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ISK’s New Buildings Serve as Third Teacher

By Patricia Salleh Matta
ISK’s New Buildings Serve as Third Teacher

The colorful designs on the green hoarding that surround the west side of the International School of Kenya’s campus are also dotted with peek-a-boo windows. Even our youngest learners can observe the new elementary teaching and learning facility’s daily ‘growth’. As our school continues to ‘empower students to create solutions for tomorrow’s challenges’, the third ‘teacher’ is being constructed.
In “My Pedagogic Creed” (1897), John Dewey suggested that much of education fails because “it conceives the school as a place where certain information is to be given, where certain lessons are to be learned, or where certain habits are to be formed.” Who would want the new building to be thought of in this way! We want a place where students can build and strengthen 21st century skills and attributes needed to be successful long after their time ISK.
In the late 1960’s and 70’s the educational focus was on raising student achievement and providing the best academic experience for all. Now we have challenged the model and we are looking at meeting the needs of the individual learner in a flexible learning environment. In December 2013, amid nostalgia, fond memories and a “Parting of the Pods” party, we said goodbye to our old pods, the teaching spaces since the 1970’s, and moved into temporary facilities with vim, vigor and a few moans and groans!
The new ES15 buildings began taking shape last January and continually remind us that innovative teaching and learning approaches are actively used and visible. We sought input from our students, teachers, parents and Board. Weekly Project Team meetings that involve architects, contractors, project management team and the ISK team can sometimes be long and with differing ideas, but overall we are able to demonstrate the collaboration we ask of our students. We are all learning more than we ever imagined.
So what kind of a building will meet a learning environment for a future that is hard to imagine? We know that the environment should be the 3rd teacher and our Educational Aims, one of foundation documents, drove discussions. We designed spaces where students can learn, create, solve, act and communicate. Spaces where students can be creators and inventors as well as successful learners. Currently, we ask teachers to challenge themselves to do things smarter not harder and be those creative thinkers we hope all our children will become. With a range of needs and with flexibility as the cornerstone, we sought expert advice in multiple areas:
• Design and layout of our three different playgrounds that will support learning in a variety of ways and through all the senses
• Flexible technology integration options
• Adaptable and flexible furnishings
• A new occupational therapy room to facilitate students needing regular vestibular stimulation or require more individual support
• New lab to focus on science, technology and engineering – complete with its own garden
• A multi-purpose room that is the epitome of flexible space (PE, parent meetings, drama productions, etc.)
• A conference room to facilitate both small and large group sessions
Eventually we will move away from space ‘ownership’ at ISK and look at a more global approach to teaching and learning. With Nairobi’s wonderful yearlong climate, we wanted to bring the outside in and the inside out and so each learning room has a wonderful outdoor veranda. Beautiful old trees purposely became part of the design, some spilling into the as yet unfinished verandas. As ES15 nears completion, consultations continue. We love reading the daily suggestions left by students on a board outside my office. Students would like (among other things!) a disco ball, playground with enough space and equipment for all, a “laderr”, ping pong, a ‘rest room’ with TV, iPads & computers, more ‘toylits’, a water slide, to be in an ‘upstairs learning area and (wait for this…) a Jacuzzi for ‘pepl’ to have their lunch in!
Overall the project is on track. The plan is to have it completed so that we are ready to pack up and leave our temporary abodes before we close in June 2015. Very exciting indeed. Perhaps in the future, you might be one of those fortunate teachers to work in our elementary school. If you are, then rest assured that you will be joining a collaborative, hard-working, forward thinking and professional staff that I am so very proud to work with and support.
Now with the final countdown in progress we continue to focus on improving best practice, raising achievement and ensuring success for each individual learner. However as the saying goes ‘the devil is in the detail’ and as with any new building, some days the details drive us mad. We often have the “oh gosh should we/did we….” moments and will most likely have those for a long time after we move. Each time we visit the site, though, we can imagine the future and think about the wonderful opportunities that await us.

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