TAMPA, Fla. — Providing students with a 21st century education and fostering skills like collaboration and critical thinking is causing a shift away from the traditional classroom. This change includes not only designing the physical layout of the space to maximize student engagement and learning, but it also encompasses choosing educational technology that seamlessly aids in enhancing teacher instruction.
At Tampa Preparatory in Tampa, Fla., we created Active Learning Environments (ALEs) to provide students with a technologically advanced, student-centric atmosphere. We started this complete transformation of our traditional classrooms in the lower school, which houses students in grades six through eight, in 2014.
Our goal with this undertaking was to create environments where students could spontaneously collaborate and have equal visual and auditory opportunities regardless of where they were in the classroom. In traditional classrooms, students pay attention to the front of the room, so sitting in the back of the room can be detrimental to a student’s learning. Essentially, we wanted to completely throw out this idea, and choosing the right technology — and furniture — played a big part in making this a reality.
In each of the 12 lower-school classrooms, we installed two Epson BrightLink interactive projectors on opposite walls. We also purchased Steelcase mobile desks for students and an Ergotron mobile desk for teachers, a voice-amplification system, glass walls and LED lighting. We installed dry-erase coverings on the walls to transform all of the wall surfaces into interactive spaces when used with the interactive projectors. Each student is also required to bring an iPad to school. Now, students can project content from their iPad onto the surfaces and annotate it on the wall in real time using their fingers. Students can also see projected content and hear their teacher’s voice from anywhere in the classroom, thus giving every student a virtual “front row” seat in the classroom. The addition of the mobile desks enables increased collaboration and small-group work, as students can now wheel their desks together and spin to see various projected content.
During the planning stages of the redesign, we considered installing interactive flat-panel displays, but a head-to-head comparison proved they did not fit into our new design or our budget. In fact, we were able to buy two projectors for the price of one flat-panel display. These projectors transformed entire walls in our classrooms into interactive surfaces, as their image size was significantly larger than that of the LED display. Our decision to opt for interactive projectors, as the predominant display technology, has been further reinforced by a recent study conducted by Radius Global Market Research. The group evaluated the readability of content displayed on a 70-inch flat panel in an average-sized classroom and found that 58 percent of students could not read content displayed.
By redesigning our classrooms and implementing the technology that we did, we were able to improve the teaching and learning process. Students collaborate and engage with each other more, and teachers have more freedom. They can use small-group work activities to differentiate instruction and then visit with groups of students, talk to them and provide additional guidance as needed because they are no longer tethered to their computers at a desk in the front of the room. The ability to easily project multiple examples of students’ work at once now facilitates classroom-wide group discussions and critical thinking. We are now replicating this same ALE model in our upper school and are confident we will see the same positive results.
Overall, we’ve found that taking an innovative approach to classroom design has changed the way our teachers teach and our students learn, and we are looking forward to seeing the success of having ALEs in every classroom at Tampa Prep. To learn more about Tampa Prep and the school’s ALEs, visit: www.tampaprep.org/page.cfm?p=1271.
Chad Lewis is director of technology at Tampa Preparatory School in Tampa, Fla.