Our Classroom of the Future

"New Trier: Technology Rules in Innovation Classrooms"

via The Pioneer Press.

October 4, 2010
By KATIE OKON  kokon@pioneerlocal.com

"Welcome back to the classroom of the future," New Trier teacher Spiro Bolos told his students at the start of class on a recent school day.

The classroom that housed his U.S. History course indeed looks like something from the future.

With molded plastic swivel chairs and desks on wheels for ease of movement, the room is bursting with technology: three projection screens, enough laptops for each student, a student response system, document camera, digital cameras, huddle boards and an iPod Touch.

At New Trier, standard classrooms usually consist of an overhead projector with a screen at the front of the room, laptop computers for student use, and strict rows of the chair/desk combos.

The high school district has a name for this classroom of the future -- an Innovative classroom. A few of them were constructed this summer as part of an experiment in the study of learning with technology and space, said Paul Sally, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

When three New Trier administrative offices were moved from the Winnetka Campus to the A Building on the Northfield Campus, space was freed up for two innovative classrooms. A third was constructed at the Northfield Campus.

The innovative classrooms are about 900 square feet each, much larger than the average standard classrooms at the Winnetka campus, which are between 585 and 610 square feet, said Nicole Dizon, director of communications.

The construction and renovation cost for the two innovative classrooms at the Winnetka Campus is an estimated $109,655, which includes all renovation work, furniture (such as the new chairs/desks, podiums, storage cabinets, white boards and huddle boards), and contingency.

Technology for the two Winnetka classrooms cost $60,929, and $48,146 for the Northfield classroom. The Winnetka tech costs are lower because the Winnetka classrooms are using laptops that were purchased prior to the current budget year, Dizon stated. The funds came from the Capital budget.

But the cost of renovating the innovative classrooms is comparable to renovations for any other classroom, Dizon said.

"If we had made the former offices in Winnetka into standard classrooms, we still would have incurred construction and furniture costs, so the only real additional cost is for the extra screens and SMART response systems (minimal) and for the class sets of laptops (which, in the case of the Winnetka rooms, was a zero cost for this budget year)," Dizon stated.

Data will be gathered this school year to determine the next steps for the district, Sally said. Student feedback will be just as important as teacher feedback, he added. Part of looking at the data is determining if this innovative classroom concept can be done in the space of a standard classroom at New Trier.

Already, both benefits and challenges have come about. As with any situation that involves technology, glitches can eat up precious classroom time.

But the use of technology keeps the students interested, Bolos said. One of a group of teachers who volunteered to teach in one of the experimental classrooms, Bolos enjoys the mobility the classrooms offer with the furniture.

Bolos uses the iPod Touch to take pictures of student work, then uploads then almost immediately to the course website so students can access the images later on. The three screens allow multiple images to be shown at once.

"(The innovative classroom) makes what I want to do much easier because it is a blank slate," Bolos said. "Other classrooms constrict what I want to do."

When 16-year-old Scott Schwartz first walked in to the innovative classroom at the start of the year, he was a bit overwhelmed. But now, everything is  "really great," including the comfortable chairs and the ease of looking at any of the three projection screens, the Glenview resident said.

Subjects across the board are taught in one of the three innovative classrooms, and Tyler Hines, of Wilmette, wishes he had more courses taught in one of the experimental classrooms.

"It is a good environment," said the 16-year-old.

Senior Maddie Thorne, of Winnetka, echoes Hines's sentiments, adding that the technology allows everyone to be more involved and active, rather than just sitting in a room taking notes.

"I don't like history, and this is one of my favorite classes," Thorne, 17, said.