Magazine article Technology & Learning

A Multimedia Lighthouse for Public Education: Calgary's Lester B. Pearson High School

Magazine article Technology & Learning

A Multimedia Lighthouse for Public Education: Calgary's Lester B. Pearson High School

Article excerpt

Multimedia fits well into the whole philosophy of our instructional approach.

We have the mandate to be innovative -- to be a risk-taking building. We emphasize an interactive, collaborative approach in the context of a very open school. Students work in collaborative learning groups with a project orientation and a concentration on problem solving and decision making.

Multimedia facilities -- even demands -- such a collaborative approach.

There are thousands of gleaming "points of light" in education today, from individual teachers to entire schools. Towering high among these points of light is a brand new visionary school in Calgary, Canada. Called the Lester B. Pearson Senior High School, the school is clearly a lighthouse for public education both in Canada and in the United States.

Opened in September 1991, Pearson was the first new Calgary school to be built in 20 years. Embracing a brave new world of ideas about education, the Calgary Public School Board was determined to create a flagship that would lead Calgary into the 21st century of education. From architecture to philosophy to the use of technology and multimedia, Pearson is packed with innovative thinking.

Equally important for a lighthouse school that may be emulated, Pearson was designed with reality in mind. Despite a wealth of innovative technology and striking physical architecture, the per-meter cost of the school was actually less than any other school built in Alberta in the last 20 years. What's more, rather than serve as a magnet school for gifted students -- which might produce misleading results -- Pearson is in fact a traditional community school with a rich, multicultural mix of 1,100 students.

A lighthouse with windows If educational philosophy can be constructed in physical space, Pearson is vivid proof. Its radical yet warm and embracing architecture stretches out in a bold "V" that seems to reach out in greeting to visitors. Everywhere one looks, there is glass; from inside, the building is literally a "light house."

"Most of our schools are built like prisons," says Richard Everett, director of instructional technology at Pearson. "The walls have little windows -- and 20 years ago, the windows were actually painted so that kids couldn't see out. The idea seemed to be that if you didn't exclude kids from the outside world, they'd never learn anything!

"Our philosophy was to create an environment that students want to be in. Colors are soft, and the use of space is inventive and supportive. There's a huge, glass-topped public atrium -- our student commons -- where kids can gather and actually sit down. There are individual and small group study areas, plus a variety of informal student gathering areas. Most schools police the halls during class, then kick the kids outside the building anytime they're not in class. Our environment, by contrast, is one of respect for students and support for their happiness."

A motivating philosophy Pearson's supportive architecture extends directly to its visionay educational philosophy. As evidence of this philosophy, the school has created a striking written blueprint describing what it expects out of teachers and students.

Among Pearson's "critical variables," the document states a "clear belief that we need to restructure, not tinker." Other critical variables include "recognition that energy and commitment (wellness and missionary zeal) are required" ... and "courage to accept the possibility of failure." The school looks for "teachers who are willing to accept shared leadership in the change process" -- "supportive individuals who are loyal and ready to go to the wall."

Describing Pearson's vision of education, the document states: "Learning requires the active involvement of the learner in a supportive environment which values risk taking, problem solving, decision making, and creative thinking . …

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