Monday, October 09, 2006

The Ecology of Learning Spaces
Choosing the right lab for the job!

Now that both WMS Computer Labs are up and running, and the first wave of lab use is beginning to fade into the scurry of the school year, it's time to start planning for your next technology-rich project! This week, we discuss how to choose the best computer lab or library space for your students, your teaching, and your curriculum.

So much has changed in the WMS computer labs since last Fall. The computers in Lab 2 have been replaced with newer workstations, each with a flat screen and the most up-to-date of operating systems. Each lab has been outfitted with a network printer.

With new technology has come new opportunity, and I'm proud to say we've been taking advantage of it. In the last four weeks the labs have been full almost every block as, in addition to the scheduled computer classses, 16 teachers brought their classes to the lab for instruction, research, and/or other project work at least once. That's over 70 blocks of lab activities!

We've learned a lot from our use of these spaces over the first month of school. As expected, each lab has started to develop it's own flavor as a teaching space -- a complex ecology, we might say, which springs from the unique spatial and technological possibilities of the labs themselves.

Lab 1

Given its whiteboard and the additional space along the front of the classroom, lab 1 has turned out to be an especially good space for direct instruction, especially with an overhead or data projector, and for single-day activities which combine instruction and student-directed work. Like the block schedule itself, then, lab one allows for multiple types of instructional methods within a single class period, making it an especially strong support space for DI and other new learning models.

As students are asked not to print directly to the color printer, the presence of the black-and-white printer in Lab 1 also makes it an especially good space for lab units which primarily involve word processing, web-based research, or other activities which will include lots of student printing throughout a class period.

Lab 2

The smaller physical space of Lab 2 has led to a natural trend towards student-directed "open lab" teaching and learning in that space so far. The new flat screens push back from the edge of the workspace, which in turn more easily allows multiple users at a single computer to truly share ownership of material; on a more practical level, the additional workspace ained by the use of the flatscreens is ample room for student paperwork to spread out as a natural part of a fluid research and project space, in which students might be working with rough drafts on paper and final drafts on a screen.

In many ways Lab 2 seems to work especially well for the later stages of a multi-day project: with all instruction completed, a teacher or teachers can roam through the room, answering questions and helping students as they move towards the final product for the project.

Lab 2 also contains the color printer, of course, and the XP environment supports student flash drives and some software (Publisher, especially) much better than the other lab. Happily, these tools are also more likely to be needed in the final stages of a project. If your project is likely to require multiple days in a lab, do consider booking Lab 2 once your instructional needs have been completed.

The Library

The library computers continue to be heavily utilized this year as last year, both as part of research and reference activities and as a "third lab" for group projects and smaller classes which can be well served by a bank of twelve computers. Group projects which involve web-based research but in which students will produce their final projects on paper or posterboard may be especially suited towards the library, which has plenty of table space available!

But books and reference materials can be easily moved on carts to the labs, too! As always, and especially when your project requires computers but does not otherwise take advantage of the other resources of the library (reference materials, books, and table space for projects to spread out!) please let Lorry know what your particular needs are -- in some cases, you might find that a lab is both available and a better space to serve those needs!

In addition to learning that each space has its own unique possibilities for learning and teaching, over the past few weeks of lab use we've also learned that -- at least in the first few weeks of the year -- demand for labs continues to slightly outweigh availability of lab spaces, though we've certainly closed the gap significantly since last year.

We have yet to turn anyone away, and do not expect to need to do so. Nevertheless, booking the right lab for your particular class and curriculum remains tricky, in part because computer classes and other regularly scheduled curricula utilize the labs on the specials schedule rotation. But the computer class curriculum is designed to be able to take place in either lab, so that you can have the best shot at finding the most appropriate place for your own classes. With foresight and planning, it should be possible for you to get the time you need, in the right lab, for every block in your schedule.

In the meantime, at the request of several teachers, we are looking at online calendaring software options, in the hopes that making it easier to see lab (and library) availability from your own classroom will help you plan your own use of these spaces.

Watch this blog for more as we discover it -- and, as always, if you have any suggestions for new lab technologies which would assist you in your pursuit of curricular goals, pass 'em along to Cindy or Joshua, your HWRSD technology committee reps.

To make an appointment for lab-based instruction, plan for lab use, or get help developing units which might involve technology, stop by the labs anytime...or email Joshua Farber to schedule a one-on-one meeting during your planning time!