When construction began on the new Kemps Landing/Old Donation School (KLODS) last June, school officials decided to take the entire experience to the next level for the building’s future students.
“A school building is a great living laboratory for understanding the interconnectedness and interdependencies of various structures and systems,” said J. Tim Cole, sustainability officer for VBCPS. “These are concepts that all students begin to explore in elementary school. An emerging building site can become a laboratory for students at all grade levels. Students are exposed to tangible examples for the study of soils, geology, math and science, just to name a few.”
A great laboratory indeed, but construction sites can be dirty, dangerous and not an appropriate place to visit for students. So, staff improvised.
Cole took the school building site to the students in September when he began monthly Skype sessions with classrooms at KLODS. He uses an iPad and the communications software so that students can be eyes on and hands on.
“For example, we have skyped in to the classroom from the job site as wells were being drilled for the geothermal heating and cooling system,” Cole said. Students were able to review the engineer’s test results that illustrate the different soil conditions along the 400 foot length of the well. The soil engineer was on-site to answer questions and soil samples were collected to provide to students for examination.
“That’s the beauty of live, online conversation,” Cole said. “The students can ask questions as soon as they think of them and they get immediate answers. They don’t have to wait for a response.”
Cole says that Skype has become a valuable teaching tool. “It’s instant and it’s flexible. I can stand in the middle of a construction space, point the pad at an object and begin to circle, giving the children a 360 degree view. It really brings a lesson to life.”
Since Hermitage Elementary School opened in 2005, Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) has been looking at ways to integrate the school’s building into the curriculum. In fact, the phrase, “building as a teaching tool,” is one that people hear often.
Educational commissioning is a new concept in school planning that refers to a process through which teachers, students and even parents and community partners are educated as to the design intent of a newly constructed school facility. The objective is to provide all occupants with the knowledge to use the building as optimally as possible for teaching and learning.
Kellam High School was the first building that utilized educational commissioning to address this issue. The work at KLODS students serves as an extension of that same mentality.
As part of a recent job shadowing experience, VBCPS Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence took part in one of these lessons. These experiences, Spence said, are exactly what today’s students need.
“Facts and memorization don’t necessarily excite younger students anymore,” Spence said. “They’ve grown up surrounded by technology and that’s what they respond to. That’s what excites them. So, it makes sense to teach them with tools that they respond to.”
Through Skype, students were able to witness, in real time, concrete being delivered to the site. This process involves testing the concrete for air infiltration, temperature, water content and slump test.
Students were able to watch the geotechnical engineer as he performs all of the task and they ask questions. Almost a month later, a Skype session from inside the geotechnical test lab reveals how concrete is tested for strength, as cylinders are placed under increasing loads until they fail.
Not only were students witnessing the math and technology being used to solve problems pertaining to their new building, they were exposed to a side of the industry that many architects and engineers never get to see.
Whether students are asking the structural engineer questions about seismic design, or learning from the design team about how the watershed will be affected by the new building, students a valuable teaching tool for students across the division. It’s Cole’s hope that new projects, like the KLODS construction, are not just for the students that will occupy the new building.
“Students across the division can benefit from this on-the-fly version of distance learning,” Cole said. “We’re only limited by our imagination.”
The monthly Skype sessions will resume in September and Cole plans to continue them until the school opens in fall of 2017.