In a technological world propelled by how we think, interact and learn, digital classrooms are no longer the wave of the future, because the future is here and now. If schools are not on board already, they’re behind the curve. These futuristic classrooms are grabbing the attention of nonprofits like NewSchools Venture Fund, which amplifies the learning environment in innovative ways.
Super powers ‘IGNITE’ middle schoolers
Classrooms like those at IGNITE Middle School are ahead of the curve as educators follow a campus model that guides students to discover their own super power. NewSchools is helping each student find that power through one of two $375,000 grants.
For 13-year-old Jackie, video production is her power, and IGNITE Principal Michael Gayles says this grant is about providing opportunities for students to discover and explore like never before.
“I want to make sure there are no stop signs in front of them,” said Gayles. “So, when she’s ready to advance to the next level, I want to make sure she has the video equipment, the technology, the coaches, and the software she needs to accomplish that. For kids like her and the rest of the kids at IGNITE with their interest in super powers, this grant is invaluable.”
The school’s co-teaching environment compels students to learn through career-themed units. For example, students recently explored mass communication such as graphic design, marketing, journalism and audio engineering. They have since developed teams comprised of various super power strengths, such as an expert producer or videographer for a group project assignment.
Reimagining learning is a goal of the NewSchools grant, but it’s also a vision shared by Gayles who wants students to receive real-world experiences where their super powers shine bright.
“It’s part of my belief structure that 11- and 12-year-old kids can do real things to have a real impact on the world. They surprise adults, and they even surprise themselves at the level in which they can work.”
Flexible seating trend taps into boys learning style
A few blocks away at SOLAR Prep for Boys, learning looks and feels different, and it is here that the NewSchools second grant will be used. Super hero themes are not the focus, but there is a shared thread of endless opportunities and new-age classrooms.
“We give our boys choices on how to sit around a room using flexible seating, so if they need to wiggle and move, they can,” said Adriana Gonzalez, principal of SOLAR Prep. “Some boys have standing desks, because some do not like to sit, and they have the option to sit or stand.”
Besides flexible seating furniture, Gonzalez says funding will go toward digital and makerspace rooms for collaborative learning, Chromebooks and other technology, like 3D printing machines.
NewSchools directly supports new school openings, typically in their planning year, and it backs models that encompass social and emotional learning along with growing innovative classrooms. But, for the district’s newest all-male school, there was no planning year, which is why Gonzalez is most excited about possibilities that lie ahead for her students.
Specific to how males learn, Gonzalez says balanced literacy is another area she and her team will focus on and looks to purchase books for their student demographic.
“We know studies show that boys don’t develop their literacy skills as fast as girls, so we need to make sure we are very intentional about our instruction in reading with them, and we want to find books that are of interest for our boys,” said Gonzalez.