A new professional development tool encourages teachers to take short breaks from their own classrooms — inviting teachers instead to observe and learn from their peers and students.
Nicknamed “demonstration classrooms,” the teaching labs were launched in August 2014 at several schools as part of CPS’ My Tomorrow high school initiative — a future-focused vision of education that prepares students for success in the real world.
One such demonstration classroom operates at Withrow University High School, where teachers from various schools come to watch Craig Rush lead an economics class using best-practice methods. Teachers listen as Rush explains a day’s lesson to students. Then the visitors walk around the classroom observing as students begin projects and asking students questions about their work.
“I came here hoping to get some strategies to apply in my own classroom,” said Rashida King, an observing teacher from Riverview East Academy.
In Rush’s demonstration classroom, the desks and tables are grouped together to encourage students to work with each other. Each student has a laptop, which students are allowed to take home twice a week.
“Stuff we do in this class is more hands-on than in other classes,” student Nature Brooks said. “I like technology and working with computers. Since everything is getting into technology now, [this class]helps us learn and prepare for what it’s going to be like in college.”
Brooks’ favorite project so far: Using the web tool Blabberize to make a picture of a penguin talk. Fellow student Dearis Burton made a video to show classmates how to use Easel_ly, a web tool students use to work on projects.
When students take home their laptops, they message each other over the software to ask questions and work on homework together. The laptops allow them to prepare for the next day’s lesson with video tutorials and interactive learning techniques.
“They take notes, they rewind and rewatch parts. They seem to really like the videos,” Rush said. “They respond well to the responsibility.”
The visiting teachers see how students embrace the idea of interactive learning. As students finish their own projects, they move around the room and help others.
Rush invites student Dedrek Hill up to the front to explain how students can join a share group on Easel_ly.
Using more technology in school “will help us in the long run,” said Hill. “When we get to college, we will already be familiar with it.”