A SWELL Place to be: the Story of the SWELL Classroom
By Byron Ernest
Happy New Year! I hope this post finds 2012 already proving to truly be a LEAP year for you, and you can LEAP into a project like we did with the SWELL classroom that is now serving as the model for our renovation project at Lebanon High School. You can also go to my personal blog at www.byronernest.wordpress.com for more of my thoughts on teacher leadership, technology, education reform, and other Byron’s Babbles. And follow me on Twitter @ByronErnest.
I promised in my last EDCompass Blog post to take you through the transformation of a traditional classroom into a true learning lab that I call SWELL (SMART Worldwide Effective Learning Lab). This has been such an exciting learning experience for us at Lebanon High School. The development of the SWELL classroom has given us the opportunity to do action research like student improvement on the Purdue University End of Course Assessments (ECA), pointed to in my last post to the EDCompass Blog.
Everything we did revolved around being SMART Technology integrated. That goal continues to be at the forefront as we move through the renovation of our high school. Particularly as SMART continues to develop more and more outstanding tools for enhancing effective facilitation of learning.
Effective teachers, global competencies, and progressive technology use are not mutually exclusive in education. It is the opinion of Lebanon Community School Corporation that we need and must have all three strengths. Lebanon High School specifically believes we must use rigor, relevance, and relationships to be a steward of high student performance and achievement each and everyday. Make no mistake, however, we still believe the teacher is the single most important component. Our action statement for accomplishing that mission is: “We are designing and developing a learning environment that 1) integrates various technology like interactive whiteboards, mobile technology, high access technology (laptops) and applications with SMART solutions, 2) connects technology usage to content area, and 3) embeds technology into assessment strategies, thus enabling highly effective teachers to facilitate high student achievement. The challenge today is not just access to information, but rather how to integrate the vast amount of information for effective instruction that leads to high student achievement.
Technology alone does not guarantee a rich educational experience. Education spaces need to be smart, technology rich, adaptable, and configurable in order to meet the needs of today’s students. If the desire is to put students first, it has to be more than just unloading crates of technology into a room for the teacher and saying, “Have at it!” At the same time educators must provide inspirational learning spaces on a limited budget. Technology is everywhere in today’s educational environment.
In order to investigate the learning lab environment, a team was formed and many site visits took place. The visit that most intrigued the team was to Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management and Economics Library Interactive Learning Lab. Our team especially liked the SMART Board interactive whiteboards formed in a triangular position to be visible from any angle in the room. This truly made the lab engaging since there was no front or back of the room. Another component that specifically fit this transformative pedagogy is lightweight markerboards. These 32” X 42” portable whiteboards further enable collaborative group work. When the instructor says, “huddle-up and discuss…” The groups can discuss their topic and write their thoughts and diagrams on the boards. After all groups present, the boards can be placed on a rail and a copy of their work is taken and sent to students via a website. Or their work can be downloaded directly to a USB flash drive and sent to a printer. All technology used in the SWELL classroom enables students to listen and be engaged in the discussion, as opposed to taking dubious notes.
When we started researching and designing the SWELL Classroom, the goal was to give our students the technology and environment they deserve for maximum learning. We felt the environment was most important. Students are provided with one-on-one wireless laptops, a SMART Document Camera is available at each of the three triangulated SMART board interactive whiteboards, along with SMART Response interactive response systems. The ultimate goal must be that instruction and student learning drives the design, and that the classroom inspires learning. Therefore, we kept this in mind when designing our model-learning lab. In the SWELL Classroom tables with rollers and swivel chairs on rollers give the students the flexibility to configure and reconfigure multiple times during our 82 minute classes. Tables seating four students each allow the teacher to pull up a chair and give assistance, monitor learning, and differentiate activities. This configuration also allows for forming important relationships with the students. When designing learning places we must remember that positive relationships between students and their teachers are crucial to learning.
A SWELL Environment
Students love coming to class and immersing themselves in the educational process through collaborative learning and use of technology. Through the environment we are creating, we have global connectivity using progressive educational technology. The classroom is no longer just a classroom; it is a boardroom, learning lab, research laboratory, creativity think-tank, and an invention incubator. This learning-focused environment is preparing students for the technology they will be using when they arrive at the workplace, universities, and other post-secondary endeavors. In fact, our students were using iPods and iPads to collect data while on internships through our Agriculture Science Program the past two summers. No doubt, our students will be using the technology they use everyday in my classroom no matter what their post-secondary endeavors. By doing this, we believe students are better prepared for success when they enter post-secondary institutions and in the workplace.
In the SWELL classroom our students are provided with MacBooks, iPod Touches, triangulated SMART Boards (three SMART Boards that can be used individually, or all simultaneously – truly giving each student the best seat in the room), markerboards, SMART Document Cameras, Flip Videos, and a SMART Response. With SMART Response I am able to pre-test, practice, and have useful reflection with my students. Each student has his or her own response tool. This allows for quick, formative feedback (assessment for learning) and allows the students to remain anonymous. All of these tools are really about increasing student engagement.
The SWELL Classroom is designed to meet individual student’s needs with an environment that is inclusive and effective for all students.
Next in EDCompass
My next post to the EDCompass Blog will include a description of how the different technologies are used to enhance learning and a typical day in the SWELL classroom.
About the Author
Byron Ernest is a multiple award winning educator and the Department Head for Agriculture and FFA at Lebanon Community School Corporation. Ernest was recruited to start the department in 2005, which now has four teachers and an enrollment of 586 students in grades 8-12, making it the largest Agriculture Department in the state of Indiana.
Ernest holds two Bachelor of Science Degrees from Purdue University in Agricultural Education and Animal Science, and a Masters in Science in Agricultural Education, also from Purdue. Ernest is currently finishing his Ed.D. in Administrative and Teacher Leadership from Walden University.
Byron Ernest can be reached directly at email@example.com.