When the open classroom was introduced in the 1960s it did not gain significant traction in the broader educational community and it was rare to find Jewish day schools adopting it. By contrast, 21st century learning, propelled by dramatic advances in technology and revolutionary changes in the workplace, has gained a foothold to some degree in nearly every Jewish day school.
On the most basic level, teachers need to rethink their roles in a world where anyone with a cell phone has instant access to more information than all the teachers in the school combined. Beyond that, however, many have begun to reimagine the entire learning process. The empowerment of students to be not only consumers of information but discoverers or creators, the conscious integration of communication and collaboration into learning, and the creation of environments which are adaptable to student needs and foster student flexibility are all part of this shift. That reimagining of education brought new attention to school architecture and how it could be brought into the conversation of dreaming of a new educational future.
Jewish day schools took notice, and as opposed to what happened with the 1960’s open classroom, a significant number of schools decided to take action. This issue of the journal is inspired by that new thinking.
Despite the diversity of articles submitted–classroom teachers who changed their own classroom, schools with limited budgets who made minor furniture modifications, schools with enviable budgets who completely redesigned their campuses, and a summer camp which repurposes its spaces every year to meet educational goals–the same (or notably similar) guiding principles were used in the conception and design of educational spaces.
We identified four primary themes running throughout, and it is worthwhile to see the way they play out differently (or not) in differing circumstances.
- Spaces need to be varied, dynamic, and adaptable
- Spaces need to foster connectivity and interactivity
- Barriers are removed while facilitating a variety of spaces
- Form follows function, but function also follows form
As always, our hope is this issue will spark discussions in schools, both about space and about the education taking place within those spaces. Those discussions may take place on the faculty, departmental, leadership, lay leadership, or even student level.
Rabbi Zvi Grumet, Ed.D.