a hillside near the school, and a testament to the nation’s renewed interest in sustainable energy resources and solar power to cut school energy bills.

Solar energy proponents say an increased focus on “green” lifestyles and practices has helped place the technology once again near the forefront of school energy practices. While solar power is not a new idea, it gained momentum during the energy crisis of the 1970s, which led to tax incentives for solar power. Once fuel prices stabilized, however, tax incentives disappeared. But now, with an uncertain economy, rising fuel prices, and deep cuts to education, solar power once again holds attractive benefits for school districts.

The Athenian School’s system—1,300 panels sit above the school’s baseball field—supplies 50 percent of the school’s power needs, said Bob Oxenburgh, Athenian’s director of facilities.…Read More

Green school buildings making a surge

School systems nationwide are beginning to realize the benefits of “going green” when building new schools, according to experts who follow school construction trends. Though the initial building costs can run higher, schools are seeing a return on their up-front investment through a reduction in monthly energy costs. Another important (and often unexpected) side benefit has been a boost in student achievement resulting from more healthy, productive, and comfortable learning environments.

John Weekes, an architect who is a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on Architecture for Education, says “green,” or environmentally friendly, school buildings aren’t just a West Coast concept anymore.

“Of course, places like California have been thinking green for a while, but it’s really all over now–the Pacific Northwest, the upper Midwest, and the Northeast,” he said. “Recently, it’s also been [occurring in] the Southeast. It’s certainly [a] mainstream [concept], but not entirely even across the board. Every region has its own rate.”…Read More

Eight key school-design recommendations

Here are eight key principles for effective school design in the 21st century.
Here are eight key principles for effective school design in the 21st century.

The National Summit on School Design, convened by the American Architectural Foundation and Knowledge-Works Foundation, recently brought more than 200 participants from around the country to Washington, D.C. After discussing several school-design topics, summit participants agreed on eight key principles for effective school design in the 21st century. These are:

1. Design schools to support a variety of learning styles. Not all students learn the same way, studies show. In designing new schools, stakeholders should reexamine the idea of the traditional classroom setting and focus instead on new kinds of environments that can support student achievement. This requires greater flexibility to accommodate a range of learning scenarios, both inside and outside of school.

2. Enhance learning by integrating technology. Besides the use of technology tools in classrooms, recent advances also allow schools to better control heating, cooling, air flow, and noise and to improve communications with stakeholders. Consult students about what kinds of learning technologies they’d like to use in school, summit participants recommended–and don’t forget to train educators in their use.…Read More

Another kind of ‘intelligent design’

As a high school principal, Bruce McDade was in charge of student learning, morale, and safety. So, naturally, he became adept at interior design.

Bathroom mirrors? In the high school where McDade was principal for five years, they’re located in the hallways, where image-conscious teenagers can be supervised when they cluster to check their appearance.

Classroom chairs? They are 26 inches wide, two inches roomier than normal, to keep students comfortable.…Read More