A Willingness to Do Better

For one teacher, innovative space is key—and her stats show it.

GUEST COLUMN | by Julie Marshall

credit-steelcase-classroomMost classrooms are furnished with stationary desks in neat rows and columns. They’ve been this way since I started teaching more than three decades ago, and I’ve long felt constrained by the traditional physical classroom space. I lectured from the front of the room as students mindlessly copied notes and completed drill and kill worksheets. They used to raise their hands to ask permission to speak or leave their seat. This was long before iPads, smartphones and the internet changed the way today’s students are learning and today’s teachers are teaching.

The modern design of my room is the link between new technology, new pedagogy, and student participation.

Learning happens everywhere and it certainly does not have to take place seated at a desk inside four brick walls. Over the years I’ve tried many things to better engage students. I augmented my classroom with throw pillows, beanbags and even a claw foot tub creating a comfortable but interactive space where students were encouraged to collaborate. I often assembled and conducted class under a large oak tree furthering the concept that learning better takes place in a relaxed yet structured setting.

After 30 years of teaching, last year, following the installation of an active learning classroom [made possible by a grant from Steelcase Education], I saw my students engage and succeed at a new level. I finally have the classroom technology to match my educational philosophy. Tables and chairs, equipped with wheels, are easily assembled and re-assembled into groupings to facilitate the day’s learning needs whether involving the whole class, small group or individual study. Lecture, note taking and drills have been replaced with project-based multi-disciplinary units anchored by state standards. Hurrah!

My students are re-energized and collaborate in ways that simulate today’s work environment. I utilize the interactive white board to introduce the fundamental blocks of each lesson, making it easy to incorporate video clips and historical quotes and keep kids interested. One-to-one technology (iPad, laptop) places the world at the student’s fingertips as they research self-selected topics. Personal dry-erase boards are used to capture initial ideas, develop basic outlines and encourage group discussion. Students are learning from each other, respectfully questioning and challenging opinions as they re-think possible solutions together.

I decided to track and analyze three quantitative measures of student performance:

  • Percentage of completed work;
  • Growth in MAP scores; and
  • Change in end-of-year grade.

Data was available from my 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 language arts classes. Upon analysis, the overall percentage of assignments completed nearly doubled from 54 to 96.46 percent. The percentage of students exceeding their Northwest Evaluation Association reading goal also almost doubled, increasing from 35 to 62. The percentage of students not meeting their NWEA reading goal decreased from 47 to 22. Finally, the percentage of students increasing their end of year grade from the previous year climbed from 81 to 95, a 17 percent increase with an average grade point improvement of 5.8.

Nearly every day, students are giving multimedia presentations of their work. They are truly showing they understand class materials and sharing their knowledge with their classmates and adapting as they will need to throughout their life.

The modern design of my room is the link between new technology, new pedagogy, and student participation. Something as simple as a more engaging space has had a significant impact on my student’s success.

The outdated environment and regimented practice did not match my vision of a borderless classroom where open conversation and collaboration is welcome. Many teachers still use traditional classroom settings, methodologies and resources; whether out of insecurity or fear of professional evaluations and test scores. My classroom is proof that needs of the 21st century learner are better met in an innovative environment. Space impacts behavior and daily behavior in the classroom leads to success.

Learning is no longer a series of mindless, meaningless tasks as students visualize how education applies to their life and future. As a teacher, my role is to facilitate student ownership of the learning process as they attack real world problems through research, critical thinking and problem solving. Learning for understanding is important, but the ultimate goal of education is to teach students how to adapt to change, utilize technology and succeed in whatever they do. These active learning classrooms support that goal.

Julie Marshall, Ed.D., serves as a seventh-grade Language Arts teacher at Saluda Trail Middle in Rock Hill, SC, and an adjunct professor in the Richard C. Riley College of Education at Winthrop University. She has over 25 years of classroom experience at elementary and middle school levels in conjunction with seven years at the university level. Julie is an avid grant writer and was one of the inaugural recipients of the Steelcase Active Learning Center grants including Eno technology, innovative furniture, and staff development. Write to: jmarshal@rhmail.org

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Cool Tool | trovvit

credit-trovvitNearly every day, one can read a new article on how difficult and complicated getting into college has become. Now there’s a new app to make the college application process smoother by making it easy for students to keep track of their extracurricular activities and accomplishments, and present a more complete, more compelling story. In addition to creating an easy to use digital portfolio of student activities, trovvit can help students with their college essays by reminding them of important personal events, struggles, or triumphs. The app can also assist in adding information to required fields on common college application forms. Started by husband-and-wife team Torrance Robinson and Laurel Watts, trovvit is part of the NYC-based StartED edtech accelerator. Torrance is a serial entrepreneur who founded the LMS eChalk. “Schools have been asking for a portfolio tool for their students but students wanted a portfolio that belonged to them, could capture their learning outside of school,” he says. “And they really wanted one that was in their back pocket.” The app helps colleges and counselors, too. Using a student’s profile page on trovvit, guidance counselors and admissions officers can look beyond a student’s grades and scores. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | Aug That!

A recognized leader in developing and deploying augmented reality tools for education – this cool tool comes from an exciting emerging space that stands a chance at dramatically enhancing student outcomes. Augthat infuses the power and depth of augmented reality into teaching and learning through their app which delivers 3D models, 360-degree virtual environments and activity sheets with animated lessons – all presented via smart devices. In 2013, the company began from a tutoring center which infused technology to students and provided rigorous differentiated instruction to children. Today, AugThat is one of the first of its kind augmented reality platform, used in 260 schools across 36 states, and offers one of the largest libraries of augmented reality assets for education. Already, their “Reach 1 Million Students”campaign has helped drive more than 30,000 teacher downloads with an estimated reach of more than 1,000,000 students in just seven months. They’re also aligned with strategic partners, including a national assessment company, to further enhance the learning environment of their products. This innovative company has also signed with the Texas Department of Education for the Deaf, and was recently highlighted as one of the ‘best AR apps’ for education. They are part of the StartED accelerator presenting at NY Edtech Week – the global education innovation festival at NYU. If you’re in the New York City area December 19-21, 2016, then visit: http://nyedtechweek.com/#tickets and enter promo code: edtechdigest2016 for a chance at one of 10 free full festival tickets (each a $995 value). Ten lucky readers have a chance at receiving them, no guarantees, but worth a shot, and worth going regardless.

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Cool Tool | EduKids Connect Systems

More than at any other time in history, today’s parents of young children expect to regularly receive meaningful data on their child from the people who take care of them. Whether using a teacher or nanny, parents ask for photos, videos, and details of their child’s day, yet traditional methods of photo-sharing are cumbersome. Child care providers have a tall order; keep parents happy and well-informed while coping with a multitude of operational details. Program information is often frustratingly disorganized due to a lack of integrated software systems. This administrative burden takes time away from important face-to-face activities. EduKids Connect Systems is a cloud-based application that answers this need on both fronts. First, child care providers use this elegant, one-screen app on tablets and smart phones to capture individualized information for each child. Parents stay informed in real-time through instant notifications and also get a customized summary at days’ end. Secondly, administrators increase their efficiency through a comprehensive back-end dashboard that streamlines tedious processes through digitized transactions, freeing up more time to invest in building relationships with families, mentoring the staff, and interacting with the children. Check out the people behind this startup, a part of the StartED edtech accelerator; they’ll be presenting during NY Edtech Week on December 20th at NYU. Learn more in the video above.

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Building 21st Century Learning Environments

What if construction were designed to support ongoing change?

GUEST COLUMN | by Betsy Maddox 

CREDIT DIRRT img.pngWe’re 17 years in to this century yet we’re still seeing newly built learning environments that pay closer semblance to those constructed around the time of the industrial revolution. At the same time we’re seeing dramatic changes to the way we educate and learn, rapid advancements in technology, and other hurdles difficult to predict. Education interiors must be flexible and adaptable or they’re outdated before construction even ends.

We’ve had misguided and fleeting fits and starts of evolution in these spaces for our students. Remember the surge in open classrooms within school buildings around the 1970s? Students were encouraged to collaborate, overhear their neighbors and move around. The interpretation and physical manifestation of what students need was prophetic, but the curriculum lagged. Consequently, the open classroom concept was short lived.

Until now, estimates were the best a builder could offer.

Now, we see the pendulum swinging back to the open concept, but this time curriculum drivers are echoing spatial needs. Architects and designers are charged with creating the perfect mix of spaces that support different sized groups, various levels of collaboration, emerging technologies and future flexibility within those spaces. It’s not enough to have the prescribed number of classrooms to accommodate a certain number of students.

As a result, we’re seeing a significant shift from a teacher-centric model to a student-centric model. Instructors are now facilitators and coaches. Students are no longer empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge; instead they’re active participants in their own learning. For an example, catch a private screening of “Most Likely to Succeed,” a documentary highlighting San Diego public charter high school, High Tech High.

At the same time, public learning institutions are under a tremendous amount of pressure to spend money prudently; these are your tax dollars at work. In school design and construction, you often get one shot, one bond referendum, to make your community’s dreams come true and ultimately to positively impact the lives of generations to come. Once the project is set in motion, you sit with eyes winced and fingers crossed, hoping you got it right. You hope the end result will still be relevant the day the doors open, let alone 40 years from now. Flexibility within that space becomes critical in order to avoid the space becoming quickly outdated and ineffective.

But, what if the construction was fundamentally designed to support ongoing change? What if you could embrace the ignorance of not knowing what the future holds?

A client of mine once said, “You’re not driving the same car you drove in the 60s, you’re not using the same computer you bought five years ago, why should we build buildings the same?” He’s right.

A prefab construction method, or manufactured construction, responds to these challenges. How does it impact the way we design, build and use learning spaces? Manufactured construction always mitigates labor, the biggest construction expense. When manufactured construction is backed by end-user controlled technology, it becomes extraordinarily fast while tailored to the school’s exact needs. Projects are created custom and charged according to the amount of materials used, not according to deviations from a standard offering. With this model it can actually cost less.

These manufacturers use CAD-compatible software to create interactive 3D environments for you to explore before finalizing an order. The same software integrates all phases of a project, complete with instant and detailed data manufacturing, delivery, installation and reconfigurations. Instant and detailed pricing (with no surprises or contingency fees added) makes budgeting and scheduling easier and more accurate. With limited budgets and timelines, this predictability over costs and completion times is essential. Until now, estimates were the best a builder could offer. The 3D nature ensures stakeholders actually understand the space and are better equipped to make confident decisions quickly – further reducing time.

User requirements are considered right from the beginning and included during all stages of the design process to ensure the space seamlessly supports the needs of diverse user groups. From acoustic management, to integrated technology, to incorporating natural light and writable surfaces, you get the freedom to build an environment that helps elevate performance and outcomes.

All components of your custom order are manufactured in a controlled off-site environment for consistency and quality, and they can arrive on site in the sizes specified with finishes already applied, within four weeks of finalizing your order. There are no off-cuts, drywall dust or indoor air quality issues to worry about, just fast and clean installation that can have your space complete and ready for students by the end of summer or winter break.

This approach supports the ever-changing needs of your organization by allowing adaptability for the future, full integration of technology and equipment, and the surfaces become functional learning areas (think writable, tackable surfaces). Faculty members can meet students wherever they are in their learning sphere, whether it’s high-tech or low-tech.

In my travels throughout North America, the excitement around this new approach to construction is palpable. Educators who’ve used it comment that it’s fast, cost-effective, minimally disruptive, and their technology is seamlessly integrated and permanently accessible for servicing and upgrades. Although the initial draw is often aesthetic appeal, school teams quickly learn from experience that manufactured construction is a cost-compelling and more practical approach with multiple benefits. It’s faster, cleaner, provides better communication in the planning stages and allows for accurate budgeting.

Betsy Maddox is an Education Specialist at DIRTT, a leading technology-driven manufacturer of highly customized interiors including build-outs in both primary and post-secondary institutions. Besty is particularly interested in sustainable environments that support learning outcomes.

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