When envisioning a classroom, the first things that come to mind are desks all facing forward, a bank of computers against a side wall, a projector front and center and a teacher standing at the head of the class.
But a team at Clinton High School is hoping to shape the classroom of the future into something quite different: An interactive classroom that encourages students to sharpen their critical-thinking skills as they work together to learn not only the material in front of them, but how to develop skills that will follow them through college and into the workforce.
The concept is known as the “innovative classroom,” and it currently is being put into practice at a few colleges across the nation, including the University of Iowa.
Wes Golden, chairman of the CHS Science Department, presented the possibility of having Clinton High School become the first high school in the nation to utilize the concept. The goal would be to have the CHS classroom ready to go in the fall of 2012.
“Every kid in the class gets involved,” Golden said. “The kids are actively engaged and it makes it much more powerful.”
The plan, which has been under discussion by a committee since October, hinges heavily on interaction of students, with round tables set up throughout the classroom. Up to nine students would be seated at each table, with each table outfitted with three computers. White boards would be set up at each table for students to work on problems together. Information can be shared on the computers at each table. Plasma screens also would be in the room as well as a projector with a screen.
Golden said these changes allow students to help each other grasp concepts and work together in a team environment, something that he says encourages critical thinking, problem solving, spurs innovation and collaboration and causes students to think independently.
The plan would be to set up one classroom in the science department, which has a total of 10 teachers. The goal then would be to progress to all other CHS departments.
“This is the future of education, in my mind,” Golden said. “There's no other school doing this at the high school level. It is truly profound. I think I have a department that can pull this off.”
Clinton High School Principal Karinne Tharaldson Jones said the University of Iowa is eager to partner with Clinton High School and would help with getting the technology set up. She said the university in turn is excited to have CHS science department teachers available to help U of I professors as they get used to the idea of using inquiry-based education techniques, which is something that is being used in the CHS science department.
“This will put Clinton in an interesting and prominent position,” Tharaldson Jones said.
Clinton School District Superintendent Deb Olson said the next step is to find funding for the classroom.
At the University of Iowa, that cost has come in at $250,000 per classroom, although costs specific to Clinton have not yet been determined.
Olson said it is an important goal to try to reach.
“To me, this is where education is going,” she said, adding that she would like to see these classrooms in place at the middle school to help those students learn how to work collaboratively, also.
While the school board was not asked to take any action on the presentation, Olson said the committee that has been studying the issue hopes the board will become an advocate for the creation of the innovative classrooms.
“That's the classroom of the future,” she said.