by Laurie Simpson
July 22, 2019
In a 21st-century high school English classroom, what kind of learning space could
1) optimize student engagement, as well as
2) cultivate 21st-century skills, and ultimately,
3) increase student achievement?
These are the three big, guiding questions that have anchored the redesign of Room 110 for the last 11 months. But it all started with one much smaller question: Can we order a standing desk for my document camera?
On a day in late August, right before the start of school last year, I popped into our principal Dr. Cottrell’s office to ask for a cart or standing desk on which to better utilize my Elmo document camera, which is basically a next-gen overhead projector. In making my pitch, I must have dropped the phrase “21st-century classroom” because my discussion with Dr. Cottrell soon shifted from one teacher’s furniture request to a larger question:
What does a 21st-century English classroom look like?
I’m not sure if Dr. Cottrell had already considered redesigning an English classroom before our conversation, but he must have realized he had a live one sitting across from him. Either way, he suggested, “Why don’t you research 21st-century classrooms and write a grant to the [North Hunterdon Education] Foundation for funding to design and create an English classroom prototype”?
Over the last few years, our aged yet resilient North Hunterdon High School building (ca. 1951) has been undergoing much-needed updates to its facilities. These improvements, along with other initiatives to reenergize our school culture, have made North seem more inviting, more exciting, and more innovative. Clean and modern learning spaces with appropriate infrastructures that serve the physical, emotional, and intellectual needs of our students send a powerful message that what we value, above all else, is the quality of our students’ education.
Which is why there was only ever one answer to Dr. Cottrell’s suggestion to design a prototype classroom: “Sure! I’ll do some research.”
Nonetheless, I’ll admit, my stomach flipped:
“On top of all of your other work, Laurie?”
“You can’t even keep your desk neat!”
The beginning of the school year is especially busy and stressful, so the thought of taking on a project of this scope was daunting. Furthermore, the day after Dr. Cottrell’s proposal, I learned that I needed shoulder surgery and would miss a minimum of 4 weeks of school (which turned into almost 8). Still, I went right to work. I ordered books on the topic, searched for research articles, listened to podcasts, scrolled through Twitter chats, queried Facebook groups, and yes, peeked at a few Pinterest boards; it was the start of a year-long exploration into the future of learning spaces.
Despite my initial self-doubt and the unexpected workload, this project has been an incredibly educational and enriching experience. When Room 110 is open for learning, I hope that it fits Dr. Cottrell’s and the NHEF’s vision for the North Hunterdon community—
and that I picked the right cart for my Elmo document camera.
In my next post, I will discuss in more detail the research and design process, the questions we considered, and the reasoning behind the decisions we made.