Times have changed, and so has the classroom and the way we teach. Since 2015, Rockingham County Schools has fully embraced the power of digital technology for students. By taking a step back and looking at how we can change the learning environment, we have greatly impacted student achievement. Children are using new tech tools, moving around during classes, talking to teachers, sharing their ideas, and ultimately, learning at a higher level than ever before. Here’s how we made it happen.
Redesign and Redefine
While best practices in the classroom continue to evolve over time, three years ago, Rockingham started shifting away from the one-size-fits-all instruction model based on lecture-style teaching. We created a handful of “Rockin’ Classrooms of the Future,” which include floor-to-ceiling whiteboard walls, mobile furniture, 1:1 mobile devices, and Lightspeed’s new Activate classroom audio system. The audio system includes two-way pods the size of a glasses case that student groups can take with them anywhere they are working. The teachers use a mobile app to connect to the pods, listen in to the student groups, and gain insights into the learning process so they can deliver the right support at the right moment.
In our Rockin’ Classrooms, there is very little whole group instruction, and no 45-minute lectures. Classes start with a small, 8- to 10-minute mini-lesson, then students set off into small groups for most of the class to work on activities that align with standards. When working in groups, students bring their Activate pods with them so the teacher can listen in on organic student conversations and engage in dialogue with the groups as needed.
This set-up frees teachers to be facilitators, moving at a brisk pace. The transition time between lessons has dramatically decreased, and classroom management is stronger now that we have moved away from the lecture-style classroom. The classrooms look different every day, and students have fallen in love with the new technology. Children can quickly talk with teachers about a project, then share out loud to the whole group using a microphone that gives them the confidence they need to offer their input.
Rockin’ Classrooms Increase Student Achievement
A 2015–2016 dissertation study found that 63% of classrooms at Rockingham Schools were arranged in rows, 39% of teachers utilized technology to display information, and less than 16% of students used technology for problem-solving.
In a short time after the Rockin’ Classroom implementation, teachers in both high- and low-poverty groups saw math and reading assessment scores improve. As compared to traditional classrooms, in the 5th-grade Rockin’ Classrooms:
- Math scores for high-poverty students were 13.1% higher;
- Reading scores for high-poverty students were 1.87% higher;
- Math scores for low-poverty students were 13.6% higher; and
- Reading scores for low-poverty students were 4.87% higher.
We firmly believe that this improved student achievement has come out of changing the traditional classroom format. Students need to process information in their own way, and by providing different ways to digest the material, we empower everyone to learn at their own pace.
Looking to the Future
Although we are seeing stellar results, the transition to Rockin’ Classrooms is still in the early stages. We have discovered what works and what doesn’t. We aim to spread and provide this opportunity of incorporating edtech in the classroom to every student. Classrooms are changing, and we need resources and support to make that happen.
Investing in technology has proven to be well worth the time and money for Rockingham County Schools. It provides a new way to support learning by allowing students to find their own voice and have a chance to be heard.
Dr. Sonja Parks is the Assistant Superintendent at Rockingham County Schools in North Carolina. Follow her on Twitter: @Parkss12.