learning spaces

#5: 5 big takeaways from redesigning learning spaces

High-achieving district takes the classroom redesign plunge; learns important lessons every school should know about innovate learning spaces.

1. Slow and Steady Does Win the Race.

Or as we say ‘phase in, don’t rush in.’ When we began phasing in a 1:1 iPad program at Woodlawn Middle School and Twin Groves Middle School we noticed that traditional classroom learning spaces really didn’t provide the environment and flexibility needed for success with integrating 1:1 technology. Whether we set desks up in traditional rows or arranged them in mini-pods, it was difficult for kids to maneuver, share information, and collaborate with each other. So in an effort to create a freer environment, the district phased in reconfigured classrooms. During one school year, 10 classrooms were redesigned–five rooms in each of the two middle schools. We tore down to the stud walls and redesigned from there. The following summer, the district completed renovations on 22 more classrooms, concentrating on our schools’ math and language arts classrooms.

The new science room.

2. Know the Company You Keep—From Resellers to Technology Partners

We had previously worked with Fathom Media, a reseller whose specialty is serving as audiovisual integrator and partner. Drawing on its vast industry network and expertise, they presented Boxlight’s MimioProjector touch projectors as the best option for what the district was trying to accomplish. That’s what partnering is about: bringing about optimal execution of goals! We replaced our interactive projectors with the touch projectors, which turn conventional dry erase boards into touch boards. Teachers and students can use their hands on those touch boards, instead of depending on styli, and you can have up to 10 touches at once. So, more than one student can interact with the board at any given time, which is really one of the coolest features.

3. What Goes Around, Comes Around.

In Woodlawn’s newly-configured classrooms, there is 270-degree visual surround, with two walls bearing 65-inch televisions in addition to Boxlight’s MimioProjector touch projector on a third wall. Each of these devices is connected to an Apple TV.

The classrooms are set up so that there is really no front-of-the-classroom. If a smaller group is working on a project collaboratively, they can move their workspace around because the tables are on wheels; so, they can slide closer either to the projector or one of the televisions. Then they can send what’s on their iPad to the television through the Apple TV, and share it with the class.

4. Results Matter.

Yes, there is increased student engagement in the new classroom learning spaces. Plus, teachers can now differentiate at a greater level with students, and they’re better able to meet each and every student’s needs with the technology; and that comes not only from the new interactive environment, but also the teachers making a huge shift in their instructional practice. We train our teachers on different strategies that help them create a learning environment that’s really collaborative and make sure that every student has a say. Now, there’s no way a kid can hide in our classrooms.

5. Change is the One Constant.

We continue to refine our learning space redesign efforts. We increased bulletin board space, swapped out mobile projector carts for ceiling-mounted models capable of up to 10 simultaneous users, added more lift-capable tables while eliminating smaller desks that seat just two students, provided cushions to teacher’s chairs, changed the size and number of televisions in one middle school building, and recessed ceiling speakers.

District educators have also shared with me that the new classroom learning spaces facilitate compliance with current standards, allowing teachers to delve deep into those criterions. We’re able to make sure that students achieve the deep understanding that the standards require, especially for those standards including communication and collaboration.

District 96 is now completing the redesign of the rest of the middle schools’ science learning spaces. And exploratory research is underway for common areas including our Learning Center, Tech Lab and former computer labs.)

And just as before, we’ll stay focused on figuring out what will fit our students’ learning needs. In the end, it’s all about student learning.

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