Editor's Note

What a Difference a Technological Revolution Can Make

If there’s one thing that continually amazes me, it’s how much K–12 learning environments have changed since I was in school.

I went to elementary school in the mid-1990s. Our desks were arranged in rows facing the front of the room. Teachers explained our lessons using chalkboards and chalk—or, at their most advanced, an overhead projector with transparent, laminated pages and dry-erase markers. We knew there’d be a video component to the day when the teacher rolled an AV cart with a big, boxy TV and a VHS player through the door. And we affectionately called the single desktop computer in my fifth-grade classroom “the Oregon Trail machine” because that’s the only thing we ever used it for.

This is all to say that during that time period, all the ancestors of today’s modern education technology—the Internet, computers, even cell phones—very much existed. But the technology and infrastructure hadn't developed enough for its presence in the classroom to be much more than a gimmick.

Last November, I was lucky enough to attend the EDspaces conference in Pittsburgh, Pa. Likewise, earlier this year, I spent a day at the TCEA (Texas Computer Education Association) Convention & Exposition in my hometown of Dallas, Texas. I spent both events attending sessions and wandering the show floor, marveling at all the ways that today’s classrooms look nothing like the ones I attended. And it’s not just the way technology has advanced in the last 20+ years, although that’s certainly part of it.

It’s the way the learning spaces themselves have transformed. Gone are the desks lined up in rows facing the blackboard. The new standard is “active learning spaces,” classrooms designed to let kids be kids—and equipped with the kinds of tables and chairs and other furniture to let them do so. It’s not dumbing education down, and it’s not patronizing students; it’s a genuine movement to meet students at their level and find methods of imparting knowledge that might actually stick.

I think it was my third-grade teacher who brought in an old couch and set it up in the corner of the classroom. (And by “couch,” I mean a rear-facing seat that had been removed from the back of a station wagon.) That couch was the most valued piece of real estate in the entire classroom. In our eight-year-old brains, there was no greater privilege or triumph than to study times tables on the couch. To sit quietly and read a library book—but on the couch. To brainstorm our science fair project—from the comfort of a couch. That little bit of comfort and agency worked wonders. Something about it made us feel a little less like we were trapped in school.

And I can’t help but feel a little jealous of today’s students, whose classrooms seem based off the idea that kids really are more willing to engage if you just let them sit on a couch.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Matt Jones is senior editor of Spaces4Learning. He can be reached at [email protected].