Local Educators Explore Benefits of Active Learning spaces at LHRIC’s Activ-con 2017

Educators have heard about the benefits of a collaborative teaching/learning environment before, but the July 25th Activ-con2017 conference, hosted by the Lower Hudson Regional Information Center in conjunction with the Great Prairie Area Education Agency of Iowa, was a reminder of how the physical environment in a classroom is equally as important as the strategy of the instructor.

The daylong event, held at the LHRIC’s offices in Harrison, attracted over 100 leaders and innovators in K-12 active learning spaces from across the region.

The unconventional conference was an opportunity for participants to immerse themselves in a series of “excursions” focused on the ideas of constructing, curiosity, community, collaboration and creativity.

Sarah Martabano, manager of the LHRIC’s Model School Department, said the idea was to catapult area teachers and leaders head-first into the deep thinking needed around visioning, goal setting and problem solving, strategies that are essential when looking at reconfiguring classroom spaces.

Participants were encouraged to dress comfortably as they moved from one room to another engaging in lively discussions, such as the current state of collaboration in their classrooms, how to best use community as a learning space, what tools and resources are needed in classrooms to promote creating, making and designing, and how to foster creativity in traditionally scientific subjects, among other topics.

Working in small groups, the attendees were given tasks to do based on questions that were printed on laminated cards available at each table. Some were asked to review infographics, while others were told to skim news articles, watch videos, re-arrange cut-out cards and create lists, all with the intention of getting participants to think outside of the box and to envision the 21st century classroom through the lens of instructional design, space and technology.

In his keynote address, Prakash Nair, founding president of Fielding Nair International, an architectural firm that focuses on school design, urged the participants to “take a step back” and examine their own theories of learning before embarking on the kind of change that is needed to achieve a community-based learning environment in their schools.

Mr. Nair, who also serves as the managing editor of DesignShare.com, a website that provides ideas and resources about best design practices and innovation in K-12, early childhood and college-level institutions, admitted that transforming education can be difficult, given its system of governance and operations.

“Change shouldn’t be scary, however,” he told them, adding that shifting from a traditional classroom space into something more creative can be done economically and more easily than anticipated.

His presentation included images from schools around the country and across the world that had changed their learning environments, from the music school that created a Black Box theater space, to the Catholic school in Florida that transformed its computer labs, and other schools that had enhanced their library spaces and turned them into multi-media centers with comfortable seating, quiet areas for reading and areas like Internet cafés.

“Regardless of whether school districts decide to change, education will continue,” he assured them.

“Learning is alive and well, but education isn’t, and we want education and learning to succeed at the same time.”

Speaking after the event, Ms. Martabano admitted it was a “risk of sorts” since it wasn’t the usual “sit and get” type conference. But, she added, the participants responded positively to the set-up.

“It was a huge success, and we are already looking at ways to provide conferences on this topic and type again.”