“Engaged.” Author, professor and researcher Peter Johnston–invited to address the Chappaqua School Board on Wednesday–offered this as the one word he would most readily choose to best describe his goal for students. An enthusiast of the relationship between language and learning, Johnston indicated he would like to see “schools where students are intellectually and socially engaged… in reading, conversing, and imagining, leading to their increased understanding, cooperation, behavior, and moral development.”
Getting students engaged requires discovering and capitalizing on their interests. Topics that appeal to them will draw them in, entice them to read and share with each other. Even children reluctant to spend time with a book will find themselves wanting to discover what it is that other kids are talking about. They become interested in each other. As Peter stated: “Now I know what school could have been like, where kids find each other interesting.”
I Think, Therefore ILab
Robert Rhodes, principal of Horace Greeley High School, introduced the concept of creating a larger space, both literally and metaphorically, facilitating the development of necessary 21st century skills. Collaboration, communication, problem solving, and engaging in deep thinking are the goals behind ILab. There is a need for students to “go beyond what [they] learn in terms of content and facts,” added Dr. Lyn McKay, Superintendent of the Chappaqua Central School District.
A panel of teachers, staff support, and a student spoke to the board and the audience about their enthusiasm for ILab, and the reasoning behind it. According to Darleen Nicolosi, the Director of Instructional Technology, this new space will be a more effective way for students to “learn how to navigate and communicate in the digital world.” Times change, and our schools need to adapt and grow with the constantly evolving technology. For example, senior Jordan Chow spoke of using flash cards as a freshman to help him study, but now uses “quizlet,” an online study tool, as well as online sharing with classmates.
Wanting to be successful in school is only a portion of our children’s education. Latin teacher Nicole Diamente used the phrase “Non scholae, sed vitae discimus–we do not learn for school, but for life.” Students will make their way along the “never-ending path of new exploration and finding new knowledge,” concluded Chow.
ILab will be a catalyst for Project Based Learning (PBL) at Greeley. The intended environment will both support and challenge students, centering on significant content and 21st century skills. Students will be able to choose books, topics, and the layout of their projects. The space allows for up to three classes at a time, allowing students to work with other classes and across disciplines, with a variety of tools at their disposal.
Sensing the growing interest in ILab, Dr. McKay asked if we would like to take a tour of the space, a sneak peek at the state of the art reconstruction of former classrooms and a corridor. The group of 20 or so community members followed the panel to ILab, where we were shown around by our exuberant guides. We were walked through the five zones of ILab: a conference room, open space for group work and collaboration, two smaller rooms, and a multi-use big space. A large shelving unit stationed in one of the spaces will house the laptops and charging stations. Walls in the smaller rooms serve as white boards. Large wall mounted monitors will enable students to “Skype” with students around the world.
The arrangement and decor of ILab is both modern and classic, an attractive environment for teenagers to collaborate, communicate, problem solve, and engage in deep thinking. In response to Board of Education President Jeff Mester’s inquiry as to how the space will be allocated, Rhodes said he “hopes to have the problem that the demand is overwhelming.” The space is meant to be enticing enough that students and faculty will want to be there. Vicky Tipp, a member of the Board of Education, said it best when she described the “lab” as “energizing and different”, and that “the only bad thing about it is walking out of it.”