Story of a Building Seminar, October 2019 (Scituate, MA)
How Your School Design Follows Your Educational Program: Transitioning to Project-Based Learning
Gates Middle School
- The Office of the Inspector General MCPPO Program
- The Massachusetts School Building Authority
- The Town of Scituate Public Schools
On October 16th, 2019, the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) and the Massachusetts Office of the Inspector General’s MCPPO program joined together with the school building team from the Lester J. Gates Middle School in Scituate to offer a glimpse into the process and strategies that Scituate used to shift to a Project Based Learning (PBL) educational program and then translate their vision into the design and construction of a new 735-student middle school. Fall '19 Scituate Agenda.
I. Educational Visioning
Attendees from school districts across Massachusetts heard from former Scituate school leaders and educators about how and why Scituate modernized teaching and learning in the school district. Well before submitting a Statement of Interest (SOI) to the MSBA for funding, Scituate hired an educational planner to help the community understand how the needs of a modern economy, including the dominance of technology-driven practices, impacted teaching and learning. The educational planner led visioning sessions with stakeholders – administrators, teachers, parents, local officials, and most importantly, students. The student voices became the change agents for this community, shifting the way the educators and residents thought about the delivery of education in their town. The visioning process created an educational program based on Project Based Learning (PBL) techniques (Scituate style) and basic conceptual requirements for physical space that would translate the educational approach into a physical building.
II. Advance Professional Development
The District built capacity among its educators to implement PBL by investing in teacher training. Between 2013 and 2018, Scituate sent faculty to the Buck Institute (now PBLWorks) and hired the Buck Institute to offer five summer sessions of “PBL 101” to Scituate’s educators – first to Gates Middle School teachers and then to other interested staff. It is important to remember that although the building opened in August 2017, staff had already shifted to PBL practices as early as 2014, implementing PBL techniques in the hallways of the old building. As evidenced by Scituate Public Schools, the earlier the district prepares its educators when undertaking a new approach to the delivery of education, the better teachers can leverage the new layout and features of their new school’s design and implement the new educational program.
III. Faculty Support
Scituate stressed that to ensure an educational shift catches hold, it is essential that teachers are at the forefront of the shift – they need to believe in the "why." Teachers are on the front lines with students. PBL gained significant traction at Gates Middle School through teacher and department chair leadership. Former Superintendent of Schools John McCarthy and former Gates School Principal Sarah Shannon will gladly answer your questions about how Scituate carried out its transition successfully. Please contact Barbara Hansberry at the MSBA for their contact information if you have questions for these officials.
IV. Unique Design Features
In a lively "Talk Back" session, current faculty members and members of the student body discussed the PBL approach to teaching and learning at Gates and what it means to them. The school design makes learning spaces visible. There is plenty of space for collaborative work and presentation areas and space for exhibition of student work. Some of the unique features of the design includes. Architect Handout:
- Disbursing the school library throughout the school and using MSBA’s allowable square footage for a "library" in the form of six collaboration spaces to create "spill-ability"
- Classrooms (called learning studios) of different sizes and shapes and purposes to recognize different instructional methodologies
- Not a single desk, but school furniture that supports collaboration and flexibility
- Spaces for students to work in teams while still being supervised
- No teacher owns a room – designated teacher collaboration spaces
- Extensive use of glass on interior wall to make learning visible and improve supervision
- Multi-use spaces and multiple presentation spaces
- Black box theatre where every student takes drama
- Three art classrooms embedded among traditional academic rooms
- Outside classroom space around a vernal pool
- Flexibility to be as traditional or forward thinking as needed
The Program included other presentations throughout the day that covered a broad range of topics, including outreach to the voters, dispersing your library throughout the building, cost saving methods in design and construction and choosing the systems that are right for your school.
Scituate used the design-bid-build construction delivery method for this project. This school building project cost less than many other MSBA-funded projects underway at the same time. We learned that several spaces were designed for dual purposes such as a learning studio doubling for both math class and wellness class.
V. Finance & Facilities Personnel Stayed Involved
Anticipating the demands of maintaining the complex building systems in their new school, Scituate personnel participated fully in the design and construction of their new facility. It is important that the right people be present at each stage of the project. In Scituate, in addition to educators and administrators, personnel charged with managing the maintenance budget and performing the system maintenance always attended the numerous construction planning meetings.
VI. Keeping System Maintenance Costs to a Minimum
The last panel discussion on "Choosing Systems that are Right for Your School" described the choices a District faces when designing a new school. The panel presented the building’s new heating, cooling and air quality regulating systems within the context of a life cycle assessment that considered all costs, including maintenance costs. One way to avoid unexpectedly high maintenance costs is for a school district to employ its own personnel, rather than potentially expensive third-party service vendors, to maintain the controls and other building systems. To the extent Scituate planned to rely on third-party service vendors, the district wanted to ensure they had their choice of vendors through competitive procurements, rather than being locked into a particular service vendor contract due to the dictates of proprietary building systems. To accomplish these goals, Scituate personnel worked with their design team to write specifications that guarded against the use of proprietary systems with locked-in vendor contracts. Scituate personnel also diligently attended the trailer meetings during construction and took advantage of classroom training, as well as on-the-job trouble-shooting training, during construction and the warranty period. In this way, Scituate personnel learned as much as possible about the systems before assuming full responsibility for them.