First of all some information about Ørestads Gymnasium:
The school was designed by the Danish architect studio 3XN as a proposal in a competition that took place back in 2000. The school was ready to host 600 students in 2007. The aim with the building is to break the traditional norms that follow a traditional school. The building is an approach to the future school where the global citizens of tomorrow is educated. The first thing you see when you enter the building is a the big opening that goes from ground floor to the top roof creating a light airy space surrounding the spiral staircase that leads you to the roof terrace.
The learning spaces at Ørestad Gymnasium are divided into four sections.
- The CLASS ROOM – this is where you find the benches, in a more or less traditional arrangement, directed towards the white board.
- The OPEN GROUP ROOM – these are spread over the schools open areas divided by some furniture pieces which double as a white board when needed. Here the students are seated around round tables with the possibility to sit wherever they feel suit them. For some students the staircase is very popular.
- PLENUM - is housed in round rooms, there is one on each floor. These spaces are usually guided by a traditional structure targeting a projector wall and are best suited for watching movies.
- The OPEN CLASS ROOM – this is an open version of the traditional classroom located in open spaces. This solution came about when the school had more students that they could handle in their other 3 environments.
Last week we got up really early in the morning to be able to catch the 7.28 train to Copenhagen. When we finally arrived at Copenhagen Central Station we went to a café to sit down and work on what needed to be prepared for the next day meetings. We had not yet designed the process for the two meetings, so we worked out a plan and adjusted our questions so they where well suited for our focus on the learning environments. We also decided on our rolls – Heidi was in charge of leading the process and I (Moa) would stand with a camera to record the whole intervention for documentation. Then we talked it all over once more… over a cup of tea and later on over a salad.
This was to be our first meeting with students in the process that evolves around learning spaces, so we designed the process based on a strategy that we believed would open them up mentally to go a bit more crazy with their imagination. From earlier workshops we have learned that children truly do un-learn to be creative throughout the education system, but if you use the right tools they can re-learn it with time. We decided to bring in a process we call “Crazy Circle”. Crazy Circle is a brainstorm method in three levels. In the very center you write the task, just one step out you place ideas which are “Pragmatic”, in here you write/draw ideas that are, so called, normal. Then comes the “Wild” circle. This is where the ideas which aren’t completely normal, but not so ordinary that they can’t come true, is placed. Finally come the “Crazy” circle, this is where all the truly strange and unconventional ideas are taken down on paper. After putting something down in Crazy you try to re-think the concept in such a way that you can write it down in Wild and/or Pragmatic.
First round we got to talk and work with 4 students, 2 girls and 2 boys at around 18 years of age, for 45 minutes. We started of gentle with just asking some questions regarding the structure of the school and how they found themselves in this structure. After about 10 minutes we moved on to Crazy Circle. Here we asked them how the subjects could be taught in a different way, concerning the learning approach and environments. In the circle for Crazy they wrote down ideas about going to Egypt to study the pyramids, that was later translated in the “Wild circle” into building scale models of the Pyramids in collaboration between the math and physics class. In Crazy you could also find ideas about jumping bungee-jump in between buildings around the city. In Wild they wrote down “Swimming in the canals for physical education” and “Start a charity organization that serves food to homeless”
We started just letting them know what we were up to, and then we talked a bit in general about the schools structure, how it was designed, what worked and what didn’t and how the structure affect the education on a everyday level. Then we drew down Crazy Circle, asking the questions “How do you use the space during your classes?” This resulted in the teachers opening up their minds and getting into a good flow while brainstorming on new ideas for the school.
An outsiders view:
I (Moa) was mostly behind the camera, which gave me the perfect place to be outside and observe from a distance. Observing in this way is impossible when inside the group, so I stood back, tried to keep the camera straight and watched what was going on. When it comes to the students I was a bit chocked to see just what they considered being Crazy and Wild, seeing that what they wrote in the outer circles I considered to be more or less suitable for the circles Wild or Pragmatic. Jumping bungee jump is possible, designing their own rocket and fly to the moon with their physics teachers is a bit more out there. I must admit that I thought they would truly walk the entire way and let their mind run amok, but I was wrong. Many times when one of them were on the verge of breaking into her/his, what seemed to be, long lost imagination there was always another student there to hold the person back. From this we learned that we need much more than 45 minutes with students of around this age even if it’s a part of our research and to develop a project with them we would need a more comprehensive process in order for them to re-learn their creating thinking skills and by that think bigger.
The teachers on the other hand were better at letting go, they wrote more, or should I say, one wrote more. You see there were some clear roles that appeared during the process with the teachers. One of the female teachers wrote almost everything while all of them were talking. One did more talking than the others; by leaning back he sort of took the lead. From what I could understand the person writing used it as a way of thinking. Everything that comes into her mind she first formulated in speeches, and then put down on paper. The teachers brainstorm was more open, there were hardly any “No”’s and “But”‘s, they built on each others ideas which ended up being a way more interesting discussion to behold.
Thinking back at what took place I look forward to do it once more, hopefully with a bit more time at hand. We are looking forward to dig deeper into the expertise of students and teachers, help the once who need a bit of guidance to think creatively and be a part of the process that eventually evolves into a design. You see, we have a theory of what we want out of this, but in the end it’s not about what We Want, it’s about the users wants and needs and hereby finding out what works and what doesn’t, and more importantly finding out why it works or doesn’t work. Whatever the result needs to work in practice – not theoretically and therefore we want to work experience based with the design together with the users – and of course they should be able to say “It truly works in practice. We’ve designed and tested it – and it looks really cool!”
We have booked a few meetings with some passionate persons from interesting schools that we believe will lead us further down the pass of knowledge (ha-ha… it sounds like such a cliché, and it is, but it became a cliché for a reason, and the reason happens to because it’s true, and it sounds kind of good in a lyric).
Tomorrow we have to set up plans and goals for the meetings to come. Heidi will be away Monday and Tuesday next week working on other projects, so we have to get things sorted before the weekend. She’s been working so hard lately that she deserves her weekends and a private life. You can say we wrote a contract going into this project, that included paragraphs such as “§ 1.1 Work hard during working hours, 8-4 pm″ “§ 1.2 Get inspired and share” “§ 2.1 We have the right to a private life” “§ 6.4 If the other is sick, make her cookies” “§ 1.3 Only stay late if it is absolutely necessary” “§ 1.3.1 If we are staying late, we have the right to cookies” “§ 4.2 Always have a pot of tea at hand” “§ 3.2 If one of us feel like we are working more then the other, feel bad for not working as much as the other, feel over run by the other, have any sort of problem what so ever, TALK ABOUT IT as soon as possible”
I believe that these ground principles are the reason why we (hopefully I’m writing for both of us) haven’t had the urge the rip the others head off, and hopefully we’ll never go there.
On the ToDo list you will find:
- Plan meetings
- Plan workshops
- Learn iMovie
- Make short movie from Ørestads gymnasium
- Apply for grants (holding workshops and traveling around Denmark is expensive for students like us)
- Read more articles regarding anything you think might be interesting for the project