At Martin Elementary School, what started as an idea to renovate one library office into a collaboration space has transformed into four technology-equipped rooms that now are seen as vital student workspaces.
That transformation is increasing both the amount and quality of collaborative learning teachers are able to facilitate, said Principal Matt Webster.
“We designed this space not necessarily to bring exciting things into the library like screens and tables and stools that wiggle,” Webster said. “What we were after was a learning environment that just felt different, acted different, and produced something different.”
That difference largely entails a shift away from the traditional teacher-in-front, lecture-style instruction of the past to learning that focuses on teamwork, collaboration, problem solving and 21st-century skills.
Literacy was among the first subjects to take hold in the “Husky Hubs,” which are located within the school’s library. However, the rooms are now being used for group work and projects across all subjects, including STEM science, math, special education, and reading.
Each room is outfitted with a large-screen television with hookups for tablets, Chromebooks, and laptops, extending the benefits of District 158’s 1:1 initiative. Through the 1:1 initiative, each elementary student receives a tablet computer that powers a variety of education and creative software.
“We really feel like our students have an advantage by taking an opportunity like this and learning in the style they do,” Webster said.
While students have quickly integrated technology into their learning, skills such as collaboration and teamwork are not always as natural. Staff make it a point to teach students not just course material, but also new ways to learn, share ideas, and exchange feedback in a way that is productive for all.
“It’s been an education experience for our staff as well. We’ve had quite a few professional development opportunities on how to create an environment in your own classroom where these spaces can become extensions for you,” he said. So we’ve had to grow professionally too, to allow our students to grow in these environments.”
The library is staffed by both certified teachers and aides who help ensure that students are equipped and engaged for learning. Numerous parent volunteers also help out in the rooms, but increasingly, students are using the rooms in small groups independently.
That outgrowth has resulted in an increase in quality collaborative time for students. Whereas a typical classroom teacher may be able to serve two or three reading groups a day, Webster says that the Husky Hubs can double the number of reading groups accommodated in a week.
But can third, fourth, and fifth graders handle that level of independence during the school day?
According to Christine Golyshko, the school’s media facilitator, thanks to the teamwork of teachers, library staff, and volunteers, as well as the thoughtful design of the rooms, she has experienced no discipline issues with students.
“It’s definitely outside-the-box thinking,” she said. “It’s not perfect every single day, but for the most part, it works really well, because the kids are so engaged with the learning.”
Webster said the spaces were designed to foster engagement and creativity, from brightly painted walls to colorful tiles to stools that enable students to move freely.
“We wanted it to be a space that woke them up when they walked into it,” he said. “Every decision we ended up making, we always asked the question, ‘Will this be good for our students?’”