Gone are the days of classrooms with rigid rows of desks facing the front of the room where a teacher lectures.
Terms like “actively learning” and “blended learning” are all the rage in education circles. But they aren’t just buzzwords to teachers like Trevor Deighton, who recently won a grant to transform his Jackson Hole Middle School physics classroom.
“What an active learning classroom means to me is that you have a flexible and dynamic classroom environment where you’re able to transition pretty quickly,” Deighton said. “I’m really excited because not only will students have a choice in their learning, but they’ll learn more about how they learn best. It’s not just getting a classroom grant for $67,000 in furniture.”
Teton County School District No. 1 was named one of 16 recipients of Steelcase Education’s Active Learning Center Grant program in late March.
Deighton beat out more than 1,000 other applications, citing the support of district office personnel as essential in helping to write and support the grant.
“We were one of two middle schools that got it,” he said.
The classroom will be installed beginning this summer.
Grant funding covers the furniture, design, installation and on-site training needed to effectively use the new space. Changes will include knocking out a wall to create group study and project rooms, adding another window, refreshing the color scheme, adding floor-to-ceiling whiteboards, and eliminating an outdated science demonstration table. Among other improvements.
As part of the grant Deighton and other teachers will receive professional development to support student learning.
“The goal with this isn’t just changing one middle school classroom, but really having it be a starting point for changing many things and having it be a starting point for the community to be able to come use and see how dynamic education in the entire Teton County School District is,” Deighton said.
Students will also have an chance to learn the best way they learn, he said.
“That’s just the direction that education, in general, has been moving for a while,” Deighton said. “I think the district has done an amazing job with that, in terms of every student getting an iPad or a Macbook — those are some of things that make it possible.”
Technology like that allows teachers to individualize learning in a way that they, as one human being, couldn’t do alone. Supports include translation services, extra background information embedded into lessons for students who need more help and instant feedback.
As part of the grant, the middle school will study student outcomes for two years in the eighth-grade physical science classroom and lab. Research gathered will help determine what kind of impact the physical classroom space has on student and faculty success, something Deighton said he’s already seen as he’s implemented changes to the room.
“The changes we’ve already made have been incredible and I think really valuable for students,” he said.
Deighton surveyed his students, who overwhelmingly wanted things like standing desks, a big carpet to sit on as a class and even plants to improve the overall environment. They’ve been able to do things like teach the physics of yoga, which will be even easier to do when it doesn’t take two teachers 30 minutes to move all the furniture.
Current students were excited to learn their teacher scored such a big grant, until they remembered they’d be off to the high school next year.
“This year’s students said, ‘Sweet, that’s awesome, that’s going to be incredible,’” Deighton said. “And then they said, ‘Wait, we don’t get to use it?’
“I said, ‘You can come back and visit and when you do come back, you’ll know that your input and your ideas are what led to this happening.’”