What Really Goes into a High-Impact K-12 Classroom?

How our Texas school district leveraged MeTEOR Education’s tested model to completely overhaul our classrooms and turn them into 21st Century learning spaces.

Written by Keith McBurnett, Guest Blogger.

It’s easy to forget that education system most of us have experienced was born out of a technological innovation known as the Gutenberg printing press. Mass printing accelerated the speed of information, allowing small loose coalitions of people to meld into larger, more cohesive groups and engage in a level of coordination and cooperation never before possible.

Today, most students spend an average of 14,000 hours in the classroom during their K-12 years. As a result, the learning environment is powerful in impacting relationships among students themselves, as well as with their teachers. Until recently, most of us were using an age-old model, with teaching’s emphasis on standardization designed to support that model.

To break out of this mold, our district decided to pilot the Inspired Classroom project during the fall of 2016. Utilizing an infusion of technology, high-impact classroom furniture, and teachers’ creativity, this initiative helps districts create learning spaces that look, feel, and operate differently than traditional, Gutenberg-driven models and instead supports our current Google age!

Ready, Set, Go!
With a donation from the Franklin I Fickett Foundation, we kicked off the initiative by meeting with pilot participants to share ideas and lesson plans that would effectively leverage the new furniture and technology. The furniture was installed in October 2016, and from November through February 2017, two more meetings for sharing ideas, needs, and experiences were held. Technology training took place during December.

Prior to implementing the Inspired Classroom, students in our pilot classrooms took a 10-question survey concerning the furniture in their classroom. Of the students surveyed, 43% felt that the classroom furniture had no impact on their learning. However, after using the new furniture for three months, 88 percent of students felt that the new modern furniture had helped them learn. In fact, two out of three students felt the furniture had a significant beneficial impact on their learning.

This project challenged our traditional “sit and get” model of student learning. For example, the technology and flexible furniture configurations provided new ways for students to learn, increased collaboration, and helped us build and strengthen other 21st Century skills. This wasn’t going to be easy—before we started with Inspired Classroom, just 25% of our students felt that classroom furniture made it “easy to work” with their classmates. Afterward, 94% felt that the furniture made collaboration easier, with 55% feeling that the furniture made it very easy to collaborate. In fact, students are now working with each other 60% of the time.

The furniture, technology, and training we infused into the classroom not only impacted the students, but it also changed our teachers’ instructional methods.

5 Steps to Success
As with any major organizational shift, moving from a general agreement on values to an actual strategy and tactics often requires support from outside coaches or consultants. In our case, we partnered with MeTEOR Education to come up with a 5-pronged approach to developing our new, High Impact Learning Environments™. The five areas that we focused on were:

Integrated Technology. One of the very first questions to ask when planning the design of new learning environments should be: “How will our students be utilizing technology as they pursue their learning experience?” There is no single answer to this question and each district can benefit from coming up with its own answer.

Learner Mobility. Schools must consider how to support both formal and informal teaching and learning in order to effectively maximize both current and future square footage. A properly designed environment can allow students to seamlessly move from space to space as their work changes and as they have need for variety in that work.

Multiple Modalities. All students are different, so a high-impact learning environment should be able to easily accommodate differentiated instruction or many modes of learning. Both teachers and students should be able to self-organize their respective spaces to match the specific activity, emphasis, or learning style that best suits the moment.

Adaptability. An inflexible space does very little to accommodate impromptu needs. In fact, the location of electrical sockets, casework, and other finishes may unintentionally make it difficult for teachers to veer from the traditional front-facing lecture mode.

Dynamic Ergonomics. While many of us remember the hard, rigid, plastic or wooden chairs of our own school time, studies have since shown that such furniture – when used over long periods of time – can negatively impact skeletal structures, circulatory systems, and respiratory systems.

Measuring the Results
After our students had used the new spaces for three months, we surveyed them and found that 94% felt that collaboration was much easier. Teachers who participated in our pilot program reported that the new spaces have been a catalyst for thinking outside the pedagogical box and making lesson plans more collaborative. Additionally, flexible furniture configurations allow students to reorient themselves to different views of the room as needed and encourage the teachers to move around and be more involved.

As schools continue to join the “Google revolution,” and fully leverage the benefits of educational technology, the need for high-impact learning environments that support collaborative learning and student voice and choice is growing exponentially. By creating
learning environments that support students’ concentration, engagement, wellbeing, and future success, districts can prepare pupils for success now—and well into the future.

About the Author: Keith McBurnett is superintendent of Burnet Consolidated Independent School District in Burnet, Texas.