Olympic Hills Elementary School

Pre-K/Elementary School

Olympic Hills specializes in the Differentiated Instruction pedagogy, organizing students into smaller groups based on their learning level and interests. The building design supports and enhances this approach by creating several smaller settings within each classroom, and shared space that brings services closer to classroom groupings.

There are five modalities of teaching and learning in each classroom which are the essence of the approach at Olympic Hills. Teachers conduct these modalities with their students individually, in groups, and collectively in the way that they organize learning activities throughout the day. In the first modality, teachers organize students in small groups by homogeneous ability, working with each group according to their collective needs. In another, they will arrange students in groups by heterogeneous ability, so that a student strong in one area, such as writing, can support a student who needs help from a peer; and that student receiving assistance may lend support to another in a different group. In a third modality, time is given to independent study. The whole group orientation/instruction modality is for a limited time but essential for creating a sense of community and context for the other learning activities. The fifth modality offers students experiences with hands-on, “making” activities. All of these modalities are used in each classroom.

This practice of focusing on individual learners in small group settings forms a unique relationship where singular students engage and express at multiple scales (i.e. singularity, partial group, whole group). The importance and focus on the singular does not diminish as scale increases, instead each student becomes a portion of a greater mosaic; expressing the beauty of the whole.

The new Olympic Hills attempts to outwardly express the multifaceted teaching techniques that are being practiced in the classrooms. This is accomplished by using form, colors and materials strategically throughout the building. In the differentiated teaching model, a student may be “pulled-out” of class to work with a specialist, focusing on the specific educational need, or a teacher may “push-in” to a class to help the whole group gain a more robust understanding of a subject. The building pushes in to create nooks and courtyards and pulls out to respond to views and daylighting. The spaces created by these moves vary around the building, some are small enough for only a single student while others are sized to accommodate a whole class working together.

The building utilizes a broad color palette to show the value of every student, individually and within the group community. Each of the six classroom wings are represented with a different color, giving ownership to the classes that are there. In public areas of the building all six of the colors from the classroom wings are mingled, to display the vibrancy of the various smaller communities coming together to form the larger community of Olympic Hills Elementary School.

Client: Seattle Public Schools

Location: Seattle

Size: 90,000 s.f