Designing the Classroom for Student-Centered Learning
The future of education demands space to flourish and grow
by Jason Meyer
Thinking back to my school years, class time was spent taking notes while teachers led lectures from the front of the classroom and homework was all about practicing what we learned. Now as I, and the education industry, age, I see this teacher-centric style of teaching working its way toward retirement, and that is a good thing.
Schools around the country are exploring different instructional models that are more focused on the student. These new instructional models, including blended learning, flipped instruction and project-based learning are changing both the way class time is used and the way classrooms are designed. Gone are the classrooms with desks and chairs in rows all facing forward. Now, walking into today’s most innovative classrooms can feel more like walking into a tech start-up or trendy coffee shop.
Almost everyone has a device
Even just five years ago, if you walked into a classroom and saw a student using a cellphone, he or she would most likely get in trouble. Now, it’s the new norm. Whether the school has instituted a BYOD program, a 1:1 program or a combination of the two, students are often working on devices during class. This makes it easier for students to collaborate on group projects, do research and present evidence to support their claims during class discussions.
Because of the increase in device usage, schools are upgrading their wireless capabilities to accommodate such a large number of students using devices at once and classrooms are adding charging stations and even desks with USB ports and electrical outlets so students can recharge their devices during the day.
Teachers are lecturing less
In many classrooms, the roles of class time and homework have switched. Now, the digestion of new content – the reading and taking notes – takes place at home so time in class can be spent on small group work or projects that allow students to apply the concepts they are learning. This student-centric learning style not only gives students the freedom to express their learning in different ways, it challenges them to hone important non-academic skills such as collaboration, communication, problem-solving and more.
Expanded time for group work also allows educators to check in with students who may be struggling to grasp new concepts. While the rest of the class works in small groups on activities, the teacher can work in a small group with the students who are struggling.
Teachers use tools that enable collaborative learning
The education market is full of so many new tools teachers can use to lead engaging lessons that inspire collaborative learning. There are tools that let students collaboratively create and edit documents simultaneously from different devices. Teachers can use student response systems to quickly gather opinions or test basic understanding of concepts. There are many apps that allow students to create video, drawings, songs and more to demonstrate their learning. The options are almost endless.
Classroom presentation displays also come equipped with built-in interactive software, which gives teachers the opportunity to transform their normal slideshows into interactive games. Teachers can create lessons that require drag and drop and other types of tangible interaction for virtually any subject or grade. Teachers who successfully create lessons can share them on forums and websites so their colleagues can download them.
There are also wireless collaboration tools that allow teachers to send a slide or information, say a math equation for example, from their device to all student devices in the class. From their devices, students solve the equation and annotate it to show their thought processes. Then the teacher can select students’ screens to cast onto the classroom’s display to discuss. These wireless collaboration tools, which can be used across multiple subjects and grades, foster class-wide conversations and help students see their peer’s different points of view or thought processes.
Students are no longer strictly facing the front of the classroom
Because classrooms are becoming more collaborative, the seating arrangement is changing to reflect this. Cafes offer a myriad of seating options for customers, including relaxing couches, secluded individual tables, and bigger tables for groups and many classrooms are adopting this design mindset. Classrooms are beginning to incorporate softer furniture like couches and chairs, as well as reading nook-style areas where students can work on their devices both individually or in groups. Additionally, desks and chairs with wheels are becoming more popular because they provide flexibility. If the class is participating as a whole in a lesson, students can face forward and they can quickly rearrange their desks for group work on the fly.
While classrooms still have their main display mounted at the front of the classroom for these whole-class lessons, some are installing multiple displays throughout the room. Therefore, furniture with wheels makes it easy for students to swivel and look at the closest display.
Learning is happening outside the classroom
School libraries are transforming into true media centers. The shelves of books, magazines and computers for research are now joined by collaborative and informal learning spaces. The media center is becoming a meeting place where students can work on projects. Soft furniture makes the media center more inviting and lounge-like. Some schools are even installing displays in these informal learning spaces so groups can practice presentations, view documents or websites as a whole, and more. Media centers are also expanding the tools they offer. Some rent out video cameras, green screens and even virtual reality goggles for projects.
The media center at Tampa Preparatory School in Tampa, FL has renovated one of its offices into a virtual reality creation lab, called the IDEA (Innovate, Design, Explore, Apply) Lab. What started as one VR headset on a mobile cart grew into a lab equipped with six VR workstations, a 7-foot-wide interactive display that can project from any of the creation stations and show students’ work as they are designing for VR in real time, and more. One of the first secondary VR creation labs in the nation, the IDEA Lab allows students to not just experience VR; they can invent and code VR applications, as well as explore new ways to demonstrate their learning of academic subjects through VR.
Bracing for the Future
As edtech continues to advance, classroom instruction and design will continue to change. The goal of schools is to provide students for a future career, but our workforce looks different now. Upon entering the workforce, students are expected to have foundational knowledge, as well as collaboration and critical thinking skills needed to operate in a highly skilled technical workforce. By creating educational environments that better reflect the “real world,” schools are better preparing their students.