Hubs – What are they?
Whether we are in big public forums, people’s living rooms, scanning Lincoln Talk, or standing in line at Donelan’s, one of the recurring conversations is about “hubs” – What are they? How do they change education? Are they a fad? Are they like my 1970’s open classroom? Is the hub model innovative enough?
The SBC revisited this topic at its May 30th meeting, when Philip J. Poinelli, FAIA, ALEP, LEED AP, MCPPO, Principal and Learning Environment Planner for SMMA, focused on these very questions.
What are hubs and how do they change education? As you can see in the image below, these spaces come with a variety of names (breakout spaces, learning commons, etc.). Generally, they are flexible, multi-use spaces that are adjacent to, and shared by multiple classrooms/learning studios. The idea is to transform the physical environment from a factory model (Classes of 18 – 24 students in a series of same-sized boxes along a corridor) to a neighborhood model (multi-sized spaces around a common area shared by a cohort of students and several teachers). This reflects and supports the fundamental shift in education that is already happening. The pace of change and access to information is such that it is difficult to predict the content students will be learning in 50 years, but we do know that they need to be able to think critically and imaginatively, access and evaluate information, and work collaboratively and across disciplines. Our faculty is already engaged in this kind of education. As School Committee Chair, Tim Christenfeld, noted during the May 30thSBC meeting, “There is an evolution in teaching, but there’s a disconnect between the teaching and the building.” Buildings have the power to facilitate and accelerate innovation.
Are hubs a fad? In his presentation, Mr. Poinelli gave several example of school systems that were pioneers in transformational school design, and that seeing their first buildings in action, have committed themselves to this model.
- The High Tech High School in San Diego was founded in 2000 with one school. It was built around the concept of “project-based learning” – an interdisciplinary, problem-solving approach to education. The model has grown into a network of schools in California including four elementary schools, four middle schools and six high schools. https://www.hightechhigh.org/hth/
- Department of Defense Educational Activity (DoDEA): DoDEA operates 194 schools serving over 86,000 students. Statistically, DoDEA is the 34th largest school district in the nation though its schools are spread out across the US and the world. In 2011, DoDEA developed its framework for school design based on 21st century education principles. https://www.usace.army.mil/Media/News-Archive/Article/477949/engineering-the-future-usace-designs-builds-dodeas-21st-century-schools/ This is very relevant for Lincoln, as the framework was used to design both the Hanscom Middle School (completed in 2016) and the Hanscom Primary School (under construction). Our faculty is already teaching in this kind of facility.
- Mr. Poinelli noted that a number of districts have multiple schools designed around a hub approach, including Saskatchewan, Canada and Snohomish, WA
- The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) is now accommodating hub-based designs into the projects they approve. The SBC toured one of these schools, the Gates Middle School, in Scituate. Here is a recent WGBH news item about project based learning at Gates.
Are they like my 1970’s open classroom? No. Mr. Poinelli said that not all open plan schools had hubs and not all were unsuccessful, but those that failed likely had some of these characteristics:
- Lack of acoustical isolation – classrooms that were open to each other or separated by poor quality operable partitions. Operable partition technology has improved significantly as has acoustical engineering.
- HVAC systems within the teaching spaces, which often made distracting noise. Today we can create teaching environments that are very quiet, improving speech intelligibility for the benefit of all students.
- Lack of visual isolation – the teaching spaces opened to each other with little option to close them off.
- History tells us that in many communities with open plan schools, there was little teacher professional development conducted in how best to use these new schools. By contrast, the Lincoln Public Schools administration and Hanscom Middle School faculty spent two years planning how to optimize their new environment while they waited for the building to be constructed. The Primary School faculty is now doing the same.
- Over the past 30 years there has been significant brain research that informs us how we learn and how many of us learn differently from each other. This has had a real impact on how we design learning environments today. Mr. Poinelli commented that “if the educators need to grow into the building, the architects have done their job.”
Is the hub model innovative enough? When a group of resident educators presented to the SBC, the question arose whether the hub model was sufficiently forward-thinking. At the current concept-level phase, the project concepts L3 and C show (for grades 3 – 8) grade-level hubs surrounded by similarly sized classrooms. If one of these concepts is chosen on June 9th, the interior configuration of those grade-level clusters will be developed and refined, and it is possible that they could look more like the neighborhood model in this illustration. That design work will happen in conjunction with our educators. L3 and C provide enough square footage and heavy renovation/new construction to make those decisions possible. There is, inherently, more flexibility with the new construction of classroom wings than with the renovation of a cinderblock building.
Another FAQ the SBC often hears is “What is the threshold for code compliance?” After the 1994 school project linked the Smith and Brooks schools, the Lincoln School became a single building. Here is a high-level summary of the structural, accessibility and life-safety codes that will be addressed by all of the concepts under consideration.