It’s 2063 and the population of Melbourne has risen to 10 million. Huge numbers of school-aged children live within the CBD, and have no access to rural and coastal Victoria. Owing to the proliferation of high rise apartments, the local government has started to utilise the roof top spaces of these buildings as schools. You have been given a brief to design a classroom that brings rural and coastal Victoria to the city. The school is committed to environmental awareness owing to water restrictions and a depletion of natural resources.
As a rooftop environment in the city centre, with no access to natural landforms, this redevelopment of a rooftop space into a school must bring these landforms to the students. The students need access to natural aspects of the environment such as the riverine environment, beach environment and the associated habitats, and importantly, a self-sustaining vegetable garden. The technology has long been available to grow the majority of plants and to sculpt landforms on a rooftop, but now it is to be used with a particular focus, namely, Primary School Education.
An issue that needs to be addressed initially is the definition of classroom. Historically it was the room within 4 walls where lessons were conducted. Today, in the second half of the 21st Century, this definition has been largely left behind. Today we feel that a classroom is any space where learning and intellectual growth is taking place and this information is shared and interacted with by those people who make up the class. Our proliferation of wireless electronic devices has enabled us to expand our field of learning.
The building itself is a large shopping mall of several storeys that services the surrounding conglomerate of high-rise apartments. Being one of the largest shopping malls in Melbourne, and centrally located within a major high rise housing area, the building was perfectly located to develop into our new educational facility. The roof area was flat and previously included a rooftop garden and restaurant buildings, which through disuse fell into a state of disrepair. The rear of the building previously housed an above ground electric rail station that had been decommissioned and has now been replaced by an underground network. Since the building was structurally sound and had been constructed previously to bear the weight of a rooftop facility, it was a rather simple choice for this urban experiment.
As much of the original structure as possible has been retained, as part of a heritage restoration programme. This accounts for the large, round, domed windows and the curved glass wall on the western end of the north face of the classroom building. A second storey was added to the school building to accommodate classes, maintaining the original construction and blending with it to remain in the same style. The lower floor houses the infants classes to Year 3, while upstairs are the primary classes as well as administration and staff facilities.
The classrooms are extremely spacious, with each room approaching 150-200m sq. in size and the Kindergarten room being more than this. The large dimensions of the rooms enables the establishment of various learning areas within each classroom and allows for many different learning spaces. The emphasis in the classes is on group learning; in particular co-operative learning and the rooms have been designed accordingly to accommodate this. Also, the wall between the Year 2 and Year 3 classroom slides into itself to allow the space to be opened between the rooms for larger scale group activities. The same applies upstairs, but the sliding panels enable the 3 classrooms there to be joined into one enormous space.
The large, curved, circular windows allow the entry of maximum natural light to the rooms, with front rooms having direct views of the playground, gardens and Amphitheatre. The rear rooms have a view of neighbouring parklands, but have direct access to the school grounds. Classrooms come equipped with a storeroom and the younger classes have “wet” areas for easy post art and craft cleanups. Correct insulation has been a priority and the buildings have been insulated for maximum protection in both summer and winter, thereby saving energy on cooling and heating.
A distinct feature of every classroom is the focus on the electronic learning aspects of the classroom and innovative technology, in particular the focus on the Electronic White Board Generation IMN (Interactive Mind Network). This feature is linked to the bank of computer desktops that students have constant access to, as well as the latest updates in software and virtual computer hardware. These student desktops are projectors for 3D computer interactive devices that the students connect to using their implants, which are generally installed soon after birth, or using the skullcap for those whose parents rejected the free implants. Implant interfaces were first developed in 2028 and rapidly became commonplace following their popularity and the development of a highly cost effective production process and by 2050 had become the norm. There is much debate surrounding the ethics of performing implant surgery and the various conspiracy theories that arise from time to time, but it is generally accepted that early implantation produces much higher levels of connectivity, rather than adult implants or the skullcap.
Teaching methodology these days is more devoted to the learning of complex skills than content oriented lessons. Of course, students need to learn aspects about their homeland and other cultures, as well as language and mathematics and other basics. The focus in education now is on the HOW. Plasticity of the mind and its ability to adapt to situations and learning is a high priority, as are the still valid 8 Ways of Aboriginal Learning. Fifty years after they were first organised into a coherent document, we are still using these as a core framework of our educational process.
The entire rooftop of the classrooms is devoted to the most modern power generating solar panels, as is the sail above the Amphitheatre. This generated enough electricity to run the school’s total electrical needs throughout the day as well as charging the school battery bank for low sunlight days. The current iPads have solar panel touch screens, which means that they can be operated even under indoor lighting, similar to solar powered pocket calculators from the 1980s.
Rainwater is collected and stored in tanks under the Amphitheatre and provides water for bathrooms and the garden. The school also processes its grey water to be recycled onto the gardens. Technology today ensures that, when processed, grey water is clean and above safe levels to drink and has no remaining pathogens or contaminants. We do not mix the grey water with the drinking supply, however, potentially we could drink our grey supply if the necessity arose as some other countries, for example Singapore, have been adding processed grey water to their reticulated supplies since at least 2002.
The original water feature on the roof was retained to develop into the central pond system. The northern section features seaside plants and has a salt-water pool. The separate southern pool is fresh water and represents life around a typical billabong. Both ponds are stocked with fish and other life forms appropriate to maintain balance ecologically and enable students to see and interact with the ecology of two distinct landforms that were historically in the school’s geographical region. Spanning the area of 4 Olympic-sized swimming pools, the rooftop water feature is an icon within Melbourne that has been saved by careful remodelling and attention to heritage.
Through the middle of the playground, on the edges of the water feature, would be a sand area sculpted in form to resemble a beach with coastal species planted alongside. Native species adapted to this environment such as coastal banksias will be grown to stabilize the sand area. Due to availability of space, there will be a seawater pond, but this will be supplemented by a seascape hologram to provide the impression of a real seas-scape. The hologram programmes can be varied for seasons and for variations in the weather. The hologram screen will stand between the two environmental areas.
The reverse side of the hologram screen will be a typical riverine landscape from rural Australia. The landscape leading up to a billabong of recycled water will be riverine in nature with river red gums, reeds and native riverside communities of plants. The billabong will be stocked with native fish species, in particular, Murray Cod, Golden Perch (yellowbelly), and Australian Eel tailed Catfish.
A significant area of the rooftop is given over to lawn play areas, as this is an area for children to use. Significant built features of the rooftop landscape include the building itself, the building housing the classrooms, the sail-sheltered Amphitheatre which is home to the student toilets and the boardwalks. The boardwalks are a pre-existing feature and have been retained to cover swathes of bare concrete and rainwater drainage channels. The effect is both aesthetically pleasing and gives form and structure to the grounds.
The rooftop amphitheatre offers a platform to showcase the vibrant arts and cultural scene in Melbourne. This rooftop space is available for rental by performance groups and is also available for school/community functions and presentations.
The school level is surrounded by a clear barrier of glassteel. This has been certified and a stronger and more reliable barrier than chain mesh fencing and is far more difficult to climb for unauthorised access in or out of the school premises. As a safety feature it is unsurpassed, and its clear surface can be electronically modified as a viewing screen or a type of interactive surface that can be connected with the classroom IWBs and student implant devices/skullcaps.
The major feature of the grounds is the vegetable garden. As it will be a fully functioning garden, there will be chickens as class pets to keep the garden active and to act as a form of organic pest control. It is important that children have access to these gardens and the fresh foods they produce.
Environmental Education is the responsibility of all teachers, not only those who are interested, and a school garden based on permaculture principles such as this would be an ideal place to encourage children to become more proactive environmentally and in their diets.
Why establish a school kitchen garden?
Behind the establishment of a useful kitchen garden within a school there are a number of reasons why such should be developed, including the development of environmental awareness and the connectedness of natural systems. The natural engagement of students in learning that takes place outside of the classroom and the enhanced community participation through the invitation of guests and parents to participate. There are increased levels of self-esteem that are encouraged through participation in an inclusive activity and there is an improvement of diet through increased knowledge of the origins of food and improved health through increase of physical activity by gardening.
The Benefits for Students.
By moving the classroom outside, into the garden, students, through involvement and achievement are able to increase levels of self esteem. The students also gain a better understanding of the challenges facing the planet and have a better understanding of the environment that leads them to develop a heightened respect for the environment. Students are able to participate and interact in a cross-curriculum learning environment that is real and authentic and they learn new knowledge and skills and experience a variety of learning styles. Students may gain valuable job experience that may assist with future vocational choices too. Being able to participate in learning activities that are more physical in nature helps to develop cooperation, teamwork and leadership skills and students learn to become more resilient and able to adapt to changes. Students can learn and understand more about where food comes from and the processes of obtaining it and develop a more holistic and healthy relationship with food, which may lead students to have reduced incidences of depression and obesity as students become much more interested in nutrition and eating organically produced food. In the kitchen, students learn safe and hygienic food preparation techniques and develop skills in practical cooking using the ingredients they have produced in their garden. The students learn valuable lessons about sharing
The Benefits for Teachers
By being involved in school gardens, teachers may gain many benefits such as being able to observe students outside of the classroom, in a different learning environment, thereby gaining an enormous number of teaching and learning opportunities. The classes gain an extra, outdoor learning space, in effect, an outdoor classroom and the outdoor space can be used for a number of other subject areas such as art, mathematics and reading. The inclusion of gardening and cooking across a number of Key Learning Areas leads to lessons and programmes becoming more integrated with programme development being able to use a wider variety of outcomes. These programmes can provide and encourage group work, in particular cooperative learning activities. The gardening can assist in developing greater involvement of parent/community partnerships in lessons as well as simply gaining a ‘nice’ place to learn
School and Community Benefits
The wider school community can benefit from a school garden through an increase of parent/community participation and developing partnerships with garden stakeholders. Benefits may include increasing self esteem, increased attendance and retention rates and an increased sense of pride in the school. There often tends to be a lowered incidence of vandalism of school property as well. The gardening programme helps in developing the environmental awareness of the general community and increases student engagement. These cause follow on effects of increasing levels of self esteem, improvements in general diet and raised levels of physical activity. Further benefits can be the sustainability targets for the school being more easily met and improving the school image and profile in the community.
The School Kitchen Garden
By creating a habitat in a school garden that has a diversity of plant species, we in turn, encourage the formation of a habitat for a wide variety of animal species. Students are able to see for themselves that there is a relationship between different species that can be observed in the garden. The children can observe the effects of the presence or absence of pollinator species of bees and birds in the development of fruit in many species. Students not only learn to identify plants and animals, they also learn how to understand the general behavior of various species. These students with access to a garden will gain knowledge of the natural world through observation and through interaction. When they have a real role in the creation and maintenance of the garden, children will display responsibility and a sense of connection.
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