A vertical library

On Monday I attended a meeting with the architects who are designing the refurbishment of our existing years 9-12 campus into a P-5 campus. As I understand it this was the first time the architects had met with actual teachers (previous meetings were with administration) but the plans they shared had been drawn up for more than two years.

The architect started with a qualifier – they don’t normally leave it so late to consult with teachers but in this case the constraints were so restrictive they needed to draw up plans before consultation (or words to that effect). The constraints include: the tight dimensions of the site as a whole, the heritage-listed mansion which is the main building, and limited budget (compared to that for the new building on our other campus).

As head of library I am naturally most interested in what they have planned for the library so I was very disappointed to discover … nothing! There is an existing library for the year 9-12 students and that is exactly what they have in place for the P-5 students. It seems they are happy to stick with a known known and just make it fit the new circumstances.

The existing library

I’ve spent the last few days floating around a few different ideas. All but two of the classrooms will be housed in a newer adjacent building. I’ve come up with the concept of a vertical library that would operate in the break-out spaces provided for classrooms on two levels, have teacher resources and library workroom on a third level and retain one section of the existing library for a more traditional reading area. The classrooms not located in the newer building are for the youngest students in prep – the reading area would contain everything they would need on a visit. We would move resources about so that they matched the current inquiry topics and library staff, through involvement in planning, would be working in the appropriate area when the resources are being accessed. It’s very early days in the thinking for how this would play out in practical terms but the intent makes complete sense to me – locating resources (physical, online and human) where the children are instead of segregated in a separate space seems logical. You can see the basic idea in these pictures:

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

I’ve drawn and written about my ideas in bright pink texta on a photocopy of the plans and submitted it as part of the feedback process. Let’s hope that even if my idea isn’t what eventuates the idea is enough to spur the architects on to some more creative thinking about how a library is used as a learning space in the context of the primary years.


Blog task 1

Our library viewing area (as it is described for booking purposes) is a large, fairly open space where students mostly sit on the floor to use the set of iPads or for viewing the TV. It’s popular with teachers for the iPads because we have an Apple TV making for easy sharing of student work. I wrote about one corner of this space in Impact of space but I knew I wanted to look more at this area. As you can see, the corner wasn’t the only messy part of this space. (click on the image to rotate the panorama).

On the face of it the area is serving its purpose but I feel it could be better utilised. One thing I’ve noticed is that, even though we are always busy at lunchtime, this area does not get much use at that time (although the new 3D printer has generated lots of interest). Being a “dumping ground” was not limited to the one (now cleared) corner and even something as simple as cleaning out the superfluous stuff should have a positive impact. The central area which is not visible in the panorama is basically an empty carpeted space. There is a contrasting carpet square that is used to define the seating area for viewing the TV.

I’d like to make the area more attractive and inviting for students so they are tempted to spend time there of their own volition. It would be lovely to redecorate the area with some of the fabulous multipurpose furniture pieces I’ve seen. New carpet would make a huge difference too, as would a new colour scheme, writeable walls and more options for display.

Image from http://www.furnware.com.sg/akiako-scape


Image from http://www.furnware.com.sg/cookie-pad

However, my school is embarking on a major consolidation and building process. According to the plan we will be moving out sometime next year so that the building can be gutted and refitted. At that time we will move into a completely new space (that’s a whole other story). Thinking about what Brown (2009) describes as the work of a design thinker – the harmonious balance of desirability, feasibility and viability – it’s pretty clear that such ideas, while desirable and feasible are not viable.

Fundamental to the use of design in learning spaces is the consideration of the style of teaching and learning that will take place and the flexibility to provide for different styles in the same environment. Buchanan (1992) discusses “the role of design in sustaining, developing, and integrating human beings into broader ecological and cultural environments, shaping these environments when desirable and possible or adapting to them when necessary” (p. 10). So “using constraints as inspiration” (Kuratko, Goldsworthy and Hornsby 2012, p. 110) I’ve turned my attention to the activities that could occur to make the space more appealing rather than focusing just on the physical.

I have been thinking for a while that I’d like to use this space for students (and possibly teachers too) to present “how to” sessions about their interests, passions and hobbies. This idea was formed last semester when we looked at Creative Cultures in module 5 of Concepts and Practices for a Digital Age. I’m still working on how to get that started but in the meantime this task has given me the impetus to try something else first.

My plan is to provide a variety of new activities for students (a different one each day or week) in this space at lunchtimes. First up will be a 750 piece jigsaw puzzle that I will place on a table in the middle. I’ve no idea how quickly it might be completed but there won’t be any problem leaving it as a work in progress over a few days. The table usually lives against a wall but can be easily moved by two people allowing us to clear the space for classes at other times. I will look for other similar ideas (and thanks Patricia Lee for your inspiration already) – perhaps some craft activities or obsolete equipment that the children might like to take apart and tinker with.Jigsaw


Brown, T. (2009). Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. HarperBusiness.

Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking. Design Issues. 8(2), 5–21.

Kuratko, D., Goldsworthy, M., & Hornsby, G. (2012). The design-thinking process in innovation acceleration : transforming organizational thinking. (pp.103-123). Boston : Pearson.

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Thinking about design

I’ve done some reading and thinking but rather than write this post in a true academic style I thought I’d just note down my own responses to these questions, based on but not specifically referring to what I’ve read. They probably sound a bit random. I’m thinking that coming back to these questions in a couple of months time would be an interesting exercise – hopefully my responses would have matured. Anyway, for what it’s worth this is what I think right now:

Why does design matter?

Design is the difference between something being good (great, fantastic) or merely good enough. Good design embodies a holistic approach that takes into consideration the human and environmental factors at play not just simple function or cost. Innovation is a product of design. Design enables clever solutions that can do more than was first thought or imagined.

What are the core reasons for which we need a design process?

A process allows for planned and agreed steps. Points along the way to try things out, reflect, refine and try again. Without a process it’s likely that the first ideas get implemented without being prototyped or trialled in an inexpensive or non-permanent form. Expensive mistakes are likely.

What might be the role of design when we think about learning spaces?

To use all the many and varied needs, wants, constraints and possibilities to come up with creative, inspiring and practical places to learn. Design looks further than current practice in the one field – it seeks and plays with ideas from unrelated, even incongruous fields to develop ideas that can be explored further with prototypes.

Other reflections

Last week at my school we were fortunate to have Sam Gliksman, author of iPad in Education for Dummies present to us about using the iPad to demonstrate learning and tell a story.

Our first activity was a challenge, “The Marshmallow Challenge” – groups of three were given 20  sticks of spaghetti (uncooked), a ball of string, sticky-tape, scissors and one marshmallow. Our instructions were to use these materials to make the tallest possible structure that could support the whole marshmallow at the top. We had 18 minutes and were also asked to record what we did using the iPad camera. The purpose of the exercise, as it turned out, was twofold. Firstly, we were gathering material to use while learning how the app Explain Everything can be used to demonstrate learning, but more importantly it was to illustrate a difference in the ways adults and children learn.


My group was monumentally unsuccessful. Our tower was tall but collapsed as soon as we put the marshmallow on top. Children (even kindergarten aged) almost always do better than adults at this challenge; better than teachers, lawyers and high-flying CEO’s (the only group of adults who does do better is architects and engineers which is probably a good thing). The difference that has been observed is that children will test the marshmallow at the top of the structure up to five times during the 18 minutes whereas us adults wait till the end (I know we did in my group). 

Thinking about this as I was reading about design and design thinking I realised that what the kindergarten kids did which we adults didn’t was prototype. They tried, failed and tried again. It made me realise that I only look for one solution to a problem – yes, it was me saying “don’t put the marshmallow on top yet, what if we break it, we’ll have to start again!”

Since starting this blog post I’ve found this TED video all about the Marshmallow Challenge.

Designed for a purpose


On one day this week, spend 30 minutes on your way to work, at the gym or in a restaurant, taking care to observe, and note in a sketchpad, everything that you think has been designed for a purpose, without which the journey, gym or restaurant experience would be more difficult, or less pleasant. Has anything been designed for one purpose but harnessed for another?

On Wednesday I left home 20 minutes earlier than usual so I would have time to observe the waiting area at my local station. I might add it was dark, foggy and 4 degrees at the time, although that wouldn’t have been much different 20 minutes later.

Macleod station is an entirely utilitarian space, all hard surfaces which could probably be hosed down if necessary. Items in the space include:

  • Three different machines related to ticketing – one for topping-up, one for balance check and two for swiping on and off
  • Snack and drink vending machines
  • Plastic modular seating in groups of two or more, each seat bolted to the floor with a central pole
  • A kiosk with a coffee machine selling snacks, newspapers and magazines as well as coffee
  • Rubbish bins
  • Two display stands, one holding various brochures, the other with lots of “cheerful” messages from the authorities
  • A customer service window (but don’t hold your breath waiting for “service”)
  • A raised, textured walkway for guiding people who are vision impaired
  • Automatic doors at the entry and exit to the platform

People using the space frequently craned their neck as they entered to see the display indicating when the next train is due. This display is outside the space, on the platform.

As people entered they either went to the kiosk, the Myki top-up machine, took a seat, or went straight through to the platform.

The only item I observed being used for a purpose other than its original design was one seat pole had been harnessed as an anchor point for a chain to secure a display stand (the one with all the messages about law and order!).

Macleod Station