Active Classrooms


Christopher I. Cobitz, Ph.D., Denese Byrd, and Daniel A. Cockman, Ed.D.


Teachers need structure and support to teach children.  Students need structure, support and excitement to learn new material.  While technology has promised for years to change the face of education, instead of carving a new Mount Rushmore, it has more often drawing a moustache on George Washington.


We have developed a classroom that utilizes technology to reach its promise while providing structure for both teachers and students.  The support comes to the faculty in the form of having an entire grade level of teachers down the hall teaching the same curriculum and using the same ubiquitous technology.  Additional support included over 100 hours of instruction on using technology for teaching.  This support network was so strong that in the end, the teachers required less than 7.5 contact hours to become proficient in using their new high technology classrooms.


The students felt structure from classroom management strategies.  They felt support from a faculty who believed in the students and excitement of using technology that was relative to the movies they watch so voraciously.  It is also worth mentioning that these classrooms were first installed in a school with almost 80% of its students receiving free or reduced lunch.  This school also cares so much for the students that every child receives breakfast in their classroom each school day.  These same students need only ask and the school system will provide a computer in their home.


The classrooms are designed around several sound educational foundations.  The first is that students learn better if they can see and here the instruction.  To this end, high power projectors (3000 lumen) are used to allow students to see what the teacher is speaking of.  While mentioning speaking, each room has a wireless lapel microphone for the teacher so each child can hear what the teacher is saying even when the allergies of flu might hinder the volume of the teacher’s voice.  There is also concern about being able to hear other children; therefore each room also has a wireless handheld microphone that allows students to be heard while addressing the room.  (One student looked as if he was getting ready to misbehave holding the microphone, tuning his lips as if he was preparing to rap.  He then took the microphone and dutifully read the section of the book he was assigned)


We also know that classroom management involves the proximity of the teacher to the student.  While in many classrooms, the teachers moves the difficult child to the front near the overhead projector, our classrooms use a technology from Promethean in England that allows the teacher to walk around the room and write on the board using a remote control slate.  This technology makes the teacher mobile to quickly address situations while not disrupting the instructional process for the students who are attentive.  An added benefit is that this allows student to write on the board with a minimum of movement disruption since the child does not necessarily need to leave their seat.


We know that teachers work many long hours when they are dedicated.  Often their classrooms have more of their hours than their homes.  To address this situation, each classroom comes complete with a take home device that allows the teacher to develop presentations on their home computer (complete with hand drawn illustrations) and bring them to school.  This technology, the active-tablet is also a part of the suite of components from Promethean.  This same suite includes technology with interactive capabilities like HyperCard used to have.  A teacher can easily create interactive white boards that allow the student to choose answers and see the results of their choice.


Knowing that classrooms are inhospitable environments, the white boards at the heart of the system are hard surfaced.  Students can not push their pencil in and destroy the board.  Using the magnetic pen, the computer can read the input and visualize it.  The visualized board can include hand drawings or even transcribed words from the teachers hand writing.  The teacher has the capability to export the white board session page by page to the Internet so students can go back and review the presentation or correct their notes.  If the teacher chooses, the entire class can be downloaded to PowerPoint and displayed on a computer not connected to the system or the Internet.


Research shows that the sooner a teacher can work on misconceptions or lack of understanding, the better the results of instruction.  To this end, the classroom comes complete with a set of remote controls allowing the student to respond to multiple choice questions.  The results can either be listed anonymously or by student name.  A teacher can know who is not comprehending or just how the class is doing as a whole.  This technology was being used in the medical school at the University of Illinois at Urbana in the late 1980’s.  At that time the technology was not wireless and required the learner to set a code at their desk.  Wireless is the culmination of this evolution.


While the promise of video in the classroom has never been realized, it is important to note, that most students can not truly see or hear what is on the television.  Consider that a 48” diagonal plasma TV is now a rage in homes, yet often classrooms have only a 19” television provided by Whittel communications as part of their Channel One system.  Using a formula developed by the chief video engineer (Chuck Kelly) at University of Illinois, Urbana, that 19” TV is only useful if the viewer is within five feet (not to mention the issue of the sound quality).  Using the white board and data projector (augmented with a VCR and DVD player) to tune videotapes and cable television allows a useful area of eighteen feet from the board for most students to be able to view the image (not to mention a four speaker amplifier system to hear the sound).


As educators we know two other truths.  First, a child who misses one day of elementary school has missed about six hours of instruction.  This may take as much as six days to make up the time and once this occurs, the child is often still left behind.  Secondly, with the advent of bus and helicopter cameras, we know that often parents and others can not believe the reality until they see the video.  To address these issues, the full Active Classroom contains two cameras, one pointing at the teacher to record instruction for the student who is missing the day for a variety of reasons, while the other points toward the students to document behavioral issues and allow a parent to see what really occurs in the typical school day (not to mention the wealth of information for professionals attempting to diagnose behavioral problems).  Using both videotapes and Internet video streaming, the student who can not attend class, can still keep up either via videotape or interactively over the Internet.


Place all of this technology in fifth grade classrooms such that the entire grade level can share lessons and we have seen improved attitudes among teachers and students.  We have seen a decrease in disciplinary issues, counter pointed by discipline issues once the projector bulb does not work.  At the time of this writing, we have not collected the achievement data to document the improvement of student performance.


For the technically minded, the following is a list of technology in each room followed by the infrastructure that supports the rooms.


Per room:

Activ board

Activ slate

Activ tablet

Activ vote

Mitsubishi ml30u projector

HP/Compaq evo d530 computer

Mitsubishi VCR

Mitsubishi DVD player

Sound field amplifier with wireless lapel microphone, wireless handheld microphone and wired microphone (4 speakers)

VGA video splitter amplifier (to see image on monitor and projector)

2 Panasonic video cameras

Cat 6 Ethernet drops for 8 student workstations

Cat 6 Ethernet drops for 5 devices at the teacher station

6 strands of fiber optic cable at the teacher station

Cable TV drop in teacher station

Custom designed teacher workstation with keyboard drawer to allow a teacher to perform necessary functions and house the equipment for the system

802.11g wireless access points (netgear) in each room

5 20 amp surge arrested circuits for technology per room



Supporting technology:

Cat 6 cabling throughout

Fiber optic Gigabit Ethernet between each wiring closet and the main wiring closet

100 MB fiber optic interconnect to the school system main wiring closet (at the central office)

Cisco 3550 core switches and 2950 intermediate switches

Nortel option 11 Ethernet remote PBX shelf system for telephone connections

Compaq ML350 servers for both Novell NetWare 5.1 and Windows 2003 server