The Frog Blog

Thoughts from the Leapfrog Learning Center in Shrewsbury

Part VIII

Learning Habitats … School / Classroom Design:

Funding Perspective: The fact that the bulk of educational funding comes from property taxes guarantees a perpetual quality gap between schools in rich and poor neighborhoods.  In places like Washington DC, the contrast is disgraceful.  If “equality” is really a national priority, then future funding must come from State or Federal sources.  The charter school system represents an alternative, but sub-contracting the bulk of public education to the private sector will have major political implications for the future role of the Board of Education and the teachers union.  The poor will never have equal opportunity until we change the way America pays for education.

This segment of the Leapfrog Project suggests an optimal learning environment which assumes no funding constraints.  The capital investment for the “brick and mortar” infrastructure and high tech equipment may seem expensive but, if the end result is a 100% graduation rate, then it would be far more cost effective than traditional public schools that fail one third of our students.  In the context of the three trillion dollar economic recovery package, the needs of this proposal seem cheap.  “If you think a good education is expensive, think about the cost of ignorance.”

The Leapfrog Project strives to use architectural designs to reinforce the feelings we want associated with schools  … excitement, wonder, and anticipation (particularly with younger children).  In short, we want school environments to convey a sense of adventure and discovery, where children are stimulated to play close attention to everything because they don’t want to miss anything.  An important element of these designs will be their flexibility, enabling teachers to change classroom atmosphere (simple theatrical drop sheets or screens could rotate classroom décor between motifs like the jungle, space, submarine seascapes, dinosaurs, etc.).  This is particularly important with younger children, where imagination will be central to many activities.  Ideally, school / classroom habitats will be dramatically different from the conventional “outside world” and make a clear design statement that school is a child centered environment (features like child size doors, round windows, lofts and tunnels?).  In older grades, the Quantum Initiative classroom will be a design quest for total immersion, where teachers with remote control devices will be able to control customized audio / visual resources in habitats designed to maximize their impact (absolute, precise control of sound, light, and video).  The core objective of the quantum design process is an interactive, child-centered habitat that reinforces the learning experience.

Perhaps more important than architectural designs, are the teaching resources within the classrooms.  “Manipulatives” taken to the next level, these props and gadgets are intended to make participation in the learning process fascinating / dramatic / spectacular … in effect, irresistible.  Older children will have increasingly sophisticated equipment (virtual reality helmets, hologram projectors, Smartboards, “simulated”robots (devices that feign artificial intelligence), wireless input devices to record individual student responses, simulators that can mimic motion, auditoriums with Imax screens, etc.  The key to success of the audio/video components will be the quality of the underlying programming /software and the ease of access for the teachers to call up selected segments when appropriate.  The ultimate objective is to give teachers all the resources needed to keep students engaged and interested.

Visit the Leapfrog Learning Center to learn where the solution to the education crisis evolved

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