A sixth-grader inserts a 51/4-inch floppy disk into the machine and gazes excitedly at a tiny green-and-black screen. The simplistic graphics on her computer hold her spellbound as she plays a game designed to improve her math skills. The bell rings, and the child is disappointed because she has to leave.
Although this may have occurred frequently years ago, such an out-of-date scenario would stir laughter in many of today's students. It's commonplace for students to have computers in their homes and know more about computers than many adults.
The acceleration of technology has been phenomenal. Computers in schools offer many opportunities: worldwide communications, hands-on real-time simulations, multimedia presentations and an inexhaustible well of information. To be successful, school districts must keep pace with technological advancement and integrate these capabilities into classrooms.
And, to accommodate that technology and the evolving philosophies about how students learn, schools must equip classrooms with furnishings that are mobile, flexible and convertible. In a modern classroom, a tablet-arm chair no longer will suffice.
How Students Learn
Research on how students learn and retain knowledge is changing not only how teachers teach, but also a classroom's shape, size, organization and furnishings. Classrooms should be flexible, dynamic and integrated with the tools of technology.
Technology removes education further from the factory age and closer to the goal of creating "lifelong learners."
"Teaching a child facts is useless," says Ronald Erdmann, superintendent of Richmond-Burton High School District 157 in Richmond, Ill. "Yet, teaching a child how to get to those facts is crucial."
Many schools are moving away from instruction in which students attend 50-minute lectures, much of which they will forget as soon as they are tested on it, if not sooner. The focus has shifted to learning how to learn. If it is true that people learn 90 percent of their skills on the job, accumulating facts in school will not benefit them. Instead, they must know how to retrieve facts quickly.
In an "Engaged Learning Model," the teacher's role progresses from being the "sage on the stage" to being the "guide on the side." Instead of a dispensation of facts, a class session becomes a participatory gathering of facts.
With this model, classroom organization must now accommodate periods of direction, guidance, research, sharing and summary. These activities will take place in one period or block of time, and the furnishings must be flexible to support these dynamics. (See the sidebar below for an example of a block of time.)
Access to technology and flexible classrooms lend themselves to interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary learning, which improves a student's understanding of a concept by approaching it from many perspectives.