In the high-tech days ahead, how will schools prepare students for life in the 21st century? What will those schools look like? Educator David Warlick hopes to find out with his New Century School House project. Teachers from around the world "adopt" bare-bones rooms in a virtual schoolhouse and fill them with visions of the future.
Warlick believes that educating students for an unpredictable future is one of the greatest challenges facing our society. It's a challenge, he says, that our current system doesn't meet. "I wanted to create a project that would invite teachers to dream from outside the box about what schools and classrooms should be like," said Warlick, "and then paint their dreams on the Web for others to see and share."
Some of the rooms teachers have created are real techno-marvels. In the Millennium Cave, Francis Shepherd, a computer consultant from North Carolina, envisions a space filled with holographic images located on wall panels. Students and teachers would push individual panels to explore virtual-reality environments.
"I wanted to create a classroom that would enhance learning and provide a stimulating experience by allowing students to visualize information," Shepherd told Education World.
Other rooms in the New Century School House focus less on technology itself and more on a greater interaction with the world, an interaction facilitated by technology. In a room called the Docking Station, Virginia educator and technology specialist Peter Laws envisions a room containing two elements: a mobile Outreach Center/Motor Coach designed for extensive field trips and a Docking Station to support it.
The Outreach Center, in Laws's vision, would be equipped with a generator, camping gear, fold-down laptop workstations, and transmission equipment to send reports from the field. Satellite and infrared technology would keep the Motor Coach connected to the Internet with a minimum of fuss and wiring, and laptops and larger video-editing workstations would use wireless technology to connect, print, and support videoconferencing. The Docking Station would be a place where parents, students, and staff would meet, lecture, and learn before and after field trips.
Laws pictures his space as a resource not just for the school community but also for the community at large. "More education of our youth goes on at home than within our classrooms," he told Education World. "Educating parents, siblings, adult volunteers, and new immigrants would have a wonderful ripple effect as knowledge is shared and shaped within the community."
Between the two extremes of the virtual reality of the Millennium Cave and the enhanced reality of the Docking Station are a surprising number of rooms suggested by wishful visions of what classrooms could be like today if the usual obstacles of time and money were not in the way.
A Science Lab, for example, would feature nothing more complicated than an open space in the center of the room for cooperative group work, lab stations with pull-down awnings, an energy-efficient room design, good acoustics, lots of storage space, comfortable computer stations, and no more than 20 students per class.
In the Pythagorean Den, students would study math as a direct tie-in to natural science, with an emphasis on chemistry and physics. A great deal of learning would be self-directed, with the teacher acting as a facilitator and older students functioning as tutors. A complete software library, as well as audiotapes about the history of math discoveries, would be available to further learning.
In the futuristic-sounding Communications Port, students would concentrate on such low-tech activities as expressing themselves through language, developing written text, and reading text together to improve the sound and message. The room itself would resemble a living room, rather than a classroom, with soft furniture set up for easy conversation, mood lighting, and jazz music playing in the background.
Want to get in on the future of education? It's easy -- and you don't need either technical ability or technical ideas to share your vision. Just visit the www.landmark-project.com/ncsh New Century School House, climb to the 2nd Floor or 3rd Floor and click Adopt This Room in any empty room. Then type your vision about the room's purpose, goals, staffing, and facilities and click Repurpose Room. Your information will be added to the database, where other educators can see it and comment on your concept. If the comments spark additional ideas, you can make changes at any time.
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