Current research in education shows that “experiential learning,” a theory developed by Jean Piaget that places value on the primacy of authentic experiences, is an effective educational method that leads to meaningful and long-lasting learning. Experiential environment-based learning, which promotes inquiry-based observation and analysis, has been shown to advance retained knowledge, increase engagement and enthusiasm for learning, while providing an antidote to society’s increasing detachment from nature and cultural obsession with technology. This paper posits nature not as a subject to learn about, but as a tool to learn with. Rather than relying on occasional outdoor excursions, as the current pedagogy suggests, classrooms should provide direct interaction with natural phenomena in order for students to develop a deep understanding of traditional subject matter, while reflecting on the directness and complexity of their experiences.
Despite many positive trends in outdoor curriculum and school design such as “green schools” and “healthy schools,” which focus primarily on a checklist of prescriptive items, contemporary classrooms often do not reflect important current directions in educational philosophy. Throughout the 20th century, two factors have shifted away from learning experientially with the natural environment: buildings have become less connected to the natural world due to increased security and the prevalence of air conditioning, and curricula has become more concerned with memorization than with experience. To what extent are classrooms, currently and historically, designed as reflections of current educational philosophy? This paper provides a survey of well-designed classrooms, classrooms that support experiential learning by design.
|Keywords:||Classroom Design, Environmental Education, Experiential Learning, Green Schools, Healthy Schools, Nature Deficit Disorder, Natural Phenomena|
Assistant Adjunct Professor, School of Architecture, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA