New platforms, ideas and resources bounce around the teaching community and professional development circles like pinballs. As soon as you learn about one tool, it seems the world is off to find the next, which incidentally requires a completely new skill set.
Perhaps this trend is indicative of the modern era, or the search to provide relevance in an exponentially changing world. Whatever the circumstances, it is an idea that teachers need to get used to. This post focuses on one way to make that happen.
What is a Mixed Use Classroom?
In order to understand what a mixed use classroom is all about, it’s helpful to look, oddly enough, at the practice of city planning.
The Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington defines a mixed use development as a “development that combines two or more different types of land uses, such as residential, commercial, employment, and entertainment uses, in close proximity. In some communities, mixed use may be defined as different uses contained within the same physical structure.”
Mixed use developments are a dream for city planners. They allow for flexibility and integration of services within the confines of a common physical space. In a mixed use development, consumers benefit through access to multiple shops and services; business owners share customers to their mutual benefit; the community benefits through an efficient delivery of services.
Mixed use classrooms function on the same premise: they provide a variety of tools and a common purpose.
In a mixed use classroom, the teacher sets the learning goal. The students demonstrate their attainment of the goal in a way they see fit. They work to their own strengths, access the platforms they know, and create products that represent their individuality and autonomy.
As a result, the students benefit from multiple tools and platforms, the technology benefits through integration and competition, and teachers benefit through an efficient delivery of services.
Mixed Use in Action:
The American Studies class at Winnacunnet High School is a combined approach to American Literature and American History, traditionally offered as separate classes. Scheduled as a double-block with twice the students and two teachers, American Studies allows students to learn the curriculum through a single thematic perspective and project based learning.
Logistics alone demands a mixed use approach in this class; afterall, it is difficult to schedule 35-40 of anything in a school. However, the teachers have leveraged these limitations into an opportunity. Take for instance a recent project on The Hudson River Painters.
At the outset of the project, students were given a common purpose: to teach an audience about the life of an individual Hudson River Painter.
The assignment required (in part):
- A PHYSICAL display or exhibit paying homage to your artist
- A media/technology based element dedicated to your artist (ex. animoto, prezi, iMovie, and more!)
- The following content should be reflected in your work:
- A brief biography of the artist, covering how he got started in his craft and an overview of their work in general.
- Quotes from the artist you feel are appropriate and enhance your exhibit (these can be part of the display or slideshow).
- Several (6-8) examples of the artist’s work, enlarged for easy viewing. Each piece should be labeled with the name of the artist, the title of the work, and the date it was created.
- A map of the area that is the subject of their art. Identify specific areas where some of the work was created.
Using these guidelines, the students took a variety of approaches. The projects culminated in an open-house ‘museum’ which was open to the entire school. I was lucky enough to document a few of the projects the students shared.
One of the first groups to share their project chose to showcase their artist through an iMovie. One group member reflected on the personalization of the medium. “The iPad allowed me to use my voice. It allowed me to get more creative than some of the sites that are out there on the Internet.”
When asked what they learned, another member responded, “I learned they used Romanticism when they painted. I learned about some of the symbols they used, like light versus dark and using broken trees.” However, another student broke in, “The first thing I learned was how to use an iPad. I’ve never used one before.”
Here is an example of the iMovie approach:
The second group chose to use a laptop in order to create a Voki presentation after talking to another group. “We had to do a multimedia project and we heard about [Voki], so we created a character that kind of looked like our painter. And then we typed up his biography into the text box on Voki. He speaks the words we put in. You can change his voice or his accent.”
Similar to the movie, the Voki wasn’t seen as a hoop to jump through. In fact, it was a learning experience in and of itself. “Something that was challenging about the Voki was that none of us had used it before. So we had a hard time customizing the face. We thought there were only a few of them so it a little getting used to customize everything.”
Another student added, “I think that the Voki was good because it was more interesting to learn about our artist. Rather than just having a slideshow, we could actually research and make it like he was talking about himself. I thought it was interesting.”
And, of course, they had to fulfill the requirements of the assignment. “My partner also made an Animoto, but we had already put the quotes on our poster and made an interactive game for the audience. So the only thing we had left was the biography and this was the best way to do it. You can have their face and they can be talking about themselves.”
Here is a clip of their product:
The third group I was able to interview chose to approach the project through an Animoto presentation. When asked why, they first noted its flexibility. “It helped me learn because it helped me research more. It kind of expanded into different things instead of being locked into paper. It helped me realize how many options I could have. It allowed me to do it in a different way.”
The group also saw it as a way to connect to the audience in the room. “I think it’s easier to create a project that looks good, but it’s also easier [for others] to connect with because there are so many different options. You can create something different that expresses your thoughts.”
Here is the Animoto slideshow:
Putting it Together:
Were there an unlimited number of devices and platforms? No. Did the teachers know each platform inside and out? Probably not. Were the resources and ideas bouncing around room like pinballs? Yes.
And that’s the simple idea of a mixed use classroom. It’s both divergent and communal. It’s both flexible and focused. It’s both chaotic and organized. It’s what authentic learning looks like.
Thanks to Rachel Roberge, Jim Connolly and the folks at Winnacunnet for letting me check out the project.