The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

November 26, 2013

Classroom innovation

By Katie Dahlstrom Herald Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON — When Matt Kulper’s biology teacher led him and his classmates to a new classroom Monday, he wasn’t expecting the room to make his jaw drop.

But that’s exactly what happened as the Clinton High School sophomore entered the high school’s innovation room for the first time.

The innovation room is the first of its kind in an Iowa High School though classrooms like it are popping up in colleges across the country. Through a partnership between Clinton High School and the University of Iowa, the district was able to create the room, which promotes collaboration and 21st century learning.

“I’ve never seen a room like this,” Kulper said as he and fellow biology students got their first glimpses. “It makes me feel like I’m definitely going to learn something.”

Seven tables that accommodate nine students each fill the room, which can be divided to hold two classes. Each table has three laptops and microphones that groups of three students share to solve a problem presented by their teacher. Each table also has an adjacent TV screen and white board walls to display work.

Teachers, who play a secondary role in the learning, use the four projectors to share ideas from different groups and facilitate learning.

Students are forced to sharpen their collaborative critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which numerous large employers have identified as desirable traits for would-be employees.

“We really just want to make sure we’re providing them with every opportunity to be successful whether they go into the workforce, whether they go to college, the military or what have you,” science department chairman Wes Golden told members of the Clinton School Board on Monday.

Students also will be able to share their work with other innovative classrooms across the world.

The room and teaching methods are meant to break down the barriers a normal classroom establishes and allow students to collaborate and exercise critical thinking in ways the traditional classroom might hinder while using the abundant technology.

“It’s sophisticated,” sophomore Lexie Schluns said. “The mics, the new laptops, the new TVs. We don’t have anything else like this here.”

The $300,000 room is quite the departure from the space’s former purpose as a storage room. Funds to transform the space were split between the district’s capital budget, the Clinton County Development Association and private grants.

Science classes such as CHS teacher Spencer Mesick’s have been the only ones to use the technology-rich room since it debuted roughly two months ago, but classes from across all disciplines will eventually use it.

Students are often given real-world applications for the skills and concepts they’ve learned such as how to identify a genetic disorder in a baby while working under time constraints and only being able to ask their teachers a limited number of questions.

Another piece of the dynamic and engaging environment the innovation room provides: allowing students to take chances and defend their decisions.

“You should have a reason for what you’ve done,” CHS Principal Karinne Tharaldson Jones said. “I think that’s where we’re moving in education is away from the true/false, you’re all right or you’re all wrong to how did you get there and why do you think that’s important. Because that is going to apply so many more ways down the road.”