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Active Learning Environments: The Classroom of the Future Is Here Today

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Active Learning Environments: The Classroom of the Future Is Here Today

Learn how technology and teaching combine to alter the way students learn at this middle school.

By Chad Lewis

At Tampa Preparatory School, our goal is to equip students with the skills they need to succeed before, during, and after college. In the digital age, this means preparing them with content knowledge and 21st-century skills. We do this by creating instruction and classroom environments that foster collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking – the four C’s of 21st-century learning.

To support this level of instruction and independent learning, we upgraded our classrooms to promote collaboration and inquiry. First, we successfully implemented an iPad 1:1 program for our entire school. Students are required to bring their personal tablet—with certain specifications—to school with them every day. Additionally, each of our teachers are given a MacBook Pro as well as an iPad. To take learning with these devices to the next level, we completely transformed the classrooms in our middle school building into what we call “Active Learning Environments” or ALEs.

Ed Tech Changing Classroom Design

When we began discussing the design of our ALEs, we had two goals in mind. First, we wanted students to be able to collaborate on the fly. And second, we wanted them to have equal visual and auditory opportunities wherever they sat in the classroom. We wanted all of our students to have a “front row seat” on learning.

To address our equity goal, we decided to create multiple interactive displays in each classroom. We installed two Epson BrightLink 595Wi interactive projectors and Walltalker dry-erase wallcoverings to create two completely interactive walls in each classroom. We implemented these projectors because of the return on investment: we could purchase two projectors for the price of a single interactive flat panel. The ability to display much bigger images and to use powerful collaborative software was an added benefit. In addition, we gave every teacher an Ergotron portable standing desk and every teacher wears a Lightspeed Redcat audio wireless microphone. This allows teachers to move around the room while ensuring that no matter where students are in the classroom, they can hear the teacher’s voice. This has effectively eliminated the “front” and “back” of the classroom, as students have multiple areas to view content.

To address our spontaneous collaboration goal, we threw out the traditional seating chart and brought in wheeled Steelcase chairs so students can easily reconfigure their desks for group work. Additionally, the interactive projectors have a functionality called Multi-PC Projection with Moderator, which allows teachers to project up to four students’ tablets onto the wall at once, for everyone to see. Students can then use the iProjection app’s annotation tools, dry erase markers, interactive pens, or the projector’s finger-touch annotation functionality to take notes or provide feedback on their classmates’ work.

The combination of these technologies and resources creates a flexible classroom design that is more conducive to collaboration.

Ed Tech Changing Lesson Design

Effectively providing students with a 21st-century education requires more than just implementing technology; it requires a shift in the way teachers teach.

For example, math teachers no longer just show students how to solve an equation on the whiteboard at the front of the room. Instead, they give students sample problems to try in small groups on their tablets. The groups then project a member’s screen onto the wall and the entire class provides feedback or discusses additional ways to solve the equation so everyone can learn. If the math teachers want to demonstrate how to solve an equation, they project an equation onto the wall and demonstrate how to solve it with the annotation tools—all while their MacBook is recording their demo. They then upload the video to the school’s library on YouTube so students can access these videos at any time.

Teachers can also post worksheets and other activities to our learning management system, Haiku, which students can open and annotate on their tablets and then project onto the wall using the Moderator function. Additionally, many teachers have students create newscasts, book reports, and videos using our portable green screens and their iPads. Regardless of the subject, teachers can easily share content from their own or students’ devices to enrich any lesson.

Due to the success we’ve seen in middle school, we’re building ALEs in high school classrooms this summer so our high school students can reap the benefits of active learning.

The days of teachers being tethered to the front of the classroom are over in our middle school because our ALEs have made strictly lecture-based lessons passé. By incorporating collaborative technology and furniture and then rethinking the structure of classrooms and lessons, we have changed the way students learn. They now learn by doing instead of by listening.

Chad Lewis is the director of technology at Tampa Preparatory School in Florida.

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