North Canton City Schools, in partnership with Walsh University, is one of 24 recipients of a competitive grant designed to improve achievement and efficiency at Ohio schools.
Superintendent Michael Hartenstein sees a lot of wasted space in schools that could be retooled to turn an entire building into a place to learn.
He and a team of educators have some possible solutions: Hang whiteboards in the hallways and cafeteria so students can share ideas. Put casters on tables and chairs so students can move furniture to work in groups. Fill libraries with musical instruments and educational toys so students can spend time exploring.
Thanks to a state grant awarded this week, North Canton City School District officials have $4.6 million and six months to make their vision a reality.
North Canton City Schools, in partnership with Walsh University, is one of 24 recipients of the competitive Straight A Fund grant designed to improve achievement and efficiency at Ohio schools. The Ohio Department of Education finalized the funding decision Monday.
Much of the work that will be completed in North Canton is still being planned, but the money is supposed to help the district accomplish three broad goals: Leverage existing school space, change teaching methods and integrate nontraditional teachers into the classroom — all to promote active learning.
"It's the whole notion of space and time and how does it expand outside of what we currently do," Hartenstein said.
WHAT IT WILL LOOK LIKE
When Kim Nidy, an innovation specialist for North Canton City Schools, used to teach a business management course, she had students running their own company and developing products. But space became a barrier to the lessons when she couldn't move the chairs around and didn't have room to store the products her students created.
The first aspect of North Canton's new project, titled "Viking21: Real Life Learning for the 21st Century," is supposed to address this problem.
Jacqueline Mumford, an associate professor of education at Walsh who helped develop the project, said the new structure facilitates critical thinking and creativity because it caters to group work. Students can cluster their desks or grab a white board or iPad and move into the hallway to finish a project.
Having flexible space also helps classroom activity become more student-directed rather than teacher-directed, one of the other aims of the project.
Instead of giving students a lecture about how Christopher Columbus set sail in 1492, Mumford said, a teacher might ask students to brainstorm what they would have done if they were on the ship.
"They still need the content," Mumford said, "but they can learn that material and then apply it."
The third focus of the grant is bringing in nontraditional teachers to increase course offerings and give students the chance to collaborate with people outside the district.
BENEFITS OF ACTIVE LEARNING
Matthew Carley is one of several of Mumford's graduate students who will be working with North Canton City Schools teachers 20 hours a week to help them use new technology and the new classroom setup.
As an undergrad, Carley did his student teaching at Hoover High School in an American history classroom. He chose to have students watch a video or complete a technology-based activity at home and respond to it, then return to class with their devices to have a group discussion. He noticed the students were more engaged and performing better.
Mumford said when students interact with one another and participate in class lessons, they retain the material longer. They also develop negotiation, leadership and critical thinking skills, she said, which they can use as they transition to college.
The project will be pioneered for grades five through 12, but Hartenstein said he hopes to eventually expand the model into the lower grades.
Staff training will begin this winter, and classrooms will be prepped starting in March, according to the timetable included with the district's application.
Richard Ross, state superintendent, said during a Straight A conference call Monday that he expects award winners to be a model for other districts in the state. North Canton officials plan to document their efforts — in part by using the school's broadcast journalism technology — to create a handbook that can be shared.
Hartenstein said he knows the district will encounter roadblocks, especially considering the quick turnaround required. But he said he's thankful for the grant because it allows for a transition to active learning — something the district planned on doing, regardless of whether it got the money.
"The question wasn't, 'Were we going to do this?'" Hartenstein said. "The question was, 'How fast can we do this?'"
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