5 lessons from Career Tech — Spaces4Learning

campus design

Hands-on Learning Spaces: 5 Career Tech Lessons

By Bobby Williams, AIA, LEED AP, Architects HMFH

The growing importance of STEM education and project-based learning requires rethinking the traditional school planning and design process. A practical way to start is to adopt a broader, non-traditional mindset – especially during the conceptual phases of a school project.

Fortunately, planners and designers can take inspiration and inspiration from recent college and high school projects, especially innovations in career technology education (CTE) that deviate from conventional design and offer repeatable lessons. for improvement. The experiential and career-focused learning of these early adopters focuses on integrating science and math-based opportunities, and couples this mission with a hands-on, engaging, and highly relevant problem-solving curriculum.

The success of this model is found in the demand for professional technical education by a wide range of students interested in current opportunities in knowledge-based technology, science and health.

Two recent examples of the application of experiential career technology lessons in school design are the campus redevelopment of Bristol County Agricultural High School (BCAHS) in Dighton, MA and the new Dover High School and Career Technical Center in Dover. , NH.

Bristol County Agricultural High School offers a rich curriculum rooted in STEM and environmental education and supports a working farm on its 220-acre campus. The school offers its 640 students real-world experiences through seven CTE programs: environmental engineering, animal science, natural resource management, agriculture, floriculture, arboriculture, and landscaping.

Bristol Aggie Lab
Flexible Lab at Bristol County Agricultural High School

Dover High School integrates academic education with CTE education, allowing students to choose from a range of hands-on learning experiences and skills-based education. Throughout the building, classrooms, social hubs, and career technology learning spaces are intertwined, uniting all students into a single learning community.

Five lessons learned from the vision, planning and design of these two schools offer practical and replicable insights for other communities looking for new ways to think about the future on hands-on, project-based learning.

  1. Think bigger from the start: To meet the aspirations of all partners when planning a new school, it is essential to develop a bold and imaginative, yet clear vision that includes input from educators, administrators, parents, and representatives and leaders. community. Their ideas, as well as their commitment and buy-in, will be important to the future of the project – and ultimately to the future of the school. Sharing expert knowledge, inside and outside the school, is key to gaining buy-in and forging a school-specific path to experiential learning success.

  2. Engage subject matter experts and students: Engaging a wider circle of advisors and subject matter experts throughout the design process leads to a school experience that closely matches the needs of today’s teachers and students. During the early planning stages of BCAHS, HMFH met with teachers from each career technology program, as well as external advisors and school partners to understand both the program’s high-level goals as well as critical needs. in infrastructure, technology and equipment.

    Equally important were the visualization sessions with the students in each program. For example, animal science students provided key information about the needs and possibilities of distinct types of new laboratories, information that helped shape laboratory layouts. Natural resource management students joined in the planning by suggesting how their new natural history museum spaces might work.

    From these discussions, the museum pieces became part of a new circulation route through one of the buildings. Landscape Design students helped design the outdoor plaza outside the new Student Commons. This visualization process not only engaged the students in solving real-world problems, but it also helped students take ownership of the new school facilities.

  3. Design for maximum flexibility: While appearing “technical” in nature, a school’s mechanical, electrical, data and other building systems are of underappreciated but vital importance in career technology, STEM and other learning spaces. practice. Designing a robust, flexible and adaptable infrastructure is critical to the future success of any school.

    At Dover Career Technical Center, HMFH has focused on providing all the necessary infrastructure such as power, gas, air, exhaust, etc., while providing floor drains for cleaning and access to water around the perimeter of the stores. Careful coordination of this infrastructure allows existing or new equipment to be located almost anywhere in stores, providing maximum flexibility for ever-changing CTE spaces.

  4. Build for maximum durability: The communities we work with are engaged in a critical quest to mitigate environmental, energy and climate change. There are two universal benefits to this. A sustainable and energy-efficient building reduces operating costs, improves learning outcomes and significantly slows climate change. While achieving these goals, a thoughtful and visible sustainability curriculum offers the potential for a highly relevant and engaging learning lab experience for students.

    At Bristol Aggie, the whole school and campus is designed as a tool for learning. An outdoor green roof provides planting beds with varying depths of soil to offer floriculture students the opportunity to grow and maintain a rooftop garden. One of the building’s mechanical rooms is located adjacent to the environmental engineering labs and is accessible to students who will be actively auditing a LEED Gold building project as part of their curriculum.

  5. Provide connections with nature: Several studies reveal the benefits of creating teaching and learning spaces that connect with the external environment. Interest and excitement levels increase dramatically when projects can expand to include both indoor and outdoor experiences. Hands-on learning can also be designed to incorporate the outdoors, even in urban areas. Indoor CTE spaces, especially those dedicated to large construction sites or “maker” activities, can extend outwards.

Outdoor amphitheater at BCAHS
The amphitheater enables outdoor learning at the Center for Science and the Environment

The BCAHS campus includes outdoor classrooms, outdoor dining, and a multipurpose amphitheater. Indoor spaces, such as labs and other project-based learning spaces, can incorporate nature in creative and effective ways that support the curriculum while contributing to student health and well-being.

When reimagining future science and hands-on learning spaces, dare to dream big of what’s possible. Harnessing contributions and insights from across the community, embedding flexibility everywhere, and striving to move beyond conventional sustainability practices, the results will advance teaching and learning for future generations. of students.

Bobby Williams, AIA, LEED AP of HMFH Architects is Associate Principal and Project Manager, and a consistent advocate for inclusive, community-driven design. He has extensive expertise in the design of professional science and technology education spaces, where he combines a deep knowledge of technical requirements with a natural ability to engage with educators to provide unique design solutions to meet needs. of each client and facilitate a high level of hands-on learning.

Norma A. Roth