Education Opinion

High Impact Learning Environments: The Key to Increasing Student Engagement?

By Matthew Lynch — July 11, 2017 4 min read
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Teachers have long known that not every student is ideally suited to traditional classroom setups, but with budgets tight, doling out individual attention is not always a reality. What if there was a way to make the traditional classroom setting work better for everyone though? There are school districts all over the country that are doing just that by creating high-impact learning environments. Some choose to go it alone by developing and implementing these learning spaces themselves, while others decide to partner with innovative companies to get the job done. Let’s look at an instance where a school district partnered with an educational services firm to create high-impact learning environments in their schools.

Creating High Impact Learning Environments

Burnet Consolidated Independent School District in Burnet, Texas is seeing a leap in student engagement after its successful installation of new transformational learning spaces with the help of educational services partner MeTEOR Education. In the fall of 2016, the district began piloting the Inspired Classroom Project, which uses an infusion of technology, high-impact classroom furniture, and teachers’ creativity to create classrooms that look, feel and operate differently than traditional models. The pilot was made possible through a donation provided by the Franklin I Fickett Foundation.

The project began with a meeting with pilot participants in September 2016, to share ideas and lesson plans that would take advantage of the new furniture and technology offerings. The furniture was installed in October 2016, and from November through February 2017, two more meetings for sharing ideas, needs, and experiences were held. Technology training took place in December 2016.

Before the implementation of the Inspired Classroom spaces, students in the pilot classrooms took a 10-question survey concerning the furniture in their classroom, 43 percent of all students surveyed felt that the classroom furniture had no impact on how they learned. After using the new furniture for three months, students retook the same survey. Now, 88 percent felt that the furniture helped them learn. In fact, two out of three students felt the furniture had a significant beneficial impact on their learning.

“This project challenged our traditional ‘sit and get’ model of student learning,” said Keith McBurnett, the superintendent for Burnet CISD. “And I honestly never thought I would see these kind of results. The technology and flexible furniture configurations provided new exciting ways for students to learn, increased collaboration and helped us build and strengthen other 21st Century skills.”

Another major area of change was collaborative learning. Before the high-impact learning environment installations, only 25 percent of the students felt that classroom furniture made it easy to work with their classmates. Afterward, an astounding 94 percent felt that the furniture made collaboration easier, with more than half (55 percent) feeling that the furniture made it very easy to collaborate. In fact, students are now working with each other 60 percent of the time.

The furniture, technology, and training not only impacted the students, but it also changed the instructional methods of Burnet teachers.

Survey results from teachers indicated that the new furniture has been a catalyst for thinking outside the box and making lesson plans more collaborative. Additionally, the flexible configurations have helped remove barriers for teaching, allowing students to re-orient themselves to different views of the room as needed and encouraging teachers to move around and be more involved.

“All in all, the learning culture and student learning experiences in these pilot classrooms have been supercharged because of the supportive new environments,” said Bill Latham, CEO of MeTEOR Education. “We continue to see the use of a holistic integration of methods, tools, and these kinds of microenvironments lead to positive relationships and more humanized learning experience. We are immensely pleased to see these survey results, and it’s why MeTEOR Education exists -- to help learning communities deliver the best possible experience to students.”

Bill became inspired to lead the learning communities’ revolution while co-authoring the book Humanizing the Education Machine: How to Create Schools That Turn Disengaged Kids Into Inspired Learners. I recently read the book while researching my current book project, which lead me to Bill and the great work that he is doing over at MeTEOR Education.

It’s interesting how something as simple as an innovative approach to furniture creation coupled with the right technology has such a huge effect on student achievement. As a result of this experiment, students can perform at a higher level, and teachers can enjoy the success that accompanies it.

Do you feel like classroom environments can have an effect on student achievement?

The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.