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Designing the School Around the Student  

A Minnesota high school's planning team started from scratch and created a 21st century facility that turns the traditional classroom model inside out. Instead of waiting for students to come to class, teachers move about the school equipped with their laptops and other teaching tools.

What makes East Ridge High School different from its predecessors? According to Aaron Harper, principal of the 1,725-student Minnesota institution, it's the fact that his institution's original design was centered on technology's expanding role in the educational environment.

Learning from the Old 

East Ridge High School's 22-person design and planning team was literally staring at a clean slate in 2008. Tasked with developing a new high school facility for South Washington County Schools, Independent School District 833 in Woodbury, MN, the group comprised teachers across all disciplines, technology experts, and district staff members with varied degrees of expertise in planning and design.

Having already deployed desktop computers and other academic technologies in computer labs  and other areas for standardized testing and curriculum management, the district's two existing high schools also served as resources during the planning phase for East Ridge High School.

"The two other schools paved the way for us," said Harper. "Many of our staff members here came from those existing schools and that certainly affected how we went about planning the new facility."

Technology and Teaching: Flexible Design … with Exceptions 

One of the planning team's first charges involved figuring out how it wanted the teaching to be delivered and received.

Whether teachers should be using technology as a tool, or if it would be a fully integrated component of the learning experience, was discussed at length. Harper said the team decided on the latter option. That choice led the planning team to discussions about professional development, the incorporation of technology into teacher lesson plans, and other points that ultimately affected the high school's design.

"We looked at everything from flexible classroom models with mobile furniture to traditional 'schoolhouse' structures with standard desks and furniture," said Harper. "After much research and consideration we decided that the flexible model would be the best choice."

That flexibility extended to the building itself. Instead of stacking rectangular classrooms and linear hallways on top of one another the team created a pod-like design with the central focal points called "learning resource centers," or LRCs. There are six LRCs, and each one supports a conference room, two labs, and six traditional classrooms. Common areas are equipped with flexible furniture, computers, and wireless Internet access, and each learning space includes a Smart board and a projector.

 

 

Source: The Journal

Read more: http://thejournal.com/articles/2012/02/22/designing-the-school-around-the-student.aspx

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