Learning Landscape

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Learning Landscape
Kutamba School, Uganda
Designers: Project H

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Design nonprofit Project H, which concentrates on design initiatives for humanity, habitats, health, and happiness, completed the construction of their first Learning Landscape, a playground that teaches elementary math concepts using ten interactive games. Built from reclaimed tires in a simple sandbox structure, the pilot installation was built at the Kutamba AIDS Orphans School in southern Uganda.

Designed by a group of Project H volunteer designers, the Learning Landscape is a scalable grid-based system for elementary math education. Industrial designers Heleen de Goey, Dan Grossman, Kristina Drury, Neha Thatte, and Ilona de Jongh conceived of ten math games to be played within a grid. Because mathematics is universal, the system can be applied in any country, using any language for instruction, and can be tailored to a range of skill levels.

Images by Project H design

Part outdoor classroom, part spatially immersive lesson in arithmetic, the math playground gives students a place to study in at least two senses of the phrase. On the one hand, it’s simply a forum for learning; on the other, it is literally a place to study: the space itself, serves as a model for play-based education.

The Kutamba AIDS Orphans School, built by Matthew Miller in partnership with Architecture for Humanity, served as the case study and initial pilot installation of a playground-sized version of the system. The four-by-four grid was constructed using reclaimed tires, and a simple sand box structure. Each of the tires marks a point on the grid, and can also be used as outdoor classroom space when coupled with the integrated bench system. Numbers can be written directly onto the tires with chalk for game play.

The ten games teach concepts including addition, subtraction, multiplicaiton, and division, as well as spatial and logical reasoning through individual and team-based competition. In Match Me, for example, students form two teams. The teacher calls out a math equation, and one student from each team compete against each other to solve the equation, then locate the tire with that number on it, sitting atop the correct tire. The team member who finds the tire first returns to the team’s line. The team with whose players remain in the line the longest wins.

The Learning Landscape, though realized as a playground in its pilot installation, is a universal system that can be used at a variety of scales. Project H has continued its adaptation of the system, developing a product-sized version for in-classroom tabletop use based on the same grid games. The systems-approach, rather than object-approach, lends itself to a solution that is both universal and adaptable for specific contexts.

Based on the success of the the Uganda project, Project H has gone on to build another similar landscape in North Carolina.  According to Project H founder Emiliy Pilloton:

“So in bringing something like this to the U.S., we obviously still want to serve the developing world and design for the other 90%, but at the same time, this is a very rural school district, incredibly underperforming, over three-quarters African American, extremely poor. And we forget that the developing world is, in a way, in our own backyard. The demographics were slightly different, but in a lot of ways the same. So we wanted to use the Learning Landscape in Africa and also in our own backyard to draw those parallels.”

Project H hopes to build at least 5 more in Africa and in the US.  To find out how you can support the philanthropic construction of future Learning Landscapes elsewhere please visit the Project H donation page.

See the whole research, design, and installation process through their Flickr sets.

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