Looking with “Fresh Eyes”: What Makes a Successful School Design?

By Patricia Kendall, May 17, 2009

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Lesson Time

1,260 minutes for classroom activities (14 classroom days at 90 minutes per class) and 180 minutes for homework (three 60-minute sessions)


When instructing students in the function of design in our lives, I like to refer to a quote credited to the famous Zen philosopher Bashó: “Nothing is worth noting that is not seen with fresh eyes.”  It’s a reminder that the best way to learn about design is to observe our surroundings; the more familiar, the more they can instruct us about what works – and doesn’t work - through careful awareness of our experience. In this lesson students will be challenged to examine surroundings they see nearly every day: their school. By using “fresh eyes” (objectivity of all senses) to explore their academic environment – its building, grounds, support systems – students will be asked to determine (a) if the school’s design complies with the concept of “form follows function”, and (b) if so, how, and (c) if not, then to identify what improvements or modifications could be made to meet this standard.  The goal is to create an analytical report of findings to share with a larger audience of stakeholders (faculty, parents, PTSA, school board).  In this way students use powers of observation and problem-solving skills similar to those engaged by architects and urban planners.  They may also possibly contribute as involved citizens to the betterment of their community if their report ultimately recommends solutions to defined issues.

National Standards

Arts and Communication
Standard 1. Level IV. Understands the principles, processes, and products associated with arts and communication media 1. Knows skills and techniques used in the commercial arts 2. Understands how the elements, materials, technologies, artistic processes (e.g., imagination, craftsmanship) and organizational principles (e.g. unity and variety, repetition and contrast) are used in similar and distinctive ways in various art forms 3. Knows specific techniques and skills used in different art forms Standard 2. Level IV. Knows and applies appropriate criteria to arts and communication products 2. Understands the process of critiquing one’s own work and the work of others (e.g., making choices, forming judgments, expressing preferences based on personal and art criticism criteria) 5. Knows and applies criteria to evaluate industrial arts products (e.g., design craftsmanship, function, and aesthetic qualities) 6. Understands the possible artistic merit of visual forms that are not classified as works of art (e.g., applying criteria used in judging artworks to evaluate common man-made and natural objects) Standard 3. Level IV. Uses critical and creative thinking in various arts and communication settings 1. Understands specific principles and techniques used to solve problems in various art forms (e.g., using the elements of art and principles of design to solve specific art problems; using the design process to address design problems) 5. Understands the role of criticism and revision in the arts and communication 8. Knows ways in which different sources are used to produce art forms (e.g., personal experiences, thoughts, and feelings; real and imaginary sources; nature and the constructed environment; experimentation; events; the human senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste)
Thinking and Reasoning
Standard 3. Level IV. Effectively uses mental processes that are based on identifying similarities and differences 2. Identifies abstract patterns of similarities and differences between information on the same topic but from different sources that are based on identifying similarities and differences. Standard 5. Level IV. Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques 5. Engages in problem finding and framing for personal situations and situations in the community 6. Represents a problem accurately in terms of resources, constraints, and objectives 10. Evaluates the feasibility of various solutions to problems; recommends and defends a solution 11. Understands causes and critical issues of problems (e.g., personal, social, ethical considerations)
Engineering Education
Standard 14. Level IV. Uses the design process to solve problems 1. Understands that engineering design is an iterative process involving modeling and optimization to find the best solution within given constraints 2. Uses a variety of verbal and graphic techniques to present conclusions 4. Understands how societal interests, economics, ergonomics, and environmental considerations influence a solution 7. Understands the process of creating a scale model of an object or structure (e.g., a model automobile, building, bridge)

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:


Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes1:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.


Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:


Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:


Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.


Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

Knowledge of Language:

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will:
  • determine the relationship between design elements and design products
  • examine ways in which different sources are used to produce art forms
  • conduct informal research through inquiry and interview to identify problems or concerns
  • use research skills to evaluate data
  • reference personal experience in creating different types of structures
  • understand the role of empathy in design
  • use problem-solving techniques to reach design solution(s)
  • offer evaluative, written critical analysis to communicate ideas
  • provide effective persuasive analysis to communicate ideas


References to concept of “form follows function”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Form_follows_function https://www.aiga.org (A search on “form follows function” delivers a wide variety of examples, including a video of the AIGA Gala 2008 presentation to Harley Davidson for defining the term in its design of an iconic motorcycle.) Reference to CRAP: https://www.presentationzen.com/chapter6_spread.pdf Other people’s thoughts about design: https://www.designfeast.com/thoughts-on-design/ (Quotes on the many facets of design and its application.) computer software (can be replaced by using art materials to support presentations): Microsoft Office PowerPoint or Apple’s iLife Keynote


  • project notebook for each student (3-ring, 1.5”, with side pockets and three tabs, sheet protectors, and loose paper. Tabs should be labeled “Journal Entries”, “Walkabout Findings” and “Exploration.”)
  • digital camera (at least one for every five students)
  • card reader
  • computer (at least one for every five students)
  • internet access (for research)
If access to electronic media is limited, instructor can easily substitute:
  • poster board or large sticky poster sheets
  • colored permanent markers
  • point-and-shoot cameras (one per student) with processing


  • “fresh eyes”: a term credited to many, including 17th c. poet Basho; the term references the ability of the individual to re-vision and renew their experience of a particular person, place or thing, and in doing so, discovering a perspective or element not seen initially due to cultural or personal bias
  • “form follows function”: a principle associated with modern architecture and industrial design in the 20th century; the principle is that the shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose; attributed to Louis Sullivan,the “Father of the Skyscraper”
  • CRAP (contrast, repetition, alignment, repetition): an acronym/mnemonic introduced by Robin Williams, a typographer and graphic design instructor to aid students in recalling the four basic principles of design; in this lesson students will discover that these terms are equally applicable in industrial/environmental design as in graphic design


What makes a school a school? Day 1: 1. Class brainstorms by discussing what they like - and don't like - about their school. Focus on physical attributes ("lots of windows", "cramped hallways"). Create a class list on board. (Ask one student to transcribe notes for class to share as printout before end of class.) 2. If students reference an emotion or attitude ("no school spirit"), include on list, but revisit these after initial list is made and challenge students to identify how that could be tied to a physical feature ("no school spirit" could be a reflection of crumbling facade or lack of wall space for poster display). 3. End of class reflection (journal). Tell your students to select one of the attributes listed in today’s discussion and write a brief response to the question: Do you agree or disagree with its position? (Do you like a “dislike”? Dislike a “like”?) If they agree, the students should elaborate on their personal perspectives. If they disagree, they should discuss the points that would persuade the opposing view to see their perspective. Day 2: 1. Introduce the concept: "Form follows function." Go to Wikipedia entry for definition, explanation, and origin of phrase. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Form_follows_function Launch a class discussion of these points: A. If the function of a school is to educate, enlighten and inspire faculty and students, is there an ideal "form" for a school building? B. Is there any difference in how a school should function for elementary, middle, high and college students? a) What should they have in common? b) What can they NOT have in common? C. Can a school design be successful without input from its intended "audience"? (How much input should those that use a building actually have in its design?) 2. End of class reflection (journal).  Ask students to refer to the item they wrote about at the end of the last class.  Does that item currently fulfill the proposed function of a school (educate, enlighten, and inspire)?  They should elaborate on how it does or does not.  Can they identify what change would have to occur for their item to fulfill this function? Day 3: 1. Introduce the concept of design principles, aka CRAP: contrast, repetition, alignment, proximity. View https://www.presentationzen.com/chapter6_spread.pdf with class. 2. Discuss with class: Are the principles of design referenced in successful graphic design (CRAP) also apparent in architectural design? 3. If possible, show images of Cathedral de Notre Dame (flying buttresses as contrast and repetition); Parthenon (columns as repetition and alignment); Spanish Steps in Rome (step order as repetition, alignment and symmetrical balance); architectural blueprint of a house (proximity of rooms of similar activity). 4. Next view slide show of school locations (shot prior to initiation of lesson). Ask students to identify the presence of CRAP in these areas. (Note: The puns that could result from looking for CRAP in the school could get wild!) 5. End of class reflection (journal).  Ask students to refer back to the item they discussed on Days 1 and 2. Can they identify which of the design principles it fulfills, on its own or in relation to its location? If they proposed a change on Day 2, would the change alter that design identification? If so, how? Seeing is Believing: Using "Fresh Eyes" on Site Day 4: 1. Refer back to class printout of "likes" and "dislikes" of school.  Take class on a site visit by having students take a "walk about" with checklist to see if they can locate these items/experiences on campus.  Encourage them to take notes about CRAP they can identify as they view specific areas. 2. Back in class before end of session ask them to identify any items in either column that they did not see on campus.  Discuss if the absence of any item on list means that this school is "not successful".  Also add to list any elements discovered or category revealed. 3. Homework/Assignment out of class: Organize students into three groups; identify as "Student POV", "Teacher POV" and "Professional POV.”  Ask them to prepare a group report (due at next class session) that includes the following: a) Responses to survey question: "List five (5) elements or components that you feel a school environment should have to be successful." Report should include a minimum of three individuals that reflect a good sampling within category. b) Quotes and thoughts that elaborate on any element/component listed by a member of their survey group. Refer them to https://www.designfeast.com/thoughts-on-design/ as a possible source of quotes on design and its purpose. (Note: Elaborate on the definition of each group’s identity:
  • “Other students” refers to peers attending school who “share the experience” of attending this school.
  • “Teachers / faculty” could include the principal.  The purpose is to identify adults at this school who are experiencing the same environment as survey team.
  • “Professionals” refers to adults who share the experience as creators, i.e., architects, urban planners. They may be parents of students at school, but ideal participant would be more objective.
Quotes and thoughts on subject could be extensions of any response given to survey. {e.g., the remark “I think a school needs lots of windows because it makes the school feel less like a prison and it makes the area outside more like a part of the classroom” references “lots of windows” and an explanation that includes a broader reference to importance of including the outdoors as part of the class experience.}) Frame/reframe:  Using “Fresh Eyes” with Data Day 5: 1. Students regroup as teams to report findings to class. Using previously prepared grid (on board or Promethean screen), have one student from each team list their items, resulting in a visual summary of survey findings. (This can be replicated and provided as handout for class.) 2. Have students compare their first list (likes and dislikes, with added notes from walkabout) with the second (survey responses).  Using list on board/screen, ask students to denote (by color, circling) those elements on the board (survey list) that appear on both lists. 3. Then ask students to add items from either list (use different color or shape) that fulfill the definition of a “successful” school. A third list synthesizing elements from both will emerge.  (Recreate that list and share with class by start of next class session.) 4. Review research process with class, identifying each step taken so far.  Ask class if they feel the information gathered at this point is sufficient to support them in identifying what makes a successful design for a school. (“Does this third list encompass all the factors you would present to someone outside this class as a definition of this concept?”) 5. Challenge: if you were given the opportunity to redesign this school, what would you propose to make it successful? 6. End of class reflection (journal).  Ask students to refer back to the item they discussed on Days 1, 2 and 3. Did that item make it to the final list of qualities? If so, they should describe how it specifically contributes to that definition of success.  If the item they selected did not make it to the final list, do they understand why it didn&# 8217;t?  Should it still be considered?  The students should elaborate on their points of view. Back to the beginning: What makes your school your school? Day 6: 1. Brainstorm: identify divisions of schools that should be explored/examined (attempt to define enough areas to allow one section per student).  Encourage students to include: bathrooms; hallways/stairwells; landscaping; administrative support areas (counselor and registrar offices).  These are also areas of the school that define a school's success to its inhabitants. 2. By end of class distribute list of possible points of exploration, along with an index card. Have students list their name and their first three choices for exploration.  Take up cards; assign preferred choice based on student preference and your discretion on student engagement.  Distribute list of assignments at start of Day 8. Day 7: 1. Brainstorm: Ask students to suggest the criteria they believe everyone should reference while exploring/assessing "success".  Prompt them to refer to earlier discussions about “form follows function” and CRAP and to include these in the overall analysis of “success”. Guide them to include simple qualifiers, such as:
  • Does this section fulfill the purpose to educate, enlighten and inspire? (Does form follow function?) (Yes / No)
  • Which of the four design principles does it define?  Check: (a) contrast (b) repetition (c) alignment (d) proximity (Could check more than one.)
  • Who is the principal occupant/user of this area?  Check: (a) students (b) teachers/faculty (c) both
  • Which senses are most engaged in this area?  Check: (a) hearing (b) touching (c) seeing (d) taste/smell (Could check more than one.)
  • Is this area primarily defined as a learning environment? (Yes/No)
  • If “yes”, what kind of learning is best served in this area? (a) tactile/kinesthetic (b) auditory (c) visual (Could check more than one.)
2. Develop checklist based on student feedback for distribution in next class. Re-Visioning: Learning How to Be the Change Days 8, 9, 10: Team Building. 1. Distribute a folder to each student that contains a list of the identified school sections and a checklist of the common evaluation points.  Each folder should be labeled with the student name and their assigned section.  In addition, the folders should be color coded to indicate teams created by categorizing sections under broader headings (e.g., cafeteria, courtyard and library might be labeled "communal territory" or "where students gather"; "classrooms" could be segmented into "labs", "art" and "instructional" or "creative" and "academic".) 2. Ask the students to group together according to the color of their folders. Explain the significance of team building: although each section will be examined as a separate item, sections can also share characteristics and should be compared within their groups to determine if they collectively fulfill their concept of success. 3. Explain to students that for the next two days their assignment is to examine/explore their area to determine how it meets their criteria for what makes a school successful. They will prepare individual reports, then later converge as teams to determine if their areas collectively fulfill their definition. Remind them that the following data must be included in their reports:
  • completed checklist
  • verbal feedback: At least three quotable responses from "users" of their areas (no more than two from peers) to the question, "If you could redesign this area, what would you like to add, subtract, or change - and why?" (Have students remind participants that the question is related to structure, not accessories such as furniture, window dressing, or wall hangings.)
  • visual documentation: Ask students to illustrate their findings, either by using cameras to create a photo gallery documenting their site OR by drawing sketches or scaled line drawings of the area.  Remind them to include creative images that illustrate how "form follows function." (Here is another reminder of how "fresh eyes" could help them discover the presence of design principles in their area.)
  • descriptions of CRAP: Students should identify examples of each principle, with an explanation of what that principle accomplishes. ("Repetition of windows in classrooms increases natural light source, enhances aesthetics of room, supports opportunity to daydream.”)
(Note: Reports should be created in PowerPoint, following the above prescribed format.  This will facilitate the class and support the next step, which will require consolidation into team reports.  Further, this section of lesson plan should be assigned as homework {time out of class} as well as a field lab conducted during actual class time. If possible, arrange for students to have access during class meeting time to areas they are exploring by creating special hall passes or alerting faculty via e-mail to activities {while explaining that students do not have permission to disrupt their classes in any way}.) Come Together Day 11: 1. Reassemble students into their category teams.  Explain that each student will present their PowerPoint to others in their team.  Designate one student in that team to be “Transcriber”.  Their job is to take note of similar findings, strong images and any interesting comments recorded. Day 12: 1. Each team will now combine their preliminary findings in a group PowerPoint presentation to share with the other teams.  Students should be able to consolidate findings easily if presentations follow prescribed rubric and Team Transcriber has made notes of possible “strong points” seen in each team member’s work.  Final team presentation should combine their checklist findings with appropriate illustrations and quotes. Day 13: Presentation Day 1. Each team will present their findings to the other teams in class.  Students in audience should be prepared to provide each team with feedback on content, depth of development and accuracy. When the End Is Also the Beginning … Days 14, 15: 1. Utilizing feedback, teams will refine their PowerPoint presentations with plans to present collectively to an audience outside the classroom.  PowerPoint shows could remain separate as teams or could be further consolidated into one slide show separated by team/section names.  Whether slide shows remain separate or are combined, teams should agree collectively on a unifying look or style (font, sequence of information, heading titles, slide format).  Remind students that repetition can strengthen the concept of unity in a message. One way would be for each team to select a different shade of the primary school color. This would distinguish their separate sections while visually suggesting their connection to one another. It’s Showtime! 1. The culmination of this project will be to create an opportunity for the class to present their findings to an audience of shareholders (parents, teachers/faculty, other students), preferably at a public venue (e.g., PTSA meeting or evening assembly). Just as each team gains valuable input from their classmates, the students will realize the significance of the class findings when they create an opportunity for the community to respond.  Presentation style could be as simple as providing a handout to audience outlining sequence of presentation during PowerPoint presentation, followed by a question/answer opportunity for attendees.  Variations of style could range from a live forum taped for broadcast on local cable network or in-school broadcast facility ) to presence on the Internet (podcast, Web site or addition to school Web site) or print media (creation of a book).


Assessment could be measured at three stages within project: 1) Individual survey form within assigned group. (Day 4) 2) Review of PowerPoint slide show reflecting findings for assigned section. (Day 11) 3) Performance within team in building team report (via student feedback to distributed survey on participation) (Day 13). Differentiation can be accommodated by the nature of the data presented in individual reports. While this lesson references PowerPoint as the format for presentation, students who are more “hands on” than technologically savvy may create an equally strong presentation using large sticky sheets or poster boards on easel.  Those who prefer using graphs or diagrams (Venn) could create these as illustrations rather than detailed bullet points.

Enrichment Extension Activities

The nature of the lesson challenges the students to utilize higher order thinking skills; the success of discovery is keyed to how open and receptive the student is to re-examining the familiar as though it was a first-time experience. The lesson is also driven by the need for the student to interact with the community through their surveys and by making a final comprehensive presentation founded on recommendations for improvement to the community their ultimate goal.

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.