How an educational vision drove the design of a new school
Gavin Judd describes how a school community in Mexico City designed its new campus to be actively used as the students’ ‘third teacher’.
Campus design and school mission
At Humanitree School, in Mexico City, we believe there are 3 teachers in every classroom: the teacher, the other children, who also teach each other, and the school environment. Ricardo Salinas Pliego and Maria Laura Medina de Salinas founded Humanitree back in 2011, with a vision inspired by the late Sir Ken Robinson based on personalized learning and finding the element for each child.
When we had the opportunity to create our new school campus, we were convinced that the traditional school building of ‘cells and bells’ was not the way forward and that we needed to do something different.
Rosan Bosch Studio was a natural choice for our design company as Rosan’s playful design aligned perfectly with our school’s mission to ‘Have fun learning and learn whilst having fun’.
Collaborative planning journey
Our journey away from traditional classroom spaces to a more open and fluid learning environment is not something that happens overnight. We began back in November 2021, when we first acquired the property for our new school campus and opened our doors tow years later in September 2023. We knew that if we wanted to move into an environment fit for 21st century learning then we needed to embrace the skills of collaboration and teamwork during the initial phases. Our teachers and students were involved in the design process and this involvement from an early stage has been an integral part of the success we are now starting to experience with the school environment as the third teacher.
We also spent considerable time in professional development sessions for teachers before moving into the new campus and experimenting with allowing more fluidity of learning spaces.
Using our new spaces
So, what does a typical day of learning look like at Humanitree? Most lessons begin in a timetabled space that we designate as a fixed space. It is on the student timetable and teacher schedule in a specific location at a specific time. Lessons may start with some teacher directed learning where students, in small groups (16 max class size) understand the learning objectives for the next one or two hours of time. We use screens and iPads to allow the teacher to move naturally around the learning space rather than being glued to a whiteboard at the front. The iPad also leverages the ability of students to move freely within the learning environment.
Once learning objectives have been established at the start of the session, students will move into student directed learning if they have a solid grasp of what is required and are able to learn independently. They may move into other flexible learning spaces that are open for anyone to use if that space is free. Students may also stay with their teacher for more teacher directed learning if the concepts of the day are not clear or a student requires more one-to-one attention.
A teacher may also choose to book a ‘flux space’, which is a bookable learning space, for an amount of time to support the learning objectives of that lesson. Every day one can see students working independently and responsibly throughout the school. They are visible to adults, but they have agency in their own learning as they embrace two of our core values at Humanitree: freedom and responsibility. By giving up control from a front facing teacher dominated, stagnant environment we allow students to lean on the 3rd teacher, their school environment, that guides them on their journey at Humanitree to become a Lifelong Learner.
The mountain, forest and coast curriculum
Another essential element of learning at Humanitree is the division of our curriculum into three ecosystems that align with the learning environment.
- Mountain which encompasses Languages and Humanities
- Forest which includes STEM subjects
- Coast which embraces the arts in all their forms.
Project-based learning is encouraged within ecosystems and across subjects. We look for opportunities for teachers to move out of department silos and collaborate with each other on projects that solve real-world problems and most importantly have real-world products and outcomes. Throughout these projects, teachers and students must consider which learning environment is best for them at any given phase of the project. ‘Caves’, ‘watering holes’, ‘mountain tops’ and ‘campfires’ are part of the nomenclature that we give to spaces to help teachers and students consider which space is best for them to learn both in and from, as the third teacher.
Rethinking learning spaces as the third teacher
Whilst we recognize that not all schools are able to provide the same quality of environment, we firmly believe that all schools can rethink their spaces and through creativity combined with rigorous professional development to help teachers and students move away from a command-and-control environment to one of enhanced freedom whilst recognizing the importance of students taking responsibility for and becoming active participants in their own learning. When students leave our schools, we all want them to be independent, self-motivated, disciplined individuals who are cultured, innovative and can add value to society. Let’s not wait until they have left to achieve this! Let’s give some control to the third teacher, give more control to our students of their own destiny with wise guidance from the adults in their lives and achieve this destination in our schools now.
Gavin Judd is the Academic Director Humanitree Middle and High School
All images with kind permission from Humanitree School