By Shiva Peri
There are various benefits and drawbacks to certain classroom models. For the purposes of this article, the ideal classroom is defined as that which maximizes engagement and productivity. At Council Rock North, there are four major types of classrooms.
THE TRADITIONAL LAYOUT
The first is the traditional desk layout with an array of desks facing a Promethean ActivBoard. This layout is most common throughout the school. Its benefits include being good for testing and handing out papers. However, one of the most glaring drawbacks is that this layout often hinders collaboration, a pivotal aspect of education. Additionally, the lack of motility of this environment can lead to antsy students who look at the clock more often than at the board.
However, these classrooms are also modular. Ms. Mallon has come up with a creative solution using this feature of traditional desks. As opposed to rows and columns, Ms. Mallon organizes her desks in an arc all facing inwards.
She said that “[her classroom structure] helps facilitate … teaching because I like all of my classes centered around participation. I find that students are more likely to participate when they can see more of their other classmates … and then they can hear each other pretty well. … When you have a grid structure ... it halts the ability to have a full conversation. Since AP World and gender studies ... are communication-based, I find that this facilitates conversation better. It also opens up the room. ... When kids are presenting, for example, they can use the space more and I find that if they can use the space more then they will participate more and they'll be more creative.”
Another layout is found in a majority of the science classrooms at North that feature lab tables and lab stations. As opposed to traditional desk environments, lab tables encourage communication and collaboration, both of which lead to a more engaged class.
For example, many of the trivial clarification-of-the-instructions questions can be asked of lab partners instead of the teacher. In other words, the filtration of a question through a lab group can ensure that the most necessary questions are asked.
Mr. Price supports this claim saying, “[Lab groups allow] collaborative work so that you can brainstorm and feed off of each other. ... It basically opens you up to newer thoughts and ideas and I think it expands your horizons. ... Research shows that working as a team benefits everybody. Today with our complex world, ... almost everyone, even Elon Musk, have people they work with, [creating] a huge collaborative effort.”
The main disadvantage of lab groups and stations, though, is that they can cultivate an unhealthy dependence on certain lab members, which prevents real learning.
The third major type of classroom is the computer labs and the library media center. The main benefit of working at computers is the vast resources provided. Effective students can productively research, brainstorm, and develop ideas at these labs. While the library computers seem to foster a better sense of collaboration than the other computer labs due to the grouped tables of computers, both can produce similar results in terms of productivity. However, despite this potential for productivity, students can also misuse computers to do homework for other classes, play computer games, or even plagiarize.
The final type of classroom environment is any kind of studio: the art studio, the photography lab, the woodshop, or the film and media lab. Each of these classrooms is specialized for specific types of creative endeavors. Students may be engaged by certain elements of these studio environments such as their openness and the freedom of motility that they encourage.
Not only does motility help prevent a watch-the-clock mentality, but also it fosters a sense of independence in students.
Frank Kim, a senior who has never taken an art course, provides an interesting perspective on the issue: “For most of my life, it’s always been the traditional setting. If I were to transfer, I’d probably choose the studio outline, because of how refreshing it is relative to what I’ve been in so far. Definitely traditional classroom ... is much more efficient [in terms of] structured learning. ... I feel like the classroom should reflect the subject, so a studio would be good for ... nurturing creativity, but traditional definitely has its merits.”
On the other hand, Esther Kardos, a senior AP Art History student, has a different viewpoint: “The problem with the studio art environment is that we’re on stools. ... In my experience stools make me slump down a bit more. Since I’m more exhausted, it’s a little bit harder for me to, for example, sit in this classroom and sit in a stool and be as alert and as attentive as I would be in a normal chair. When it comes to the computer labs ... there’s the distraction of the computers. ... The science labs [are] more [productive], because when we’re doing group projects especially, ... it gives a cooperative co-learning space that allows me to be productive on my own when I’m doing a test but also be productive in groups.”
Another drawback is that it is difficult to address the class at once without momentarily halting individual progress.
I initially wrote this article because of how unproductive I felt in the traditional desk layout classrooms. These pervasive classrooms can be improved by encouraging communication and collaboration. Instead of rows and columns, desks can be organized into groups of four to six, emulating the lab tables of science classes. Unfortunately, motility is difficult to integrate due to small classroom sizes. Ultimately, the ideal classroom environment will depend on the type of student (although there seems to be a nearly unanimous desire for more windows) and the type of class.
By Margaret Zheng
One day after school, I happened to overhear a conversation between a sophomore and freshman I somewhat knew. The freshman had asked for general advice about how to navigate her first year of high school. Eager to give counsel, the sophomore answered that she should be sure to get involved in clubs, especially those for which she might eventually seek a leadership role, and to sign up for some volunteer opportunities since “colleges like to see that.”
Just then, the sophomore had to answer a phone call. I, sensing that the freshman was not excited by the sophomore’s advice, took the opportunity to assure the young student, “It isn’t all about college -- high school’s a time to explore yourself.”
“Yes,” she responded, “explore before going to college.”
Out of curious daring, or daring curiosity, I then asked her, “Is college something you’re interested in, or is just something expected of you?”
Turns out, she personally did not feel any need to attend college -- she, after all, aspired to be a farmer, one who plows and sows and harvests so that we may eat. Now, in her case, college may in fact help her greatly in her dream -- say, if she were to attend Penn State’s School of Agriculture, or more unconventionally, the deeply environmental College of the Atlantic (where all students major in Human Ecology but study it through various disciplinary approaches, from literature to mathematics to farming & food systems). But still I wonder, how often are we so brave or introspective as to ask not where or for what to go to college, but rather why at all?
If you know me to any degree, you probably are now wondering, why I of all people would ask such a question. You may see me as an ambitious achiever, a righteous student, one who has so much in store for her via the expected college path. Why, the question shouldn’t be if I shall go to college, but rather, to which Ivy League school.
Rest assured that though I heartily disdain blind worship of the prestigious Ivy League eightsome (which, may I mention, got their title simply from their athletic conference), I do intend to attend college, and indeed, an Ivy League school is on my application list, among other institutions that excite me.
Why? A host of reasons: because my parents said so, because my teachers implied so, because I crave to learn, because I so desperately need to get OUT of my home and my neighborhood and this public school thing so to be finally free to develop and rely upon my own self -- if that fickle time-blind self learns to be reliable, that is. But really, even I have no inherent need to go to college.
There are plenty of valid reasons to aim for college, one of which is to get a good job and earn a good income. That may rightfully be very important for you, yet the common wisdom that college grads are getting all the jobs these days is not as clear-cut as we would wish. There is certainly a chance that with an undergrad or even graduate degree you will still be lost in the job market, heaving debt upon your shoulders as you seek any work whatsoever to pay your rent.
And according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 20% percent of “good jobs” still only require a high school diploma, and 24% percent require only some college, an associate’s degree, or other type of “middle-skills” job training. Maybe you don’t care -- after all, college is an experience just as much as a potential job credential, and perhaps you don’t take to a job in manufacturing or “skilled services.” But...think about it.
In a world of opportunities, there are wonderfully many paths that one could stride besides the well-worn trail of college. You could start a business, attend a trade school or apprenticeship program, join the military, volunteer for AmeriCorps, hone your craft as an artist, become a healer in yoga and holistic medicine, go hike the Appalachian Trail.
Or if you’re just not feeling like college now and want a break after 12+ years of schooling, you could take a gap year. There are really cool programs like UnCollege and LEAPYEAR that even provide you college credit for a life-transforming year of travel, internships, and personal or spiritual growth, but you could also design your own hiatus from brick-and-mortar education.
One person I know spent her gap year hosting workshops at high schools across America to hear what students had to say about their education -- and now as a college student, she continues her work in youth empowerment as the Executive Director of the nonprofit organization Student Voice.
If you do decide that college is for you, there are still a plethora of options to explore, beyond the schools that you always hear North students and teachers talking about.
Have you heard of Goddard College, a low-residency school in Vermont where you decide what and how you will learn? Or the Wayfinding Academy in Oregon, a two-year program that upturns the traditional college system, guiding you in discovering your capabilities and passions before immersing you in real-life internships and experiences to begin living your purpose? Look up “unconventional colleges” and you’ll get a long list of many other quirky schools that don’t just prepare you for an economy, but rather for life.
Not everyone wants to try something daring or offbeat, and probably not everyone should. But perhaps you do. If so, explore your options. Your life is yours, so set out upon your own path and find what brings you value.