‘Classroom of the Future’ taking shape at Tahoe-Truckee schools | SierraSun.com

‘Classroom of the Future’ taking shape at Tahoe-Truckee schools

Jessica Weaver
Special to the Sun

Through a grant from the Excellence in Education Foundation, select teachers and students are piloting new furniture and teaching tools —like stand-up desks — to determine what the "Classroom of the Future" should look like.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Can technology alone change the way students learn?

Although it has increasingly become a standard part of the classroom and is an incredible tool for learning, six Tahoe Truckee Unified School District teachers would tell you the answer to that question is a resounding "no."

Technology is just one piece of the puzzle. Walk into a standard classroom today and it will generally look the same as it has for the past 200 years.

Classrooms as we've known them have typically consisted of a teacher's desk at the front of the room, a chalk or white board, and a grid of desks — some with chairs attached to them.

Over the past year, with a $50,000 grant supplied by Excellence in Education, a team of six innovative educators has been busy researching what the "Classroom of the Future" might look like.

They have experimented in their own classrooms, and have visited other school sites and districts that have already incorporated new methodologies into their classrooms to see what works, and what doesn't with regard to how kids learn.

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The teachers studied what learning spaces could and should look like, as well as what future classroom purchases should entail, including furniture, technology and other elements that can impact the way students learn.

"Through this process, we have learned that there is an active learning ecosystem that consists of three categories: physical space, technology and pedagogy," said Ed Hilton, Technology and Information Services director at TTUSD. "Thinking about this ecosystem allowed our teachers to experiment with how their room is set up, what furniture is used to support learning, what devices are used, and the way we teach and allow students to learn."

Impacts of physical space

An initial student survey was conducted with students in grades K-12 to learn more about what students were experiencing in the classroom.

Results indicated that classrooms heavily laden in technology were not comfortable. Schools without technology requested both technology and comfortable learning spaces.

The common thread was that furniture was at the heart of the issue.

"We looked at the 'environment' as being the third teacher. We had to ask ourselves what it is conducive to, and what expectations are set by the way the room is set," said Glenshire Elementary School teacher Maggie Bockius.

The teachers found that student comfort has resulted in greater engagement and improved interaction and collaboration.

The modular furniture has made it easy to reset the room quickly in order to suit the project at hand, and eliminated the "front" of the classroom, allowing students to have preferential seating and interaction with the teacher wherever they are at.

"The new furniture has created comfortable spaces that make students calm, ready to learn, and ready to make mistakes and feel good about it," continued Bockius.

Changing the style of teaching

Another major shift in how the "Classroom of the Future" works in the active learning eco-system is pedagogy, or the study and practice of how best to teach.

There has been a fundamental shift in how teachers are thinking about education. With the incorporation of technology, students are collaborating more often and thinking out loud with one another.

They are extremely engaged in what they are doing, and their thinking is being refined.

The shift is changing the way teachers plan, present lessons and share information. Students no longer need to all do the same thing to learn about a topic.

This change is enhancing the quality of work teachers are receiving back from students, and is creating an environment where students are involved in the creation (versus consumption) of content that aids their learning.

"A major change comes in the direct instruction piece. As teachers, we're moving from simply giving information and offering a passive learning experience, to serving as a facilitator and guiding student inquiries. This method is allowing them to be active participants in their own education," said Alder Creek Middle School teacher Vicki Decker.

Jessica Weaver is an Excellence in Education Board Member. Visit http://www.exined.org to learn more.