Magazine article Technology & Learning

The Intelligent Use of Space: How Districts Are Redesigning Rooms to Invigorate Their STEM/STEAM Programs

Magazine article Technology & Learning

The Intelligent Use of Space: How Districts Are Redesigning Rooms to Invigorate Their STEM/STEAM Programs

Article excerpt

Surely you've heard the not-so-funny joke that if Rip Van Winkle were to wake up today he'd recognize only one thing: the classroom, with its cookie- cutter rows of desks and a blackboard and teacher up front. But we all know that mobile devices allow digital learning to take place anywhere-on a bus, a beach, a bed, or at a ball game. That's why some districts are turning their libraries, unused closets, and classrooms into open, collaborative spaces that better reflect the open, collaborative learning of today.

"It really is a mindset shift," says Tom Murray, state and district digital learning director for the Alliance for Excellent Education (www.all4ed.org). "There's a disconnect if the spaces don't practice what we preach in terms of the 21st-century skill set."

Murray suggests starting with one room or area, often a library. Ask for student input to figure out the needs of the building, your culture, and your community. "Redesign does not need to include expensive, high-priced furniture," he says. "Take cues form HGTV's 'Design on a Dime;' ask for donations, check out garage sales, reuse old furniture."

Need a little inspiration? Check out what these four districts have done.

DIY SPACES FOR CROSS- CURRICULAR STEM

"We've tried to focus on every space- floors, ceilings, walls, hallways, classrooms, gyms, libraries, cafes- and ask, 'How can we design this so students are able to see themselves as learners where they go?" says Pam Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County (VA) Public Schools and 2016 Virginia Superintendent of the Year.

From letting students draw on hallway tiles to create bar graphs and spreadsheets to putting old lawnmowers in the library for students to rebuild, Albemarle does everything it can to encourage students to be makers.

The redesigning efforts started six years ago to make STEM work more accessible to everyone. In 2010, administrators turned a closet in a high school library into a music studio/maker space. "We bought 3D printers and then filled the tool cabinet with stuff from people's garages, including sewing machines, glue guns, drills, and soldering irons," says Ira Socol, assistant director for educational technology and innovation. "Students stop in to invent things and solve problems."

The newest learning space, in an elementary school, has no walls and can house up to 120 students and six teachers. "Every surface, including the floors and windows, is writeable, and there's a full kitchen," says Ira Socol, assistant director for educational technology and innovation. Rather than participating in an Hour of Code, the district weaves coding into cross- curricular projects all year long. Already this year, students have cooked Thanksgiving dinner and designed Hovercraft chairs.

The middle schools have mechatronics labs. The people running the labs partner with science, art, physical education, and other teachers to do interdisciplinary projects. Last year, the students decided they didn't like their cafeteria so they built 16-feet, two-story, rolling tree houses. As Moran says, that's the type of learning they will never forget.

"If you change the space, ifs easier to change the learning," says Moran. "When I walk into a library and a student tells me he wants to use a drone he built to help the librarian hang banners on a 40-foot ceiling, that's a great feeling."

BRIGHT COLORS, REVAMPED SPACES, AND ENERGIZED STUDENTS

Back in the fall of 2011, the superintendent and assistant superintendent of Elizabeth Forward (PA) School District visited Carnegie Mellon University's (CMU) Entertainment Technology Center, where CMU students study game design, interactive storytelling, robotics, and more. …

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