STEM Labs: Technology changing the way we think about teaching and learning

On the last teacher workday of the year, I was fortunate to take an impromptu trip to Stenstrom Elementary, one of Seminole County's schools with a working STEM Lab model. They have two of these tech-heavy classrooms, and construction begins this summer for two more. As a teacher slated to receive my own STEM Lab at Carillon next year, I was quite curious to see what this 21st century classroom looked like.

After spending the previous three days packing up my own "stuff" from my classroom, I was in awe: where was this teacher's "stuff"? The room was completely empty, and with the exception of a small stack of student cubbies and some minimal cabinetry, there was no place to put anything. Where would our pencils go? Notebooks? Textbooks? Manipulatives?

I asked the media specialist who led our tour what solutions these teachers had found in regards to supplies and storage. Did teachers use caddies? Provide additional storage?

"No, actually. They don't really use any of those kinds of things. Everything, almost everything is replaced by the technology."

I considered it. If my students were reading a digital textbook, collaborating on Padlet or Google Drive, and taking assessments on eCampus, would they needs pencils and notebooks? Not really. 

This is one of the areas in which I think I will most struggle to shift my thought patterns. As a former art teacher that relied almost exclusively on physical media, wrapping my mind around lessons that don't use any physical tools at all with the exception of laptops and tablets will take a significant paradigm shift. I'm also curious about the long-term implications for our students: As powerful as technology can be, sometimes nothing can beat the feel of scrawling and doodling ideas onto some old fashioned paper. 

One of the things I think I will continue to use in my classroom are wipe-off boards. I think they provide a perfect balance between physical interaction with information while not cluttering up a classroom with unnecessary info. We've proposed painting our table surfaces with white-board material, and are waiting to hear back from our team leader concerning the decision. 

A student using a wipe-off table in the 21st Century computer lab. We are looking into similar white-board surfaces for our classroom. 

What do you think? Do our students benefit from an entirely technology-based classroom, or should we look into the value of pencil and paper in this 21st century technology? How can we strike a balance that serves instruction and learning in the most effective way possible?