Book Review: The Third Teacher

Subtitled 79 Ways you can use design to transform teaching and learning, this book came up during my search for new materials about school design that I can use at my new job and in my new context. But it’s full of ideas about what schools can and could be in the future. The book is organized into eight chapters:

  1. Basic Needs
  2. Minds at Work
  3. Bodies in Motion
  4. Community Connections
  5. Sustainable Schools
  6. Realm of the Senses
  7. Learning for All
  8. Rewired Learning

I’ll admit, I’m not done with the book yet.  I keep skipping around, reading the ideas out of order, looking at the photographs of lavishly well-designed schools all over the world, from Brazil and Germany to Switzerland and British Columbia, Alabama to  Norway.

Some of the ideas could be implemented immediately, though, and I wanted to get them out to you, the readers, as quickly as possible.  By “as quickly as possible”, I mean that your students and you could do these every day, as a matter of standard action.

  • Basic needs come first
    1. Monitor indoor air quality, temperature, and humidity with simple instruments.
    2. Choose cleaning products without Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), known carcinogens, are non-irritating to eyes and skin, pose no short-term or long-term health hazards, and that have neutral pH.
    3. Keep the curtains open.  Increasing daylight in classrooms cuts down on absenteeism, raises test scores, and increases desire to participate.
    4. Shuffle the deck. Change the locations of routine activities so children explore new surroundings in familiar circumstances.
  • Minds at Work
    1. Get rid of the desk at the front.  Organize the placement of objects in the classroom so that there are many centers of learning, but that it isn’t all focused on the teacher.
    2. Reorganize the room frequently for different kinds of learning activities.
    3. Allow students time and space to choose what they want to do, so as to illuminate individual strengths.
    4. Display learning: give every student a place in the room to post their favorite work, and rotate frequently to show how their learning is progressing.
    5. Emulate museums: fill your classroom with a rich array of evocative objects.
    6. Bring the Outside, in.  Use visuals and objects that call the outside world to mind.
  • Bodies in Motion
    1. Get up and move.  Primary school kids spend around 9 hours sitting. Stand up, move around.
    2. Make peace with fidgeting. It’s brain development.  Make it into conscious exercise.
    3. Make your classroom agile.  Reconfigure the space to different activities.
    4. Natural play spaces: class gardens, school ponds; reconnect kids with nature.
    5. Scale the wall: climbing builds kids motor skills and self-confidence. Make walls climbable.
    6. Free choice:  democracy grows with practice.  Give kids a say in school.
  • Community Connections
    1. Engage students in school design.
    2. Get parents painting.  If parents pitch in to make the school a delightful place, it will be.
  • Sustainable Schools
    1. Leapfrog LEED. It’s today’s top rating, but it’s tomorrow’s last place. Design better
    2. Let students lead.  Encourage students to convert to sustainable practice, and follow their lead.
    3. Rally the results. The savings from going green aren’t savings, they’re Return On Investment.
  • Realm of the Senses
    1. Hire cooks for your lunchroom.  Cook from scratch, using local ingredients
    2. Farm to table.  Invest in CSAs (community supported agriculture), and farms will invest in schools.
    3. Spend now, save later. Good school lunch is costly; diabetes and obesity are costlier.
    4. Grow your own. Grow and prepare fruit and vegetables on school grounds.
    5. Think hands on.  Have a fab lab, a carpentry shop, whatever.  Kids learn by making with hands.
    6. Paint by function. Color spaces that support the mood of each space’s intended use.
    7. Slip off your shoes. Make your school safe to walk in, in bare feet or socks.
    8. Public gallery. Give students space to exhibit their work. Invite the public.
  • Learning for All
    1. Adopt a younger mentor.  Pick a kid, ask him to be your guide on hopes and dreams.
    2. Recruit difference.  Hire people that are different from you or anyone else.
    3. Get accessibility-aware.  Consult with the differently abled as part of your design process.
    4. Domestic Classrooms. Kitchens, pantries and cupboards make schools feel like home

Well.  You get the idea.   What amazed me was how few ideas involved putting technology into the classroom.  Most of the ideas had nothing to do with technology, and everything to do with recognizing and encouraging kids’ natural curiosity, tactile awareness, physical capabilities, and social impulses, while shielding and guarding their resilient but relatively fragile bodies.

It also amazed me how many of the things were things that we as teachers could do ourselves. Sure, some of them were district- or principal- or board- level decisions.  But a great many of them (see the lists above) were things that we could do as teachers. And most of them were things we should do, as a natural part of our work.

Good luck in doing them.  I bet other teachers will look at most of them at first, and ask, “What on earth are you doing?”  But some of them, they might be doing themselves.

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