Sunday, June 2, 2013

Keeping it cool

It is hard to pay attention when you are not comfortable. It is hard to feel welcome when you are sweating (how long can you sit at a sauna?). It is hard to want to go to school if you know you are going to sit in a crowded and hot classroom and perhaps deal with a teacher that might be a bit cranky because he or she knows people that work in more comfortable workplaces -anyone who's ever been at a mall, movie theater, or a corporate office knows that-.

Sara Mosle brings up an important variable which might explain achievement differences between schools and perhaps between states. As I have stated before, there are many environmental variables  intervening in academic outcomes that can be corrected in a very straightforward way, unlike pedagogical perspectives and practices. Just allow people to be comfortable and they will be more productive. Studies of work places show that they need to be slightly cold to keep people alert and productive. Some exaggerate and over-cool their offices explaining that computers need to be cool and in doing that, forgetting about the humans working for them and the health of the planet.

I am glad Sara brought up environmental concerns because, as the planet gets warmer, we have to find alternative ways to cool our built environments that will not contribute to the very thing they are trying to remedy. This article makes us think about the physical environment of public schools, so often overlooked. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Designing better spaces for people

The relevance of design for mental health -or for behavior altogether- has been historically overlooked in psychology. The field of environmental psychology has tried for the last 40 years to present design and all other environmental variables as integral aspects of behavior production, behavioral change, and, at a higher level, in the reproduction of social structure (via behavioral patterns.)
The article below by Roger Ulrich, elegantly shows how field research can be used to highlight environmental characteristics (he calls them architectural features) of spaces and their interaction with behavior to produced desired outcomes. In the study he describes, he shows how psychiatric care facilities can be designed to reduce stress and therefore violent incidents.
There is a solid body of literature in environmental psychology that documents how people react to different environments. It is about time that we psychologists team up with architects and other relevant thinkers (educators, public health researchers, urban planners, etc) to create better spaces for people.
Dear colleagues, let's "step out of our heads" for a minute...

Designing for Calm:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Design and Social Justice

Design is very relevant from a psychological perspective. We walk through different designed spaces everyday and learn about what kinds of behaviors are expected on those spaces. We learn about what kinds of people are in those spaces, we learn about historic legacy, we learn about current investment. We learn about our place in the world based on the places where we spend time. This learning perhaps does not occur explicitly, it just happens as we decode social norms that shape and are shaped by the physical environment.

Dignifying Design

This article in the NY Times talks about design and justice. It is usually the case that those that are wealthy or powerful are the ones surrounded by useful and beautiful design. It is much more relevant to provide well designed spaces for those that do not have access to it. Because of the information that we learn from our surroundings, we could influence the knowledge that people have about themselves by changing the environments in which they spend time.

I believe in providing better and more adequate design, that is culturally aware, and that is produced in collaboration with the space users. Schools designed under these premises can become successful learning communities.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The answer is: It could

Can a New Building Save a Failing School?

This story was aired yesterday on "All Things Considered". It asks whether a school can be saved by a new building. The question implies that a school is much more than brick and mortar. And it is. But the places where we spend time matter. The building is not only a "shell" where the schooling takes place. There is a constant and dynamic interaction that happens between users and the physical environment. What the building can "afford" its users makes a difference in what the users can produce. Building users benefit from comfortable spaces where light and temperature can be controlled, where technology is state of the art, and where pride can be built.
The physical environment of the building indicates how much investment is being done in the community, in the students, in the teachers, and in the building administrators.
In my own research I have seen that a new school building, like any other single element of a school, is not magic and it won't turn a school around overnight. It might quickly improve attendance, it will definitively improve morale. But it will take time to build the trust that was lost as the old school building crumbled down...
The school buildings of the XXI century should empower and support teachers and students in their education. They should be flexible, technology ready and pleasant.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Architecture for Learning

Examples of best practices in building learning environments. Wow.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Community Psychology in the NY Times

One of the first studies I read when I came to the US to study Community Psych. An article in the NY Times describes it.