Different by design
Get everything you want—easier student recruiting, more collaborative staff, a competitive edge—with a Kurani space. Here are Kurani spaces made with innovators like you:
Typical schools measure student success based on grades and test scores. But on the outskirts of Chennai, India, in a rural area studded with leafy palm trees, a new measure of success is taking shape.
A partnership between a group of forward-thinking entrepreneurs and Kurani, Riverbend is a boarding school designed to nurture something perhaps even more important than academic achievement: personal relationships.
At the school’s core is an insight drawn from the longest-running study on happiness: More than your wealth, job, or fame, the greatest predictor of well-being over a lifetime is the quality of your relationships.
“Good schools are essential for creating strong communities, and community creates happiness,” says Danish Kurani, Kurani’s founder and chief designer.
So, Kurani asked, What’s stopping us from creating a school whose main purpose is cultivating happiness?
In designing Riverbend’s campus, Kurani also considered multiple other factors related to the happiness of Riverbend’s students. Things like mental health, physical activity, and a sense of feeling in control of one’s education were also central to the design.
This is because each of these factors, in their own way, supports students in forming the kind of close relationships that breed happiness. For example, without a focus on mental health, students may not feel as comfortable being vulnerable to open up to other students. Without the freedom to run around, kids won’t properly socialize through play.
Central hallways with attached classrooms would be too confining to help kids feel connected to one another. Straight lines and hard corners would feel too serious to promote free play or activity. Rows of desks facing a blackboard wouldn’t encourage self-guided learning.
Instead, Kurani created a brand-new concept, one that can be followed by any progressive education leader.
The first thing someone might notice about Riverbend is that it’s set up like a small village. That is so students always feel like they are living and studying in a community. There are also virtually no straight lines, to encourage wandering and wayfinding. This freeform design also prompts students to interact with one another, instead of self-isolating in a corner.
The architecture of each building is also designed to maximize a feeling of community: No building is more than two stories, to help the campus feel more intimate.
“Nobody feels warm and fuzzy next to a skyscraper,” Kurani says. “Low-slung buildings make you feel like you’re somewhere safe.”
Other choice details that support well-being: an on-campus farm for students to grow their own food, a zen garden, a lake with a meditation deck, and a slew of learning spaces, such as makerspaces, recording booths, art galleries, and design studios.
These kinds of details support a unique curriculum as well. In addition to learning subjects like history or math, Riverbend students are free to study coding, theater, dance, literature, and many other topics of their choosing.
Together, these details add up to an educational experience most students can only dream of. But based on more than eight decades of research, it’s one that should set any Riverbend student on a path toward a long, happy life.
Khan Lab School
What would a school look like if every teacher and student had the chance to create the future of education? It might look a bit like Khan Lab School.
Nestled in Mountain View, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley, Khan Lab School is a futuristic laboratory for both STEM-obsessed students as well as forward-thinking teachers looking to experiment with new forms of pedagogy.
If Khan Academy was Sal Khan’s big idea for transforming education in the digital realm, then Khan Lab School, opened in 2014, is that big idea brought to the physical world. It’s a place run by the innovators of today, designed for the innovators of tomorrow.
Through its partnership with Kurani, Khan Lab School has been able to serve as a cutting-edge model for two groups: educational leaders who want to test out new ways of teaching, and the founders of startup schools who are passionate about building their first-ever campus.
In redesigning its space for the 2017-2018 school year, Khan Lab School’s top priority was enabling experimentation.
The team wanted students and teachers alike to feel like scientists and engineers. Everything needed to be visible, accessible. Spaces needed to be tailored to specific kinds of work, but flexible enough to adapt to changes in technology and teaching styles, as the school was set up to host a rotating roster of teachers.
Too often, schools are built with only today’s vision or technology in mind. As the world evolves, those designs become obsolete, and education starts to suffer.
Kurani’s dual mission: cement Khan Lab School as a progressive and desirable school for local parents and teachers—and, at the same time, avoid future renovation costs with an adaptable design that serves the school decades into the future.
The final design incorporates the best of maker spaces, laboratories, and libraries. The maker spaces and labs feature large windows to offer transparency, in addition to easy-to-read displays that showcase students’ work.
The reading nooks and breakout rooms offer quiet privacy for heads-down work and study. And the common spaces and cafes create chance “collisions” that lead to discussion and new ideas.
Each micro-environment plays an important role in the Lab’s overall design. Having dedicated spaces eliminates the risk that one student’s work becomes another student’s distraction—for instance, two students brainstorming while a third is trying to read nearby.
Instead, Khan Lab School gives students and teachers ample space to test, tinker, reflect, and analyze in whatever environment best suits the desired activity and outcome. The result is greater harmony during the school day, and increased satisfaction from teachers, students, and parents.
“The amount of light and the ability to increase collaboration in the space has enhanced the students’ overall learning experience,” says Megan Burns, the school’s STEM specialist.
With its new design, Khan Lab School isn’t just set up to perform experiments. The school becomes an experiment—one that creates new insights, every day, for improving education.
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Nestled in a multi-cultural Oakland neighborhood, next to shops and businesses, is an education center that may hold the key to the future of STEM education.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the tech industry isn’t very diverse. In fact, only 3% of Black and Latino employees combined worked at tech giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter. This lack of diversity extends to education, where only 7% of Black students were earning STEM bachelor’s degrees, and students of color are often excluded from STEM activities in middle and high school.
To tackle this problem, Kurani and Google teamed up to create Code Next, a free computer science lab for underserved students of color in grades 8 to 12, in Oakland, California.
The lab offers after-school and weekend classes, and its accessible location, adjacent to the Oakland Public Library and only a minute away from the BART metro station, makes it easily accessible to kids.
As soon as kids walk in, they’re greeted with a space that’s intended to promote learning and put them at ease. The floors are durable, the ceilings are exposed, and tools and projects are on show everywhere, creating an authentic workshop feel.
Everything in the lab is designed to encourage kids to be makers, with a coding room, makerspace, design studio, and communal areas.
Kids have access to 3D printers, a laser cutter, CNC and Cricut machines, soldering irons and circuits, and robots. Supplies are stored openly so that students don’t need to ask for permission and can feel a sense of ownership over the lab.
“The lab makes me feel like I can express myself in every way, from thoughts and ideas onto paper” is how Jovir Llanes, one of the students, describes it.
Large windows let kids to see into the different spaces as soon as they walk in, and the angular walls converge their eyes towards a fabrication area, where they can see the latest creations their friends are 3D printing.
“When all the kids walked in for the first time, their eyes lit up. They knew this space belonged to them and that it was a really special space” says Bryson Gauff, one of the instructors.
The lab has a digital billboard where current students are celebrated alongside their aspirations. By seeing what their peers are striving for, the hope is that kids will be inspired to dream bigger.
93% of students have said being in the lab makes them feel like an inventor.
Student Xochitl Valencia feels a transformation. “Before I came here, I really didn’t like computer science. Now I feel more experienced and more calm about working with technology.”
To get kids to think like makers, the furniture and materials in the lab are etched with origin stories explaining how the materials were made.
For example, some of the etched messages teach students about eco-friendly materials used to build the lab, such as countertops made from recycled cardboard and metal scraps or the lab’s plant-based floors that mimic concrete.
Several walls inside the lab can disappear in 60-seconds, giving the educators flexibility to combine classes or host demo nights and community events.
As an educator, Gauff also appreciates the non-traditional layout of the lab: “One thing that I enjoy about this space is actually not having a desk. It makes me really want to get around and flow and check in with my students a lot more often.”
Tuned lighting helps improve kids’ circadian rhythms so they have more energy, while special filters continuously purify the air so their cognitive functioning improves.
With cameras mounted above each station, even remote students can take part in the experience of operating 3D printers and laser cutters, as well as other educational opportunities.
The lab also offers plenty of food options, cozy hangout spots, and friendly faces to make kids feel like they belong. And that sense of belonging pays: 73% of students say their experience here has inspired them to pursue a career in Tech.
Since its opening, Code Next has had a tremendous impact, with over 2,500 kids benefiting from the program. An impressive 91% of Code Next students gain college acceptance, compared to only 37% of Black and Latin kids nationally.
Perhaps more striking is that 88% of Code Next graduates have majored in STEM fields, compared to the national average of only 19% for Black and Latin students.
Code Next students have earned scholarships to Ivy League universities, launched businesses earning over $10,000, and interned with top tech companies.
Kids who were once underserved are now making significant academic strides in the lab.
“This investment is worth it” feels April Alvarez, the Global Head of Women, Latinx and Indigenous Communities and Programs at Google. “When you come in here on a Saturday and you see twenty-five Black and brown kids huddled around computers and making things, it’s something very special.”
As for the process of building a lab, Errol King, Google’s Global Head of Pipeline and Equity, recalls “My expectations of an architect were to select paints and furniture and make our spaces look nice. What Kurani gave us was much more. We weren’t just looking at dazzling renderings but were given context for why design decisions were made and how this helps us achieve our vision.”
Through intentional design, Code Next has become a transformational place that gives underserved kids a chance to learn about computer science and tech in a fun and engaging way.
Connected Rural Classroom
All around the world, there’s an opportunity gap between two kinds of students, and it has nothing to do with gender, ethnicity, or income level. This gap is between urban students and rural students.
According to 2019 data, 35% of US adults in urban areas held a bachelor’s degree or higher. For rural students, however, that number stood at just 21%. It’s a trend that dates back to the 1960s in the US, and likely far earlier in other parts of the world: If you grow up with limited access to high-quality teachers, you’ll grow up with limited access to opportunity.
“Every student, no matter where they live, deserves a high-quality education that puts life’s full menu of options in front of them,” says Kurani’s founder and chief designer, Danish Kurani. “One way to do that is through technology.”
Together with the nonprofit Ed Farm, Kurani has designed a prototype classroom to bridge the divide between urban and rural students. It’s called the Connected Rural Classroom. The pilot location will live in Alabama, but leaders anywhere in the world can bring it to their rural area.
The Connected Rural Classroom is a hybrid learning experience, in which top teachers from all over the US beam in, live, to instruct a handful of students at a time. These lessons focus on special topics that the school chooses to offer to a handful of students, and are held in the room’s amphitheater.
During this time, an in-room facilitator keeps the rest of the class engaged across several classroom zones. There are desks for group work, booths for partner activities, and private spaces for heads-down work. When lessons or presentations involve the whole class, the room can be arranged as an auditorium.
All throughout the space, technology helps students and staff stay connected. Beyond the main screen at the head of the class, the classroom comes equipped with iPads that hold the day’s lessons, so students and the facilitator can pick up where they left off the day before.
“This technology isn’t there just to make the room feel fancy,” Kurani says. “It’s to shrink the world, so that students have a close experience with whoever’s beaming in, whether it’s from Oregon or California or Illinois.”
The prototype follows from a major study in China nearly 20 years ago.
In 2004, researchers were able to show that many more rural Chinese students went on to hold professional jobs when their schools were outfitted to broadcast recorded lessons than students whose education was limited to in-person instruction.
The study lasted four years, and at the 10-year mark after the study ended, the “connected” students had completed more years of schooling and earned more money, on average.
The Connected Rural Classroom is designed to go even further, as teachers broadcast live, and can interact with students directly.
In addition, the classroom itself follows the science of learning in its design—for example, with smart lighting set to the exact color temperature of natural daylight, to keep students energized and focused. There are also finger paths students can trace to calm themselves down, noise-dampening materials in the ceiling, and partitions to promote private work.
As a result, the students who live in a town of 1,000 can access the same kind of education as their peers in a city of one million.
“Today’s technology is absolutely capable of bringing a world-class experience to students anywhere,” Kurani says. “This classroom is proof of that.”
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