March 27 2017

2017 NAIS Conference Recap

Project Architect, Keith Peiffer enjoyed the opportunity to spend some time with educators at the 2017 Annual Conference for the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) held at the Baltimore Convention Center between March 1st and 3rd. In addition to playing with Little Bits and seeing the latest furniture innovations from Smith System and VS, Keith was able to attend some insightful workshops within the Classroom Experience track. Themes of diversity and active learning were clearly evident throughout the talks.

Teachers from the Synapse School in Menlo Park, California, a laboratory school associated with the 6seconds organization, explained how their school is integrating emotional intelligence and social-emotional learning (SEL) within their Science, Technology, Enginnering, Arts and Math (STEAM) curriculum. During their talk, the presenters modeled their unique curricular model by taking attendees experientially through a set of exercises including rapid prototyping a bridge.

Emotional Intelligence Model - Competencies (Synapse School)

Allen Broyles and Scott Hamilton from the Howard School in Georgia presented their synthesis of current neuroscience research about the ways that we learn. Broyles and Hamilton emphasized that while a sensitivity for diversity is increasing within schools, educators also need to be increasingly aware of the reality of cerebrodiversity. As other aspects of the physical body like height develop differently over time, so do students’ brains. Recognizing cerebrodiversity may shift curriculum to acknowledge a more comprehensive understanding of intelligence that encourages the use of assistive technology like text-to-speech or audiobooks in the classroom.

The presenters also emphasized that current curricular models (including the Maker Movement, STEAM, and Project-Based Learning) all reinforce insights gained through research because they effectively integrate executive functions while encoding memory through multiple senses allowing for better memory retrieval. This homunculus emphasizes the significance of active learning through a more robust engagement of the body in the classroom.

Photo of a homunculus - an artistic representation of the amount of cortex dedicated to each part of the body (Sharon Price-James)

Author Susan Cain and her colleague Heidi Kasevich noted the implicit cultural bias toward extroverts and shared how their Quiet Revolution organization seeks to bring greater awareness of the strengths of introverts to the office and classroom setting. In particular they related research about how introverts’ nervous systems react more to stimulation and suggested that this reality is an important consideration in creating the classroom environment. Cain and Kasevich also noted research showing the significance of solitude in fostering creativity.

These insights from teaching experts are invaluable to us as architects seeking to create spaces that are optimally suited to support 21st century learning.

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