Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Active Classroom & CoLaboratory: Creative Spaces for Learning

Engineering Students testing building
structure and stability with gum drops! 
Active learning helps girls to visualize, hypothesize, and improve their intuition about conceptual models of scientific phenomena in all areas of STEM. Furthermore, active learning deploys a collaborative, hands-on environment utilizing desktop experiments, online assignments, and educational technologies to engage students in constructing their own knowledge, rather than simply observing lectures. The role of social interaction is central in teaching and learning and in studying the world. (Duit & Treagust, 1998; Vygotsky, 1963). Peers help each other by offering alternatives and sustaining reasoning activities, and individuals benefit from this interaction by integrating knowledge from peers and the environment (Vygotsky, 1978).  Active learning environments encourage girls to engage in solving problems; they share ideas, give feedback, and teach each other (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1998). 

We knew that "jumping in" and fully adopting the active learning approach in our science & technology departments would not only require a pedagogical shift in our curricular program, but would also require remodeling and re-equipping of classrooms. When we approached the Active Classroom for Girls project, we proposed to study how girls learn science differently in an active learning classroom as opposed to a traditional lecture-based classroom. We hypothesized that The Active Classroom for Girls will increase girls’ confidence and perseverance in problem solving and learning in technical areas. Early indicators show our hypothesis is coming true! Not only are they building technical competency but we believe their confidence around collaboration, creativity and computational thinking has increased.

We won a grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation earlier this year for $50,000 and it was generously matched by our Board in less than 2 weeks for a total of $100,000! Our "Active Classroom for Girls" project combines innovative teaching methods such as the flipped classroom, design thinking and maker education. We have created new curriculum where the lectures are predominately online and class time is spent in groups where students collaborate to define and solve problems - moving from 75% lecture and 25% labs to 80% labs and 20% lecture. We intentionally build in time for our girls to gain empathy for each other, others in our community and others across the globe all while developing risk-taking and perseverance to solve challenges. In addition to new curriculum we planned - with student input - two new spaces were remodeled in the Summer of 2013. 

The "annex" to the Active Classroom is called the CoLaboratory. A space where "open" collaboration and creative expression is allowed and promoted. The Ellis Geek Squad, a team of 18 Upper School students that support the spread of tech & innovative approaches across the school helped design the room, purchase the furniture, put it together and decorate the room. One highlight was cutting a large hole in the wall to create a window writing surface. On any given day students or teams of faculty are meeting in the room doing creative work. 

The Ellis CoLaboratory - Annex to the Active Classroom for Girls is also
home to the Ellis Geek Squad where they have help desk hours daily and
check devices out such as iPods/Pads, cameras and microphones as well
as provide consulting to teachers and other students on tech integration. 

Not only did we think about new tables, chairs and lighting, we explored which new technologies should be purchased to create an active learning environment. Technology supports our Active Classroom & CoLaboratory in the following ways: 
  • We purchased 27" Lenovo Horizon touch screen machines where students can draw, take notes and photos. Students create engineering notebooks in Microsoft OneNote and share with the class for feedback and discussion. 
  • We have developed a "flipped classroom" culture where students expect to see screencasts that support what they are doing in class. We use a combination of tools like Camtasia & JING as well as using Google Glass to create "LabCasts" that students watch at home before a lab to walk in fully prepared to start the lab. 
  • Have developed rich resources housed in our Haiku Learning Management System
  • Equipped the room with state-of-the-art audio visual technology so "no seat in the house" is bad and students can wirelessly broadcast from any device instantly via Crestron AirMedia. 
  • Purchased new furniture from Bretford Manufacturing so the room can be reconfigured in an instant to suit the needs of students and groups and can access power through tables to keep devices charged. 
  • We also have new tech lab equipment for physics and engineering classes such as a 3D printer and new Vernier products such as LabQuest 2. 
Students love the MakerBot Replicator 2X 

All of this technology supports and enhances the design thinking process in our Active Classroom and across our school. Recently, our engineering class developed mechanical limbs for a client and won first place in a local engineering design competition for their prototyoe  They used AutoDesk to design parts and the 3D printer to make the prototype that they presented. Each group kept an engineering notebook in Microsoft One Note and posted team reflections and gantt charts to our Google Apps for Education accounts.

Space has been a huge aspect of creating an Active Learning environment where students are defining and solving problems, creating solutions and gaining confidence in their abilities to affect change in the world around them. 

The Active Classroom for Girls - where Design Thinking and
Technology are used to put students at the center of the classroom.

1 comment:

  1. Happy to bring up comments or questions in #dtk12chat you post here!