Tahoe-Truckee schools working to reimagine classroom experience | SierraSun.com

Tahoe-Truckee schools working to reimagine classroom experience

Jessica VanPernis Weaver
Special to the Sun

Students in Ms. Staron’s fourth grade class at Truckee Elementary are experimenting with movable, standing whiteboards for collaborative projects.

TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — The classroom of the future. Where do you start when you take on a project that tasks a team of educators with re-imagining the classroom experience?

Not only are you expected to "think outside the (classroom) box," you need to do this while taking design layout, technology and the style of furniture that will be most conducive to learning into consideration.

Although it may seem like a huge undertaking — and it is — teachers within the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District are doing just that.

With a grant supplied by Excellence in Education, a team of six innovative educators have been busy researching, experimenting in their own classrooms, and visiting other school sites and districts who have already incorporated new methodologies into their classrooms to see what works, and what doesn't.

The goal? To develop a framework by which the entire district can have a "lens" through which to determine what's good for kids and how they learn (including how they will learn in the future), what the learning spaces should look like, and what future classroom purchases should entail.

This includes furniture, technology and other elements that can impact the way our students learn.

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"The grant Excellence in Education gave us is allowing our team the freedom to step back, research, and test what our values are going to be when we look at what the ideal classroom design should be moving forward. In the past, students and teachers just 'got what they got' in terms of classroom tools, furniture and design," said Ed Hilton, TTUSD Technology and Information Services Director. "We are putting thought into how we can improve the learning environment."

For lack of a better description, the "Classroom of the Future Team" of teachers is using two documents to frame the work that's under way — The Facilities Master Plan and the District Technology Plan Addendum.

The Master Plan calls for flexible, moveable furniture and classroom technology to promote student learning. The Technology Plan Addendum encourages the increased use of technology in the classroom by teachers for more effective curriculum and instruction.

Though this project was only recently funded, and work has just begun, there have already been some eye-opening findings.

Ashley Staron, fourth-grade teacher at Truckee Elementary, has been working to create a flexible learning environment.

In the next few months, Staron will explore opportunities with movable, collapsible tables that can be easily set up in the classroom for various learning situations, as well as seating to go with the flexible tables.

Truckee High School teacher Krista Strecker is experimenting in her classroom with the removal of the teacher's desk from the room, and turning an entire wall into a writeable surface.

The result?

"Retiring the teacher's desk in my classroom has already been an excellent choice," Strecker said. "Students' actions have changed with this new space. They seem more comfortable, and when they conduct group work in this space, they make eye contact and lean toward each other. The shared desk seems to give them a facilitation fulcrum."

Other teachers in the group are experimenting with stand-up desks, the incorporation of moveable furniture, the creation of "main presentation" areas within the classroom, as well as "breakout areas" for smaller group work, as well as other ideas.

Where does it go from here? While TTUSD is on the front wave of public school districts moving in this direction, there is still work to be done.

The team will continue researching best practices, new ideas and creative options, with the goal being to formalize a recommendation by the end of the school year.

"As far as thinking ahead, we want to be in a good position as funds become available, so we can move forward and not play catch up. We're of the belief that if we don't have a plan, we're already behind," said Hilton.

Jessica VanPernis Weaver is an Excellence in Education board member.