Fairfield High School's 21st Century Room Journey
During the construction and remodeling project that started the summer of 2014, there were several rooms on the top floor that were scheduled to be remodeled and left vacant until such a time that the district could improve that space for the students. Conversations began between administrators that involved this space and budgets were analyzed in 2015. A realization came about that the district technology budget could be tweaked, and with the help of some funding from the high school discretionary fund and some labor, materials, and financing from the maintenance department, that this dream could become a reality sooner than expected.
Meetings with internal staff started during the summer of 2015 to determine the wants and needs of this new space. In the fall, vendors were brought in to discuss what they had to offer to help us attain our goals. About this time, a basic package was presented to the school board to seek approval to continue with the project. Winter blew in as did the time for internal staff to demo the room and start to make the changes to meet the needs of the room. One of the biggest changes was to remove a wall that had created two separated classrooms. The space grew to accommodate larger numbers of students and even multiple classes at one time. Even though this new space took the footprint of two previous classrooms, one room was almost double in size as a science lab/classroom, so the new space covered the approximate area of three typical classrooms. One other space that became available was the chemical storage room attached to the science classroom.
Maintenance staff rewired the new space, hung new LED lights, brought in a company to hang a new ceiling, a company to carpet the floors and put up drywall to create smooth writing surfaces on the walls where shelving once existed. They also painted the room based on the color scheme that had been decided on and spent much time painting the majority of the walls with a special whiteboard paint. Now, the rule of thumb in the room is that if it is white, you can write.
During some of this work, a vendor was brought in to plan the placement of the wireless equipment and monitors. When the walls were complete, the technology behind the room was installed. This technology included 6 monitors spread throughout the room, an Apple TV, a Blu-Ray player, wireless video switching equipment to access all of the monitors, ceiling speakers, microphone and sound system and the controls at each door to help monitor the room when first entering the room, or when the iPad was not available. Even the lights were programmed into different zones to give different areas of the room the ability to operate independently with separate functions.
The final phase was the furniture. Much thought went into the color of the furniture, type of furniture, the arrangement of the furniture and flexibility and functionality of the furniture. The brought a continuity to the room, yet could be used to divide the space of the room if needed. First, along the windows, a cafe height counter was installed with several stools to provide the students with some individual workspace and natural light. Next, a couple of bistro tables were added with stools to provide for small group space that was completely mobile in the room. Smaller tables were brought in at lower levels to achieve an appearance of the variance in height and space.
Each of these pieces could be put together to form larger tables and workspaces, or they could be broken up to create more individualized work areas. On one end, a campfire-style furniture set was purchased. It created a larger, somewhat private space for larger groups. This could also be broken up and moved to allows for some smaller group spaces and to access some of the monitors more conveniently. Lastly, the opposite end of the room included a stadium-style area where students have a table and couch situation, with small counter space built onto the back to allow the second set of people on an elevated level to share the same space.
The technology in the room allows for connections from all kinds of students and staff devices. People can connect to the monitor through a specific wireless network and broadcast to any of the six monitors. This connection could be with a laptop, or a Chromebook, or a tablet. Even their smartphones can connect to the room. For collaboration purposes, the monitors even have the ability to split the screens into four smaller screens which allow member’s groups to view and discuss their work together. Then, as the instructor sees fit, they have the ability to share the contents of each of the six monitors with any and all of the other monitors. This allows students to work collaboratively and still share with the entire group over a large space. The decision was made not to put a projector in the room. The idea was to destroy the idea of a "front of the room" or a lecture point.
With these monitors spread throughout the room and the ability to share content, a monitor should be able to be seen from any seat in the room. It just comes down to which monitor is most comfortable for the student to view. A final piece of technology that was added to this special space was provided by the 2016 Iowa Teacher of the Year, Mr. Scott Slechta. As a teacher of the year, he received a Smart Kapp Board for his classroom. It was his wish to put this in the space where students and staff from all over the high school would have used to it. That was hung in a nook for everyone to use.
The last portion of the room to be utilized and developed was the old chemical storage room. Openness and flexibility of the room are critical, yet there was a small room that was cut off from the rest of this space. How could this fit in with the concept of a 21st Century learning space? Green screen.......that is it! Not only could this small area be used for small group work, and provide a door for some privacy, it also created a more private space for video production. Students that wanted to build video projects had space where they could close a door to reduce noise for audio recording, yet still, have a large enough space to video a single person or group of people. The room provided a large smooth wall for a backdrop. In this digital age, by painting that wall green, the students can use that wall to produce videos from anywhere in the world or with any particular subject matter behind them, without leaving the room.
The 21st Century Room, known locally as "21C" was officially opened to the staff in April of 2016. For the rest of the school year, it was booked almost daily, and for almost the entire day. Fairfield High School and Fairfield Community Schools are proud of the way the room has turned out. The students have been excited about the new space and the ability to learn in a space that feels and looks completely different than any of their traditional classrooms. The incoming freshman shows excitement to be in a space they did not have access to before.
If you are interested in visiting this room or have questions, you would like to ask. Please feel free to email the FCSD Director of Technology, John Grunwald at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click on either of the pictures to the side to see more images in slideshows.