Nov 27

Different Ways of Seeing

By: Valerie Wright

In an afternoon lecture, we listened to Christine Pilger, Danielle Buchanan Joyner, and Houda Boudjemaa with Grimm + Parker and the Discovery STEM Academy in Newport News, Virignia.  This group comprised the architects and administrators for and at the academy.

The academy is designed to facilitate Student Centered Learning through holistic student learning and achievement based on a combination of the following:

  1. Leadership
  2. Nutrition
  3. Discovery
  4. Fitness

The curriculum, instruction and class room management are all tied to the design process to allow students to lead their own learning and to make relevant connections every day. The academy is designed with what they term “Learning Lanes”.  The school is divided into the different learning and achievement categories.  For instance, the gymnasium is considered part of the fitness lane and along with that is a stage connected to an amphitheater allowing for indoor and outdoor performances.  The nutrition lane encompasses a nutrition lab with kitchen and dining area.  An edible garden is located adjacent to the nutrition lab.  There are student galleries and a success wall for displaying projects.  There is a two level media center with a project-based learning area.  The courtyard is utilized as an outdoor learning space.  The most captivating part of the academy is the “I-Wonder Walls” where students can write questions or engage in online research.

One of the books the team referenced and utilized for the design of the school was:  21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times, by Bernie Trilling & Charles Fadel, published by Wiley.

At a workshop after the above lecture, we heard from several design firms internationally who encouraged the students to work on the designs of their own learning spaces using scaled models, specifically the Vittra Telefonplan School in Stockholm, Sweden.  Check out two architectural firms that were a part of this conversation: and

Six key principles can be applied when thinking about the common areas of the school design and what a learning landscape may look like, taken from David Thornburg (

  1. Mountaintop
  2. Cave
  3. Campfire
  4. Watering Hole
  5. Hands On
  6. Action

Dr. David Thornburg uses his expertise in emerging trends to help educators build the skills needed to use technology as a tool to teach for understanding and helps shape a cohesive vision of an educational future in which everyone thrives.  He believes that students learn the best when they are the constructors of their own knowledge.


Tags: 21st century learning, Architecture, Education Categories: Blog