From the construction of classrooms to the adoption of curriculum, student collaboration is an increasingly emphasized aspect of education in school districts across the Santa Clarita Valley.
“It’s part of what we need to do to have students be 21st-century learners and be college and career ready,” said Kim Treddick, Sulphur Springs Union School District’s director of curriculum and instruction. “Students need to know how to communicate clearly and collaborate as a team because that is what they will be doing in their careers.”
Collaboration provides opportunity for children because every student has the chance to learn from others by asking questions and engaging in discussions that will help further their understanding of a concept, said Isa De Armas, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Saugus Union School District. “It can look different class-to-class, but the premise is still the same.”
Take a walk around a class in any district and you’ll see that many of the classrooms are set up to foster small group instruction and allow for the easy maneuvering of desks and tables.
“We don’t want those rows anymore,” De Armas said. “Maybe when we went to school, but today the focus is on a growth mindset,” or the idea that students are learning from one another, have support from their peers and are getting opportunities for discussion.
The structure of the 21st-century classroom is optimized for small group instruction from the ground up, which is evident in the SUSD’s new science buildings that will include an “in and out component” to every science lab, said Magdy Abdalla, district director of facilities, construction and modernization. “Everything is geared towards the child’s learning experience, even furniture.”
Classrooms aren’t the only aspect of education being overhauled to support today’s learning techniques. The curriculum and methods in which it’s taught are changing as well.
Activities like Sulphur Springs’ summer GATE Academy allowed students to work in groups to construct mini turbine engines, stomp rockets and helicopters from manipulated PVC pipe, water bottles, skewers and other basic materials. Students also had to work together to plan a mission to Mars, Treddick said. This forced them to interact and explain the problems they expected to encounter before they brainstormed, debated and presented possible solutions to their peers.
Sulphur Springs also has iPads that allow students in transitional kindergarten through sixth grade to share documents, comment on and question other students’ work and collaborate on research projects, Treddick added.
It’s not as simple as telling children to go work in a group, De Armas said. “Students must have objectives that are clear and instruction that provides them with the strategies to have those rich discussions. Everything has to be very structured, so students know what they need to learn, how to act in the group and produce the task that’s being asked of them.”
Technology and collaboration aren’t new to the classroom, De Armas said. Districts have pushed the “4-Cs” — creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication — since 21st century learning techniques became a priority for schools in the early 2000s.
“These are the skills that students need to have. Everything refers back to the 4-Cs, which is what’s needed for our students to be successful beyond the school years,” De Armas said. “It’s important to foster a collaborative spirit so students have the opportunity to express themselves and learn.”