Help wanted – Building a new secondary school

I received this message recently from a school administrator:

Our district is looking at building a new high school or middle school in the near future. I would appreciate your opinion on what technology should be in place in order to create classrooms suitable for teaching 21st century skills. For example, I am thinking that each classroom should have a LCD projector mounted on the ceiling, screen or white board, some kind of document camera like an "elmo," a way to bring the Internet onto a screen so that students can use it like a mimio, and a laptop with docking station for teachers and students to use. The building should be wireless, and … here's where I am running out of ideas! What are your suggestions? We have a limited budget but I believe that if we are going to build a new building, it should be capable of supporting 21st century learning immediately instead of treating technology as an "add-on." 

I would appreciate learning your thoughts about what a high school should have and a middle school, and if possible resources I could review or contact to determine costs.

What do you think? In addition to the necessary instructional changes, if you were building / designing a new secondary school to support powerful 21st century learning, what would you be sure to include on the technology, facilities, and infrastructure fronts?

43 Responses to “Help wanted – Building a new secondary school”

  1. There is a difference between a school for 2010-2020 and a school for the 21st century.

    Start with how teaching and learning should be different and how an environment can empower kids to learn differently. What do we provide to support the kids creativity? Ask the kids to be involved in the visioning of this new facility that they will temporarily occupy.

    Seems like above is focused on staff.

  2. I would add webcams and microphones, just in case the laptops don’t already have them.

    As a former biology and physics teacher, I would suggest making sure that you have at least one class set of lab probes and laptops. For example, 3 years into teaching I suddenly had access to Vernier computers and probes and 12 laptops – it was almost revolutionary. By ‘probes’, I mean the add-on measuring devices that can be plugged into a mini-computer, such as the Vernier handheld. (ex: pH, thermometers, accelerometers, motion sensors, etc) These can be used for all high school sciences. I’m sure that there are comparable, more suitable and practical sets for middle school. Encourage exploration!!

  3. Fabulous ideas, but I think that doing that for each classroom is ridiculous. Really. I love technology, I integrate it every chance I get. I have computers in my room, I use my elmo, and I can’t live without a projector. My students text me regularly, some twitter with me, I require that hypotheses and summaries be sent to me by SMS. Many teachers think I am nuts.

    Here’s the problem. Many, many teachers view technology as an add-on, and getting it to an integration is a paradigm shift. Loading a school with technology is the last step in a journey. Show me the technology professional development that will push through the wall of reticence held by scared teachers first…make it a district goal and FUND it. Then, let them pick and choose what they need and hold them accountable for using it. On a building level, budget for a 5 year roll-out of tech and wire the building with 9 drops a room, a ceiling plate for a projector, wireless access points (not just dumb hubs).

    Frankly, at the end of five years, I expect that projectors and elmos will still be critical, but I wonder if the drops, the docking stations, will all be outmoded by handheld devices like the iPOD for everything but paper and report creation.

    The hard part of this scenario? One, I am preaching to the choir by posting on this blog. Two, its easier to fund capital expenses out of PPEL funding than it is to fund PD, which is a general fund expense.

    Looking forward to comments….

  4. I’m glad to see that they’re trying to plan ahead. In my district we’re backtracking because our electrical infrastructure simply won’t support all of the technology. We’ve been running new lines and adding more power to our buildings as fast as we can. In terms of stuff, I think they’re list has a good start. If their budget is limited, I suggest setting aside money for ongoing support for the teachers in that building. Not tech support (though that’s important too), but instructional support to tie all the technology to the curricula.

  5. I’ll add some initial thoughts here. One of the things that I think often is ill-considered is furniture and room size/layout. The community needs to discuss what kind of learning environments it wants to foster. For example, do its current desk types and arrangements foster or get in the way of creative, collaborative learning (with or without digital technologies)? How reconfigurable does the room and its furniture need to be? Is the room designed to handle multiple visual focal points?

  6. Go for Promethean. Its the best in the business, hands down. What is more important is not the hardware but the curriculum integration. Check out, then

  7. I agree with Scott re: furniture. Why not have tables and chairs with wheels so the room can be as flexible as possible? It’s pretty restrictive to have 1930s style desks in any learning environment unless you expect people to sit still for long periods of time.

    Tables should be shaped so they can function alone or in a group arrangement.

    I saw an article recenlly about standup desks being used at a school in Minnesota. Pretty progressive thinking.

  8. As far as technology goes, the building needs to be adaptable. What is “state of the art” today will be ever-so-much-less-so (homage to Homer Price) in a few years. It’s hard to imagine what new technologies will be emerging. Multitouch screens (look up Jeff Han’s preso at the TED conference) were a dream a few years ago and now they are coming into the mainstream. The wall-mounted interactive whiteboard may be replaced by interactive slates – one per student, all connected by RF to a projector. And the slate will have a built-in student response device (“clicker”).

    And as Bill said, you will need plenty of electrical capacity and access. I’d go for rooftop solar collectors to offset the added cost of power. Green = good.

  9. Some fantastic comments and perspectives on this simple question.

    Over the summer I was hired as a Director of a program that has the main goal of motivating students in STEM areas. Since this is a brand new program, I was given a budget and a copy of the curriculum and told to make it happen because students will start in eight weeks. Much like some of you have mentioned, I bought SMART boards, doc cameras, Senteo, laptops, computers, software, etc. I also spent money on professional development for me and my instructors. I have been in countless schools where the new technology equipment doesn’t get utilized because the teachers either don’t know how to use or aren’t comfortable using it.

    Teach the teacher so they can teach the students…

  10. Wireless-capable handhelds, like the iTouch, in classroom sets. When I think of the things I can accomplish on my iTouch for a variety of tasks, I can only imagine what students would be able to do.

    Agree with mobile furniture… students should not be sitting in rows in today’s classrooms. Any setup that would encourage collaboration is good- but you have to be able to move the furniture, and that doesn’t just mean the “seats.”

  11. I think the specifics of the digital technologies should be considered last (or nearly last). Think first and foremost about how learning is going to happen in that school and what the ramifications are for the facility. For example, if learning is going to be conducted in the progressivist tradition, with lots of project-based learning, consider building as few walls as possible and have lots of adaptable furniture (tables, not desks). If there is going to be lots of direct instruction, walls and desks will suffice.

    Once the learning goals and the vision are in place, then consider investing in digital technologies that advance those goals. As they say at SLA, “technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.”

  12. Interesting question. I think the word that keeps coming to my mind is flexibility. Whatever you choose, it will change quickly over the next five years. The more you spend on permanent equipment, the more likely it is to become outmoded. Therefore, I would think about wireless slates like Airliners, student access to some sort of device (laptop, netbook, ipod, kindle), lots of multimedia like cameras and flip videos, microphones or recording devices.

    Finally, consider setting aside some money to let teachers customize their classroom to best fit what they teach and how they teach. Student response systems, digital microscopes, probes, etc… work well in certain environments, but not all.

  13. A big problem in Iowa is that wireless signals have a lot of trouble traveling through our old school buildings (1890s, anyone?). Make sure walls are wireless-permeable and overbuild bandwidth capacity. No matter what you think you’ll need, you’ll hit the limits sooner than you think!

    Also give some thought to the load on electrical, A/C, and other systems as digital technologies permeate the school building…

  14. We need you over in the “iPod Touch?” comments section, Michelle. I’ve had an iPhone for a year and for the life of me still can’t quite figure out what students would do with a Touch that would be useful.

    Here are my initial thoughts: If I could outfit my own classroom, I’d like a projector, an elmo, and a laptop (with the projector projecting onto a whiteboard), and a mobile lab. That’s all I need.

    After discussing with my wife (also a teacher): She would like a projector, laptop (that interfaces easily with the projector), a scanner (as opposed to elmo) or the ability to manipulate paper-based media, and a mobile lab.

    Most of that stuff has already been said, though, so I’ll add something fresh: a responsible Internet firewall policy. I have students learning fraction multiplication by creating recipe books. Any recipe site on the Internet is blocked because of “Society and Culture”. We can have all the tech we want, but if we aren’t allowed to use it, it gathers dust.

  15. Although the administrator says that the building should be wireless, there is still going to be a lot of wiring to do. And there will be more wiring every few years until the building is torn down. Wireless won’t carry very many full screen video presentations at the same time.

    During construction, running empty conduit into wall boxes on every wall (or several on every wall) will seem like a waste of money, but it will never be easier or cheaper to do than during construction.

    Empty conduit can make the difference between a future job being possible or not, or it being cost-effective or not. If the cabling that is planned to each part of a room fills the conduit, you need another empty one or you need a bigger one.

    There is no area too small or too out-of-the-way to not get power and networking support. One school tech guy told me that when they re-wired a building, they put network jacks “in anything bigger than a broom closet.” Three months later, they had to call the contractor back because they wanted to put a network printer in a broom closet.

    Placing a network outlet near a power outlet seems obvious, unless the contractor doesn’t do it.

    I think that it’s important to have a solid infrastructure that is designed with expansion and addition in mind. Don’t just think about how you plan to use a room on opening day. Think about how you might need to use it when the student population is 120% of designed capacity.

    If you have to decide between empty conduit (and other future-proofing steps) or projectors on every ceiling, choose the conduit during construction and add the projectors later.

  16. I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful community of readers. Thank you, everyone, for your helpful insights. Keep ’em coming!

  17. Wire it for sound. One of the pieces I see missed most in a classroom is sound. Speakers on a computer or speakers in the projector are never enough to experience multimedia. You don’t need 5.1 Dolby surround but a good set of speakers in the ceiling will go a long way.

  18. Build a serious place for content creation (recording studio, etc…). It will get used ALL THE TIME. Hopefully you can use the space you are saving by storing less textbooks. If you are smart this is right behind the auditorium next to the band/choir room. Wire all rooms into the recording studio control booth. Musicians and students will thank you for the next 40 years.

    Don’t neglect the sports–teams area. Check out the technolgy at your local D1 athletic center. Most schools will do serious data collection (workouts, stats), analysis (video labs), and physical tests where easy access to technology makes it sooo much easier.

  19. Quick update: my tech coordinator emailed saying he unblocked the entire “Society and Culture” section! Small victories!

  20. Be sure to have fiber optic with as big of switches as you can possibly have. Do not skimp on the infrastructure. 🙂

  21. You NEED to have a good audio system to go with your multimedia systems.

  22. I would agree with Scott. It is more about how your facility lends itself towards collaboration whether it be between teachers, individual students or between students and the community.
    Technology is racing at such a fast pace that I would not focus all of your attention on specific pieces but rather consider what types of learning environment you hope to create. I would recommend that you consider how students will be working when designing your school. Labratories will not only include the traditional science and vocational areas, but areas that will lend themselves for flexible uses. I would suggest that there are spaces conducive to meeting in small groups as well as for larger presentations. I would definitely consider electrical needs as these will only increase regardless of how well battery technology progresses. I would guess that regardless of how well wireless technology progresses, you will have a more dependable infrastructure if your building is wired or “fibered” to allow plenty of reliable uninterupted bandwidth. As video becomes more and more prevalent and if what I have heard Scott talk about in terms of where applications and data will reside, bandwidth issues will appear before you know it.
    I can’t tell you how much I envy your position. It is much easier to deal with many of the increasing needs of technology with new construction than many of us face in updating old construction. This is a point we need to make to our constituents who look at our old brick buildings and comment upon their solid construction. This may be a good thing in terms of how long the building will stand, but it is not always good when trying to update electrical, mechanical and technological systems. Try establishing new circuits in a room built for and overhead and maybe a TV when the original conduit will not accomodate runing additional wire/circuits. It is not only costly, but unsightly when adding electrical and network connections.

  23. What will the first thing someone would see as they enter the school? Trophy case or media center/library/hub of learning and creation?

    Many HS are fragmented… arts down this hall, science down here…. not sure what the best make up will be, but I am coming to realize how critical the arts are to 21st century learning e.g design, original music, photos and art? How can they be integrated assessible to the Hub of the school, not an add on.

  24. Technology will outdate by the time you build, so acknowledge that and build for flexibility in all aspects. You seem to want to be a leader in technology, so keep that at the center of what you do (arts, sports, core academics, career and technical ed, professional developmnt, etc.) and it can all come together. The actual hardware you find will be less important than the structure to support it and the commitment to it. It’s been said already, but…wire the heck out of it inside the walls, think student use not teachers, allow for the inevitable expansion, windpower along with solar for electrical needs, cell phone tower through a provider maybe, and most importantly…determine WHO you are putting in those teaching positions. The best vacuum won’t clean if you nobody knows how to use it or is willing to learn.

  25. I have to concur with everyone who recommended investing in the network (and the professional development). I have never been in a private or public school that didn’t have a network reliability issue. I would think planning that investment now with scalability, flexibility and reliability is critical to the success of the effort as a whole. As we continue to see the 2.0 apps, cloud computing and things that don’t exist yet from our Internet, the network seems to be critical. And while I put it parens earlier, the professional development piece to support teacher learning should not be an afterthought.

  26. I understand everyone’s point regarding physical wiring. Even if you do that, however (because you don’t have faith in the future load-carrying capacity of wireless), you still have to do wireless throughout as well. Students aren’t going to all plug their computing devices into wall jacks. So a double expense for connectivity…

    What a great resource this post and its comments are going to be!

  27. You should include a state of the art security system. This should include surveillance cameras monitored by security staff on computer terminals and immediate SMS in the case of the an emergency. I feel students learn best if they feel safe at school.

  28. I am not sure any technology is necessary to implement 21st Century pedagogy. It certainly helps it. The first thing I would do is deconstruct the qualities of 21st Century Learning and build out from there.

    Project or Problem-based
    School Choice Options

    Build the space that encourages these things to happen then add the technology that enhances the experience or plan for the flexibility for students to add the technology. Focus first on infrastructure.

  29. In this “build it and they will come” strategy, save money on software and use Open Source materials. That would free up more dollars for hardware and infrastructure.

  30. 1st and above all others – Prof. Dev. money to support whatever you have. And remember that most teachers need repeated exposure.

    Critical Elements for me:
    -Tech support – could be techs in the building and/or students (i.e. GenYes)
    -Multiple levels of lighting – and the ability to turn off 1/3 or 1/2 of the room
    -An AUP that allows for teaching rather than blocking
    -Digital storage/locker for staff AND students
    -Access to high quality online databases for staff AND students
    -More power/network outlets/drops than you think you’ll ever need, with the option for wireless
    -Flexible room arrangements (light chairs, desks, tables)

    Critical hardware for me:
    -Hybrid implementation of PCs/Macs/handhelds
    -If you go with laptops, get mice
    -Video conf. hardware
    -Headphones w/microphones

    Wow – this was fun!

  31. I think that wireless accesspoints are great and need to be included, but all of those access points still have to pull from or dump into, which ever analogy you prefer, some sort of infrastructure which can realiably provide connections within buidlings built with current construction technology. Your schools will still be built with concrete blocks or poured walls, interior walls will be constructed of metal studs covered by heavy sheetrock. Conduit will be used within the walls to pull wire to outlets in the rooms, etc.
    I remmember in the 70’s some schools were built with movable walls which allowed for rooms to be joined/doubled in size. The problem was, schools did not provide the professional development to staff to allow them to benefit from the ability to collaborate. The rooms were still filled with desks rather than tables and sadly most of these particians were never opened.
    The facility should provide an opportunity for students to easily use technology in new and creative ways. Then you need to convince teachers that it is ok that students are able to do things with technology that they can’t. It is a shift in their perception of their role. They have to begin to see themselves as facilitators of learning rather than vessels of knowledge which we pour into the empty minds of our students.
    I think the physical structure/arrangement of your building can contribute to this, but the power may come from conversations with teachers about the exciting things students will be able to do differently within the new building. Staff are often involved in the planning and architects listen to their percieved needs. Make sure that the teachers’ focus is on what they could do rather than what they are currently doing now.
    I guess the other suggestion I would make is to pull in an expert, like Dr. McLeod or some other futurist, as a consultant for your project.

  32. Put good money into a quality, flexible, and innovative in-house / on-site full-time tech staff able to do repairs, upgrades, and hot-rodding as well as the ability to work hands-on with individual teachers to help them on tech integration. This will prove invaluable.

  33. One wireless slate per classroom. We use Airliner wireless slates. It allows a student or teacher to write on the Smartboard (actually you don’t even need a Smartboard, just a projector and a screen) from their seat.

  34. Build the school like you would build an office complex.

    First – lots of 2-person cubicles for independent / paired work. These will be the students’ “homes”, replacing such things as homerooms and lockers. Laptop docks, bookshelves, basic office supplies. Interspersed througout these open cubicle areas are plenty of medium-sized conference tables for small group collaboration, or simply “spreading out” to tackle a certain task. Plenty of printers and scanners. Similar, but separate, area(s) for faculty.

    Second — plenty of walled-in conference rooms, built for 20-40 people. Interactive whiteboard, laptop outlets, network printer in the room, wired for sound, flexible seating (small tables for two that can be easily moved into different arrangements). Everything that might be needed for a meeting/presentation/training session.

    Third — specialized areas for various disciplines’ special needs (chem labs, band rehearsal rooms, athletics, etc.) Think about it — the “R&D” department of a company has very different needs than, say, HR. But everyone still needs a desk and a chair of their own somewhere.

    Fourth — a food court, not a cafeteria. Students and faculty eating together (should they so choose) at small tables.

    Fifth — a mini “conference center” including a large ballroom/gallery and several smaller meeting rooms. This would be the “public space” and should be able to accomodate everything from schoolwide assemblies to performing arts concerts to PTSO meetings. A traditional “theater” may or may not be part of this center. And, of course, plenty of access to things technological throughout.

    For models, take a look at some of our most innovative, creative companies — Google comes to mind right away — and look at how they’ve designed their workspace. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel; we do need to build a better wheel.

  35. How about letting the kids already use the technology they have in hand, their cell phones? Doesn’t take a lot of infrastructure, but can be pretty powerful.

  36. I agree that cellphones can be a very powerful tool. Unfortunately, they can also be a tremendous distraction and put in the wrong hands a powerful weapon. If we begin teaching students to use technology appropriately and ethically early in their educational life we might avoid the constant texting gossip, the passing along of inappropriate pictures, and the issues which arise now with a good cellphone camera and a program like PhotoShop.
    I am not against the use of cellphones, but there are a great many challenges to face in breaking the bad habits students have developed. I am not for filtering the internet either, but there are those students who not properly supervised may not make choices which are in their best interest. We will need to create a safety program. I taught industrial technology and put dangerous items in the hands of students almost everyday, but we always went over the safe operational procedures and I supervised their use until I was confident that they would not hurt themselves. I am not sure that positive things would result from allowing students in my school to have permission to use their cell phones tomorrow in school. I have already had three instances of inappropriate pictures being taken and spread around. It is very difficult to track exactly where this started and unfortunately in this day and age, parents can often seem more like their child’s defense attorney when I call and let them know they are in my office. Probably a comment for a different post at a different time. I would agree that students having the capabilities to bring in their own technology would definitely be a benefit for those that have it. If that is your intentions, then you had better by some secure storage lockers in your school as well. At some point the student will put the laptop, ipod, or phone down and they will need a place to secure them.

  37. Before I’d think about the hardware/network/software components of the school, I would think about the mission, curriculum, staffing, and pedagogy of the school. We can’t just put pieces of technological equipment into schools and expect better education opportunities for students. There has to be a strong community, curriculum, and professional development opportunities across subject areas. I need to know which technologies teachers are using well, which technologies should be held off until prices decreased/research is done on effectiveness/teachers learn how to integrate previous technologies, and other things.

  38. Did I miss something here? There will be A laptop with docking station for students and the teacher to use. What about computers for the students? How about netbooks?

    If the building will be wireless, what do they plan on using in this wireless network?

  39. It would seem that, instead of trying to do a entire revamp of a whole system, that change should be made a piece at a time. In years past, there would be a AV sign-out involved with projector units.
    In the case of LCD/DLP projectors for each classroom, maybe have a certain amount of projectors for the school, but have the mounting units already set in each room in a standardized fashion. That way the projectors could simply be put in place with little/no further adjustments needed.

  40. “In addition to the necessary instructional changes, if you were building / designing a new secondary school to support powerful 21st century learning, what would you be sure to include on the technology, facilities, and infrastructure fronts?”

    Quite often people tend to look at what they want, and then build the budget from that point. I think it might be better to see what the actual available funds are and then see what can be bought within that framework. I am a huge fan of the “modular” design when it comes to technology and infrastructure. Most schoolrooms have the same dimensions, although there will be some that are slightly different. Having equipment available that corresponds to the various rooms would be a very good idea.

  41. Re technology (but read on for factors more important than having the right technology)as mentioned by many Flexibility is the key, start with the learning – and then choose technologies that reflects your goals. WE have MAINLINE in many rooms – this puts a strip around the room so anyone can connect to power anywhere in the room… other technologies – are covered by above comments:) – It is reassuring to see that many of the comments are about pedagogy and powerful learning. The key for me woudl be ensuring as a Principal the leaders in the school truly understand the direction you want to head, make sure your interview process truly reflects this. I heard Stephen Harris at Northern beaches Christian School in Sydney Australia really “test” candidates by putting them in situations that demonstrates their teaching and learnign philosophy – getting the RIGHT people. Next on the agenda woudl be Professional Learning built into the day to day practice of the school

  42. 1-wireless Internet connections to support up to 4 devices per each person that will occupy the building

    2-voice amplification for classroom teachers

    3-document camera, projector, Apple TV (Our projector is interactive instead of the whiteboard.)

    4-our furniture is mobile and on casters,

  43. I could give you some very good info on structural and internal design as well as the best available resources and materials while showing you a variety of nontraditional methods. I would need more information on your students and staff needs, while expectations and outcomes are always guided by demographics and budgets. I can Show you the future of education now, but it will not help unless you have the human and financial capital along with community support. The systems that I have created is a one size fits all but from a unique perspective based on internal design and external idea maximization that permits tailoring down adaptability as opposed to tailoring up probability or uncertainty. The main ingredient for me are good grant writer’s in the field of education as it relates to STEM and the creative arts and anything between them.

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