21st Century Learning: A visit to the GA DOE Center for Classroom Innovation

What does learning in a 21st century classroom look like?  We had the opportunity to visit the Georgia Department of Education’s Center for Classroom Innovation.  The room is setup with different spaces depending on the kinds of learning and collaboration taking place.  The room also offers flexibility with some mobile furniture such as rolling chairs, rolling tables, and screens that divide the space into different learning areas.  The spaces include:

  • The bar:  a high top table for collaborative group work
  • The Mediascape Area:  a space with a U-shaped couch, 2 Mondo boards, and the ability to easily connect devices for display on the boards
  • The Campfire Area:  Another collaborative space with a couch and a table that has a pad of paper as its top so that you can write on the table and take your ideas with you.
  • The high top:  A high table that can be used for large collaborative projects and hands-on activities
  • The Post and Beam:  An area that can be divided multiple ways such as 4 smaller meeting spaces that contain tables, chairs, and dry erase boards
  • The Node Classroom:  A space that features  “desks” that swivel and have a tray table that can be for either left or right-handed people
The room is also equipped with these technologies:
  • Wireless internet with multiple access points
  • Document camera
  • Xbox with Kinnect
  • Laptop cart
  • 3D projector w/3d glasses for a class
  • 2 Mondo boards (large touch screen computers) w/videoconferencing capabilities
  • Plug and play connections to easily display content from any device
You can view a slideshow of the room and find out more here.  The room is available for any classes to use as long as you schedule the room with Chara Lee (404) 651-9500.

This visit began taking shape several weeks ago when we were invited to bring a class to the space to engage in a lesson and be filmed.  Our collaborative wheels immediately began turning as me, Mrs. Selleck (fourth grade teacher), Mrs. Foretich (art teacher), Mrs. Yawn (2nd grade teacher), and Mrs. Hunter (gifted teacher) began planning.  We chose a 4th grade unit focusing on the social studies standards about how price incentives affect people’s behavior and choices.  Ultimately, students would design a t-shirt for our temporary home at Barrow 2.0 while our new school is being built.  Their role would be to establish themselves as a business, create a design, consider wants/needs/cost, and create a marketing plan for their new shirt.

Several pieces of our project took place at our school before we made the journey to Atlanta.  Our principal created a video charging Mrs. Selleck’s class with the task of designing a new shirt.

In class, Mrs. Selleck established 4 groups of students.  Each group had a manager, an accountant, a designer, a technology specialist, and an advertiser.  The groups created names and logos for their companies.  Mrs. Selleck also did a lot of work with wants and needs as well as developing products and advertising slogans.  In art, Mrs. Foretich worked with the students on their designs and discussed multiple art elements that they might consider in creating an effective design for a shirt.  In the media center, the technology specialists met with Mr. Plemmons and Mrs. Hunter to go over many technology options that the groups might consider while developing their advertising components of the project.  These included Glogster, Animoto, and Prezi.

At the Center for Classroom Innovation, several things happened:

  • Mr. Plemmons introduced the day with the book Have I Got a Book for You by Melanie Watt.  Persuasive strategies were discussed
  • Mrs. Selleck led the group in a needs and wants activity where students split into separate areas of the space to work and then came back together
  • Mrs. Hunter met with all the advertisers.  Mr. Plemmons met with all the technology specialists.  Mrs. Yawn met with all of the managers.  Mrs. Selleck met with all of the accountants.  Mrs. Foretich met with all of the designers.  Each group focused on their specialty and learned more about the role they would play in designing a shirt and marketing the shirt.
  • Groups met in separate meeting spaces within the room to design.  Using Zazzle, groups considered the images they would use, explored options for t-shirt types and colors, and considered how the price was affected by their decisions.  Groups also used giant dry erase boards to take notes and brainstorm as they worked.
  • As needed, groups went to the Mondo boards and Skyped with our graphic design expert, Tony Hart.  His feedback helped groups revise their designs as needed.
  • Students were treated to a great pizza lunch before launching into part 2.
  • Students considered what technology tool they would use to market & persuade people to choose their design.  Three groups chose Animoto and one group chose Glogster.
  • All adults assisted students as needed during their product creation.
  • The day closed with each group presenting their final advertising product.  Mrs. Foretich led the students in a critique session.

While all of this was going on, the Department of Education had 2 videographers documenting the day.  They will eventually edit this video into a model video for how this space can be used with students.  It was an exciting day.  Our next steps will be to continue the project, but also to reflect on how this space served us in the kinds of work that we want to do with students.  This will inform the design of our new classrooms in our new school.  We loved how productive students were in this space.  The flexible divisions of the space allowed students to create their own private nooks and work spaces.  Even though there was a rumbling energy in the room, groups did not distract one another from the tasks their group was trying to accomplish.  The space was a big component responsible for this success.  The space also supported students with a strong infrastructure for technology.  We did not have any problems with computers connecting and staying connected to wireless.  The large Mondo boards were very dependable for displaying student work as well as video conferencing through Skype.  We had one of the best Skype connections I’ve every experienced.  The size of the room wasn’t extremely large, but again, the divisions of the space provided multiple ways for students to be productive and engage with technology and other forms of documentation.  Seeing students work in this space is inspiring.  We  have already been doing this kind of learning in our media center and classrooms, but today showed us how a space and tools can strengthen 21st century learning.

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Here are the 3 Animoto videos created by groups today:

Here’s a  link to the Glog created by one group:

Lightning Minds

Save Our Paraprofessionals

In the current CCSD budget that was tentatively approved in April 2012, all first grade and media paraprofessionals are going to be eliminated in the 2012-13 school year.  All paraprofessionals serve a vital role in the education of our students.  Tough economic times have forced our district to cut millions of dollars from the budget, but it has resulted in critical supports for student learning to be cut.  These cuts will greatly impact the kinds of instruction that teachers and media specialists will be able to offer as attempt to move into the Common Core Standards and 21st Century Learning.  Below, I am sharing the letter that I sent to all district leaders and our board of education.  I invite you to talk to the media specialists and teachers in the district to learn more about the role of the paraprofessional in the lives of our students and programs.  I also invite you to attend one of the public hearings and express your concerns and solutions to the board.  Our community has amazing ideas for how the budget cuts can be met without cutting the meaningful, 21st century instruction for our students, but it takes speaking up to create change.

Board Hearings are as follows:

Tuesday – May 15, 2012 from 6:00pm to 7:00pm at Alps Road Elementary

Tuesday – May 22, 2012 from 6:00pm to 7:00pm at Gaines Elementary

Thursday – May 24, 2012 from 6:00pm to 7:00pm at BOE office on Mitchell Bridge Rd


Dear CCSD Board Members, District Leaders, and Families:

For just a few moments, I invite you to suspend any stereotypes that you might have about libraries, those where libraries are very quiet spaces closely guarded by a shushing librarian with a bun and glasses.

Instead, I invite you to think of a library as a productively, buzzing place with multiple lessons taking place simultaneously as individual students come to research, checkout books, read, and meet with mentors.  It’s a space where multiple kinds of adults lead lessons from the media specialist to classroom teachers to the media paraprofessional.  It’s a space where students become creators of information and story rather than just consumers.  It looks something like this:
http://www.schooltube.com/video/29b463bcb37c4365ba49/ & http://www.schooltube.com/video/10fe2a659eea4ea6b727

Our media center is the hub of the school.  We serve all students, teachers, and families in PreK-5th grade.  In the current school year, we have seen in excess of 45,000 students, checked out more than 24,000 books, and engaged in collaborative, innovative projects with every grade level in the school multiple times.  Here’s just a snippet of the standards-based projects we have offered this year:

  • PreK students used studio equipment to write and film their own weather forecasts
  • Kindergarten (and other early grades) used the PebbleGo database to research various topics and write informational reports.
  • First grade created movies about the four seasons through a collaboration with the art teacher and media specialist
  • Third grade used databases and pathfinders to research plants and animals of Georgia before designing a new state park inhabited by native plants and animals.
  • Fourth grade students worked in collaborative groups to study the works of specific authors.  They used Glogster and Animoto to create interactive posters and book trailers advertising their authors to rising fourth graders.
  • In collaborative groups, fifth grade students used databases and pathfinders to explore standards from 3 massive social studies units.  They created Glogster interactive posters to teach the other fifth grade students the social studies standards.
  • A group of second-fifth graders used a budget and goals to purchase new books for the media center.

In the upcoming years, our district has plans to move toward having 1 to 1 technology as well as becoming a model for 21st century learning.  These plans do not include additional support for technology infrastructure, professional learning, or professional support.  On top of this, our state is rolling out the Common Core Curriculum, which our current budget does not support.  Our media center programs could be one of the primary leaders of this new endeavor if they are nurtured with trained media specialists and media paraprofessionals who engage in professional dialogue and collaboration with one another and other teachers.

As the library media specialist, teaching is one of my major roles.   I rarely shelve, catalog, or checkout books.  Instead, I collaborate, teach, enrich, and support.  I offer professional learning to teachers on the latest technology.  I attend district meetings to contribute to the discussion of 21st century learning.  I know every grade’s curriculum.  Even though our district has instructional technology specialists and technology technicians, they are spread between multiple buildings making it difficult to support the amount of technology related projects needed at each school.  I am the primary person who models and works alongside teachers in using technology with students.  Because of these things, our school is recognized as being an exemplar for 21st century learning.

At Barrow, our library media program has received the top honor in the state of Georgia:  Exemplary Elementary Library Media Program.  As the media specialist, I have received Library Media Specialist of the Year for Northeast Georgia, the Foundation for Excellence Instructional Leadership Award, and was named a district finalist for Teacher of the Year.  In the past year, I’ve presented at the American Association for School Librarians National Conference and the School Library Journal Leadership Summit in Washington DC. Our media center blog (https://barrowmediacenter.wordpress.com) is internationally read.  The GA DOE has invited us to use their 21st Century Model Classroom to teach and film an exemplar lesson that can be used in professional learning. My library is not the only one in the district to receive prestigious honors.  Clarke Middle has also been named an Exemplary Library Program and Burney Harris will very likely be named Exemplary soon after being named Exceptional two years ago.

CCSD has some of the best library programs in the state.  21st Century instruction is already being modeled in our libraries throughout many of the schools in the district.  Instead of celebrating these programs and asking “what can we do to help you excel?”, our district recognizes our programs by cutting one of the most vital pieces, our media paraprofessionals.  Cutting paraprofessionals will leave a gaping wound in our library programs that cannot simply be fixed with the band-aid of parent volunteers.  Relying on parent volunteers to fulfill a paraprofessional’s role is asking them to assist students in locating materials and research, pull resources for teachers based on standards, lead instructional centers during lessons, shelve hundreds of books per day, assist students with self checkout, catalog all books, run multiple kinds of reports, run the media center each time the librarian is at a collaborative meeting or fixing technology, weed outdated materials, reorganize the library for better patron use, and more.  What’s also disturbing, is that even though our paraprofessionals work with students, teachers, and families everyday in a variety of ways, they are not considered the same as classroom paraprofessionals and have no opportunity to find another job within the district if they are indeed cut.

Cutting paraprofessionals forces every library in our district to make difficult decisions about our programs.  Do we quit collaborating with teachers on standards-based, innovative lessons incorporating technology?  Do we quit fixing broken technology?  Do we tell students that they can only checkout books during certain hours of the day?  Do we quit offering professional learning for teachers and parents on 21st century tools and skills?  Do we quit offering reading incentives and special programs?  Do we close the media center every time we have to be away for planning, meetings, and events?  The list goes on and on.  We can’t realistically continue to offer the programs that we currently offer.  I fear that our libraries will slip into some of the stereotypes that we have worked so hard to break.

I know that we are in extremely tough budget times, but how can you justify cutting a program that has done so much for our students, our teachers, our families, and our district?  How can you cut a program that serves every stakeholder in the school?

I hope you will look at the many suggestions offered through the forums, Myra Blackmon’s collection, and other letters to closely consider alternatives to cutting paraprofessionals.  Even though Dr. Lanoue has said that professional learning will not be cut, I ask you to closely look at how much our district spends on professional learning.  Do we really need to spend thousands of dollars to hire outside consultants to offer professional learning?  Why don’t we look at the exemplary work taking place within our own district and learn from one another for free?  Why not harness the power of social media and teach our teachers how to develop their own professional learning network tailored to what they actually need to learn about?  Rather than have instructional technology specialists that are spread between multiple schools, could we look to our media specialists as leaders in technology within each building and support them each with a full-time paraprofessional?  Could our current technology specialists be a primary source of professional learning for our district rather than bringing in technology consultants such as the UGA ETC? Could our instructional coaches be the primary professional learning for common core?

If you make this cut, I fear that next year, the district will continue to cut our library programs until there’s nothing left but a room full of books and computer checkout stations. Students will enter the room without the support of a trained professional who can help them navigate and evaluate the overwhelming abyss of digital and print information.  I fear that we will have a plethora of technology for our students to use but no true model or support in how to use it.  We will have lost the heart of the school.  Please save our paraprofessionals and our school libraries.


Andy Plemmons

Media Specialist

David C. Barrow Elementary