Denver Academy's Learning Landscape Project

Through the new Learning Landscape Project, Denver Academy (CO) is taking advantage of its physical campus and buildings to bring abstract educational concepts to life for students. “We believe that for many students, learning takes place along a continuum from concrete experience to abstract comprehension,” says Headmaster Mark Twarogowski. “The more often and effectively a teacher can use the school’s walls, floors, buildings, sidewalks, ponds, and other concrete physical attributes of the campus, the more efficient the transition from concrete to abstract learning.”

The two-pronged project, launched in the summer of 2016, involves looking at the current facilities to determine what could be used as-is to teach educational concepts in a concrete way. DA is also investigating what can be intentionally designed and built along those same lines.

The Learning Landscape Project started with the revitalization of a pond on campus, which was drained and rebuilt to incorporate a completely new ecosystem able to sustain multiple species of aquatic wildlife. The pond is used in many different classes, including math, biology, and even creative writing.

This spring, students and faculty worked with the Colorado Forestry Department to identify and label the flora and fauna on the 22-acre campus. There are plans for a video walking tour as well as the possible use of beacon technology to provide information to handheld devices.

As buildings are constructed or retrofitted, they will include learning-landscape and physical tools in the design. For example, there are plans to expose some of the new buildings’ mechanics, such as the HVAC system, using plexiglass. And floor tiles will be 1-foot by 1-foot—literal square feet—to make that concept come alive.

“This is a concept we’ve been thinking about for more than 10 years,” Twarogowski says. “It was hard to make it a reality until we received a $50,000 challenge grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation.” Within a few months, The Hewit Family Foundation, J.K. Mullen Foundation, and nine Denver Academy families had more than matched the challenge grant.

Twarogowski is eager to share what DA learns with other schools. “It’s important that this be replicable and scalable for other schools.”