K-12 STEM & Makerspaces

Innovative K–12 Design Inspired by Innovative Curriculum

Technology’s ability to disseminate content has rendered the role of the teacher as a formal expert redundant — shifting the goal of education from traditional instruction toward empowering students to discover how they learn. Owing to the push for personalization, individual learning styles are suddenly central to the future of education. With increasing technological advancements, educators must respond with the future in mind. Evolving curriculum demands that design also evolve to incorporate innovative and hands-on learning.

K-12 building design

The experience of learning — for both student and educator — is heightened in a well-designed space. The right space allows for innovation, exploration and creation, preparing students for jobs of the future. Freed of the limitations of a traditional classroom, Corgan is exploring how the built environment can augment future learning — reimagining schools as a playground of self-discovery and its walls as a canvas for individualized stimuli.

As the first K-8 CSTEM school in the state of Arizona, the Dove Mountain CSTEM K-8 School is setting a precedent as a school of choice, defining the future of school design. Influenced by the district’s vision to provide CSTEM (computing, science, technology, engineering and mathematics) exposure in elementary school and connect with CTE programs in high school, the design promotes student interaction in a 21st century learning environment, offering a creative and specialized academic experience.

Using the district’s guiding principles of creative, innovative and specialized learning, Corgan devised a plan to create a campus based on the community’s goals of a collaborative environment, providing opportunity to break down siloed learning.

K-12 building design

Students, teachers, parents and community members were asked to participate in several visioning sessions to capture interests, ideas and goals. Using a variety of techniques, Corgan was able to establish the core values of the community that would ultimately be reflected in the school’s environment. Renderings, programming diagrams and sketches were used to gather feedback for the building design, incorporating user preferences for the fundamental structural design. The visioning sessions were not only used to design Dove Mountain CSTEM K-8 School, but they also provided an opportunity for Marana USD’s key stakeholders to establish design standards for the district moving forward.

The district and community’s values guided the entire campus design, from the room size to the vibrant colors displayed, to support their desired educational goals. The resulting design features three secure neighborhood wings to support the district’s vision. This design allows students' ideas and concepts to be born within the classroom; developed in the zLab using augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) technology; built in the makerspaces; and finally, tested, presented and celebrated in the outdoor learning area and amphitheater.

The main building’s circulation spine, identified as “The Arroyo,” sweeps up over the sloping terrain, connecting the south entrance and administration area to the classroom wings and media center en route to the gym and cafetorium at the north entrance. The media room, science rooms and makerspaces are located at the heart of the school, which is accessible to each classroom wing. These rooms can be viewed from the Arroyo, creating transparencies between grade levels. This allows students to be inspired by the advanced grade levels, igniting curiosity and engagement in the curriculum ahead.

K-12 building design

Environments that foster collaborative, project-based learning prepare students to find solutions and prove the efficacy. Throughout the school, students interact in flexible learning environments and gain early exposure to CTE programs. Computer, science, technology, engineering and math are integrated into every class and subject to refine problem-solving skills and foster creativity.

Innovative classroom design allows collaboration both within and outside the classroom. Collaboration spaces are interspersed throughout so students can learn to work in teams, as they would in a professional office or workplace. Configurable furniture supports a variety of functions, including a collaborative learning environment, and offers flexibility for future changes to curriculum or pedagogy.

Throughout the school, makerspaces encourage students to engage in activities focused on CSTEM. These unique educational areas accommodate a wide range of resources, technology, tools and materials for students to build and experiment. Students are challenged intellectually and creatively while developing problem-solving and risk-taking skills.

All classrooms are identical in design and natural light, having access to age-appropriate outdoor learning areas to provide equity for students. Located inside the rooms are wall-mounted touch screen monitors, flexible furniture and glass partition walls that open to the adjoining hallway for interactive group learning. This expanded classroom feature includes pin-up boards and whiteboards that rotate 90 degrees to enable interaction with the classrooms across the hall.

Students engage in real science work in real environments in outdoor learning areas. While projects are born in the classroom, they can be further explored in outdoor learning areas, allowing students to gather information, think critically, make decisions and take action within their CSTEM learning.

K-12 building design

The architecture team partnered with Code to the Future, the nation’s leading computer science program for immersion schools, as well as the Odyssey of the Mind School to incorporate zSpace augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) labs, 3D printing, media rooms, makerspaces, and wet labs to create opportunities for hands-on learning. With the increasing use of AR/VR to explore organ dissection, volcanoes and more, the school incorporates spaces for students to learn by doing. These interactive learning environments allow students to take risks and solve problems, preparing students to meet the demands of jobs of the future.

Building on the unique learning experience, students are provided individual mobile devices, increasing connectivity with teachers, fellow students and course content. They can conduct research, collaborate with others and access course curriculum, fostering deeper engagement.

In addition to the building providing the space for learning, the building itself is a learning tool. Structural and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) elements are color-coded and on-display in transparent technology hubs to teach the students how the building is constructed and how the systems work together to create their learning environment. Vibrant color, texture and daylight energize the learning environment and enrich the daily life of faculty and students.

Dove Mountain CSTEM K-8 School is a celebration of student-driven learning. Corgan’s evolving educational design is paving the way not only for Marana USD, but the progression of education. By implementing hands-on learning opportunities, students are more aptly prepared for continuing education and entering the workforce. A flexible learning environment partnered with engaging lessons can increase comprehension with conceptual ideas, allowing students to connect and apply material in the real world.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Spaces4Learning.