Check out the 21st century classroom in action

By Ian Richardson, Creston News Advertiser, Iowa
October 9th, 2015

Open space and technology brings the classroom of the future to life

21stcentury-classroomThe classroom buzzes with the low hum of conversation mixed with concentration.

In one corner, senior Jacob Routh works on setting up a 3D printer. In another, sophomore Desi Osterhout and junior Cydney Seley sit on blue-green patterned armchairs, looking through Google Cardboard goggles that use smartphones to create virtual-reality experiences. At a long, markerboard-surfaced table in the room’s center, a group of students builds robots from Cubelets, box-shaped elements that use sensors to perform different functions. Another group builds circuits using a kit with snap-on pieces.

These students belong to one of Anthony Donahoo’s Environmental and Spatial Technology classes at Creston Community Schools. Better known by the acronym EAST, these classes combine the use of technology with community service.

This year, Donahoo’s EAST students are in the process of testing and discovering the new equipment in one of Creston’s two brand-new next-generation learning spaces, also called 21st century classrooms.

Creston Schools furnished the classrooms — one in the high school and one in the elementery/middle school — in partnership with the Green Hills Area Education Agency. The classrooms are two of the first constructed in southwest Iowa and will be used by teachers in the district beginning next week.

Each of the two rooms contains many of the same furniture elements: tables with markerboard tops and raised chairs, flat-screen TVs that can display images from students’ personal devices, cushioned areas for more relaxed activities, green screen areas for creating broadcasts, a Smart Kapp markerboard that transfers the board’s contents to digital devices, and an interactive projector.

Each room also has a closet full of technology like GoPro cameras, circuitry sets and robotics of all shapes, sizes and functions.

Finding what works

Stephanie Mikkelsen, Green Hills Area Education Agency technology integration specialist, said a major role for these classrooms is seeing how these new technological elements benefit instruction. She said the main goals include increased student achievement, increased student engagement and learning; and increased student and teacher literacy with technology.

“A big thing about these classrooms is a lot of research and development: What works? What doesn’t work? What are the students using? What’s really helping the teachers enhance their lessons?” Mikkelsen said.

Teachers will have the opportunity to use these spaces for their classes by signing up to use them for certain periods. Mikkelsen said eventually, these elements might be working their way into other classrooms.

“We’re trying to create all the experiences (here) that they might want just so they can get an idea what they might want in their classroom,” she said.

Today, Creston is holding a 21st century classroom open house as part of the Green Hills AEA’s 21st Century Learners’ Conference, also being held at Creston High School. Mikkelsen, Donahoo and technology assistantTeri Keeler, along with some students, are presenting the technology and the vision for it to educators from around the area.

“Part of the partnership between Creston and Green Hills AEA was to make these rooms available to start conversations with other districts, as well, and give them an opportunity to see how this room might enhance student experiences,” Mikkelsen said. “The doors these rooms can open for our students really create endless possibilities.”

Project background

Creston Superintendent Steve McDermott said when he was hired in 2013, boosting Creston’s use of technology was one of his top “marching orders” from the school board.

McDermott said he worked closely with Green Hills AEA to brainstorm the possibilities, and they discussed partnering to create the learning spaces.

Green Hills AEA provided the technology equipment, a total of about $89,000, and Creston funded the furniture and other renovations to the room, a total of about $68,000, plus an additional amount for a video conference network that will allow students and teachers to communicate with others around the nation and world.

“We have a lot invested in these two spaces, but again in terms of research and development and in terms of just terrifically expanded student learning opportunities, we just felt like the investment was worth it,” McDermott said. “We’ll watch our return on our investment to see how it goes.”

McDermott said his hope is that teachers are eventually “fighting over the use of that space.” But he also said he realizes it might take some time before people use the space to its full potential.

“Like I told people, we have a new Harley in the garage, and we’ve been riding a bike, so we need to climb off the bike and learn how to ride the Harley,” McDermott said.

McDermott said he is already looking into applying for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) grant to expand technology offerings, which may include putting a similar room in the Early Childhood Center.

As for the immediate future, Donahoo said the high school students have been loving the new technology.

“I’ve been letting the kids free-range discover, and they’ve been coming out with some amazing stuff,” he said. “I’ve had at least three kids a day tell me how cool this is. I love to hear the words ‘how cool’ and ‘fun.’”

And, he said, it provides an open range of opportunities for the EAST students.

“The vision is just to do bigger, better projects,” he said. “The sky’s the limit on what students can create, what we can do.”

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