For seven years, Sainte-Anne College looked at ways to redefine its teaching methods in order to make its five establishments cutting-edge places of learning. The new pavilion of its secondary school in Dorval welcomed a first cohort at the start of the 2022 school year.
It is the result of ambitious thinking led by Ugo Cavenaghi, general director of Sainte-Anne college, and Isabelle Senécal, then director of educational innovation. “We wanted multi-purpose spaces, brightness, an opening to the outside,” lists the woman who now runs the school. The result is stimulating.
Designed by architect Pierre Thibault and Architecture 49, the zero-carbon building is inspired by Icelandic, Dutch and Danish establishments visited by its research committee. Despite a gray January day, it is abundantly bathed in light. There are large windowed walls, few corridors, and exterior galleries that surround the building on two floors. From everywhere, you can see the canopy of trees, a neighborhood, the nearby river.
On the first level, the exercise rooms are bustling with activity, while students combine mathematical calculations with the gym. The energy is similar in creative laboratories where, grouped around tables, some people cooperate to solve a problem. Upstairs, on the upper floor, silence is heard despite the presence of students scattered throughout the open area. There are only six closed classes, an open library and a number of alcoves and cubicles which are used for individual or team work.
Between these two floors, common areas are used for dining, relaxing or teaching. Deployed at the heart of the structure, large stands allow circulation between floors, but have also found other uses. Sitting on the cherry steps or propped up in beanbags, some students daydream, while others chat or work. The space will later be occupied by a teacher and her class for dictation time.
The layout of Sainte-Anne college offers different learning contexts. “At home, we adopt different postures depending on the activity. You wouldn’t read at your desk or on a kitchen chair, but in your living room. It’s the same thing here,” says Isabelle Senécal. Thus, depending on the activities and within the same course, the student may be invited to move from a closed class to the common area, from a cubicle to the stands. The configuration of classes and laboratories is also flexible.
Between two classes, the stands fill up with students. No bells rang. The commotion will be brief and the noise level will be low, announces the director of the college with pride, adding that learning to live in these open spaces requires special and diligent management.
“To change structure is to change culture,” said architect Frank Lloyd Wright. In this environment, students learn autonomy, adaptability and resourcefulness.
“We worked a lot on active teaching. For it to work, students must be engaged in their learning and to involve them, the tasks must be meaningful,” notes Isabelle Sénécal. The rigidity of content, time and space is a straitjacket, she believes. Subjects taught in silos, fixed timetables, static learning postures are all obstacles to the evolution of teaching methods. “We are looking to make the framework more flexible. By allowing teachers to work interdisciplinarily, for example, we save around 20% of time over a year. We follow the Ministry’s program to the letter, but we can afford to enrich it. » In this emancipated vision of education, places are all tools for evolving differently.