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Educational Environment for the Future



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In the Learning Center One South area many schools, especially those at the secondary level, have been slow to accept the principles of true engaged learning, in spite of the push initiated with the ISBE Technology Integration Program funding. It has come to our attention that the major cause of this hesitancy is a lack of understanding on the part of the administrations and teachers as to the meaning and benefits of engaged learning for students. Thus, as part of the staff development process in this area, we would like to address this gap.

The future school project consists of those administrators and teachers from all curricular areas in the Learning Center One South area who are interested in exploring and incorporating engaged learning techniques into their classroom curriculum. In groups, participants will initially be involved in designing the perfect school environment of the future. Throughout this simulation the participants will be engaged in an authentic "engaged learning" activity. Through the development of the future learning environments, participants will also be involved in learning various aspects of the indicators of engaged learning and best use of technology for the classroom, as well as have the opportunity to design their own learning. Ultimately participants will design a unit for their own curriculums and students based on the engaged learning model and best use of technology. Total time frame for the course will be thirteen weeks and participants will meet weekly for three hours a night. Graduate credit will be offered through a local university. A tentative syllabus will be made available to the participants before their first meeting.

Beginning/Getting Started

The room was readied for the participants. Tables contained packets of information and poster size welcome mats were placed in each doorway inviting participants to enter and meet their classmates. Walls were decorated with appropriate engaged learning ideas. Networked computers had been turned on, Internet Explorer had been started and all machines were on the class home page, ready for action. Refreshments are available.

"Welcome to the "Educational Environment of the Future. We are happy to see so many of you here tonight."

"The first thing we wanted to do is to introduce ourselves and tell a little about why we were here." I began and everyone else followed. After introductions, I explained a little about why we were here and a little bit about how the class would progress over the next thirteen weeks, including methods of evaluation using rubrics and weekly tasks such as journal entries, group work, reporting to the group, etc.

I explained that the time had come to take a long hard look at our educational institutions and ask if they were really preparing students for the 21st century. What, if anything should we be doing differently in our schools in order to make certain that we were reaching all students and sending them out into society as the best, most prepared individuals they could be? What could you be doing differently in your classrooms to make certain that your students are engaged in learning at all times? What would you need to change your classrooms? What would you need that you do not now have available to you? From the tables, I can hear one participant saying to another, "boy I would have more computers in my classroom and do something with them everyday." Another participant is heard to say, "I would get rid of class periods." Yet another participant chimes in, "I would like all of my students to enjoy what they were doing more than they seem to now."

"Great!", I say. "I am hearing that you are ready for a change. I am so pleased to hear that!"

"We have a challenge for you! The IEA/NEA and the AFT are sponsoring a competition to find a design for the best learning environment of the future. The primary goal is to engage all students in learning to their fullest potential. You have the freedom to dream without limits or boundaries. Your being here tonight tells me that you are ready for the challenge."

One participant raises his hand and asks, "why would I want to design a whole school - what would I get out of it - I have enough work to do already."

"Well your design could be one of three lucky proposals, which will be funded by the unions and you could be paid as a consultant to actually put your design into practice. It would mean that the classrooms in your school would now contain everything you say you need to teach your students to be really successful in the 21st century. Wouldn't you like to teach in a school where everyone meets your specifications and the curriculums are designed by you in place of your having to follow somebody else's directions? Haven't you ever felt that if you could do it your way, you would…"

From one participant, "Well, what would we do?" Another spoke up, "What would our school for the future look like? Is it a building or a virtual learning environment, or some combination of the two?" Yet another said, "Where would our school be located - could it be anywhere any way we wanted? A fourth individual said, Well who would go to our school? Could we develop our own mission?" From across the room came, "Do you mean we could choose what the curriculum contains too? Wow!"

"Those are some really good thoughts! Yes, you are going to be able to choose all of those things for your future school environment!"

"Before we begin to look into the future, however, let's spend just a few moments brainstorming some of the educational philosophies and practices of the past. With people at your table generate a list and star those items that your group feels had particular merit." Groups began to discuss and we as facilitators migrated from group to group listening to discussions and periodically asking questions. Participants were saying things like, "remember the open school concept?" "What about schools with no grades?" When the discussions begin to slow down, the groups were pulled back together and each group reported out two ideas they felt had the most merit and two that had little. Ideas generated were listed on the smartboard screen by one of the facilitators for all to see.

"Next in your groups discuss what has changed in education in the immediate past. What is different today than yesterday? What opportunities are available today - what would you like to do tomorrow in your classrooms that you are not doing now?" Again the groups discuss and the facilitators float from group to group learning and asking questions. Bringing the groups together again, a list of recent innovations were charted on the smartboard and discussed by the participants. Each group reporting included mention of technology in the classroom, as well as emphasis on problem solving for students, group work, alternative forms of assessment, and possible virtual schools.

"Great ideas!" "Now it's time to dream a little. If you could have anything in your classroom that you wanted and teach any way you thought best for student learning and preparation for life in the 21st century, what would you want to see? Find a few other people, not already at your current table. Brainstorm what your ideal classroom/school might include. Make a list of the items you generate."

One participant said, "how about listing what would we want to leave out of your new school?" "Good thought" I say, "go ahead and list those items too. "What if we have questions? Can we also generate a list of questions we would want to have answered before we could design a school?"

" Feel free to dream!"

Groups form and enthusiastic conversations began. Each group was given three pieces of post size newsprint paper and markers to list their ideas and questions - one for those things they want in their learning environment, one for those they do want left out, and one for questions needing to be answered. After about 35 to 40 minutes the lists were posted on the walls, the south wall for positives, the north wall for things to be left out and the west wall for questions.

A spokesman from each group reported on the group's lists. Many good ideas had been generated and there was a strong desire for a type of classroom where the teachers are less "lecturers" and more helpers, where students take more responsibility for learning and learn to problem solve, time periods as we currently identify them are gone, learning takes place in all four learning styles, learning is real and not artificial, collaboration with communities and other students is encouraged, adequate space is available for working, technology plays a much larger role in learning and, of course - the pay is excellent!

Included in the lists of items not wanted in the new learning environments were antiquated textbooks, rigid curriculums, teachers who are not flexible,, and anyone telling them what to teach and when.

Questions which were repeated frequently included:

"Great, you have come up with some really good ideas!"

One of the participants asked, "how can we find out more about some of these ideas." Another participant says, "talking to alternative schools in the area might work." Someone else said, "finding and e-mailing alternative schools and virtual schools throughout the state and the country would be neat!" Yet another participant said, "what about using the Internet to identify both schools and philosophies." Someone else said, "what about talking to educational experts online? Is that possible?" Another participant said, "maybe we ought to look at some of the things, which were done in the past, so we do not make the same mistakes over again." Another participant suggested looking at home schooling.

"Hey, I'm excited. Can we get started? Can we use the computers now?", someone asked.

One participants said, "How about if we keep the same groups for now and decide what we need to research. Then we can see what we can find and bookmark the good sites."

"That sounds great!," I said. "All of the computer are turned on and the Internet Explorer web site is the IEA/NEA/AFT proposal screen. Go from there. We have listed a few resources for you to get you started."

"Before we leave tonight we will come back together and identify target areas." Groups scattered and quickly and excitedly went to work.

As we moved from group to group, we saw lots of excited individuals and hear comments like, "boy I didn't know the Internet had all this information." "Hey, look what I found." "Go the this site." One individual was heard to say, "I think virtual schools are neat. I could spend all night finding out more about them."

By the end of the evening, the groups had identified the following areas of concentration for their new educational environments. Included were:

One participant stated, "It will take forever to research all those areas. What if we split up and form into groups to each take one area. Then we can pool the information we find. Nobody will have to do everything."

Another participants said, "yes, then we can all look at the information and still write our own proposals for the IEA/NEA/AFT contest."

"Great idea," I said.

Another participant asked if there was a way they could jot down notes, e-mail copies, and web sites for others to use. Someone else asked,"Is there some way of setting up chat rooms and discussion boards for the groups. That way we could also communicate with each other when we were not together."

I said we would set up the chat and discussion boards, if they would spend time during the next week researching their area. Class was dismissed. A participant remarked, "I don't want to quit. I'm just getting into this! Can't I stay a while."

Week 2

When class resumed the second week, opportunities for threaded discussions and chats had been set up for the participants using Blackboard.com. A few minutes were spent logging in on the Internet and learning the Blackboard system. Then participants posted information they had collected during the pervious week for all to see. A space to log notes and research results in a personal journal was also provided on the PDA server. One member from each group was trained and they in turn trained the rest of the members in their current groups.

After break, I pulled the class back together again. "It is time to talk about assessment and how you will be graded in this class. I have some ideas. Perhaps you can generate some more. Assessment is ongoing. That means it will be happening constantly over the next twelve weeks. It does not mean taking one big paper and pencil test at the end of the course. I will be looking at your weekly journal journal entries, where you respond to our questions and reflect on what you have done for the day. I will also be continuously looking at the notes and research you keep in your individual participant journals. During class periods, I will collect assessment data by observing each of you at work within your groups, as well as when you report out to the group/class, post information in the bulletin board for all to see, respond to others' posting, and your participation in chat sessions. You will have two very definite projects due for the class, the first being your future school proposal for the IEA/NEA/AFT contest. That will need to be assessed too."

At this point one of the members of the future school assessment committee raised his hand and commented excitedly, that he had been reading about rubrics on the Internet and had found a variety of very interesting sites. He wondered if it might be a good idea for the class to develop a rubric for the future school proposals so that in the final proposals, no one left out any of the important parts. "It would also be something to guide them along the way," he stated. He said he had this great article entitled "Designing Great Rubrics" and the following web sites that he wanted to share with the class now, even though he had recorded them in the bulletin board discussion on rubrics.

Two or three other participants had also heard of rubrics and one was even using them periodically in her classroom. They thought rubrics for assessing projects was really the way to go. One of these participants suggested that maybe the class could take about 30 minutes, look at these sites and any others they could find on the Internet and then as a group generate some ideas for the future school rubric. Gary asked if the article on "Designing Great Rubrics" could be copied for each group, as the article was not live on the Internet. I agreed to do the copying and passed out copies while the class worked.

After about a half hour the group met together again and the following items were generated for the future school rubric:

Four individuals volunteered to break away from their current groups for a period of time, take these pieces, add attributes, and work everything into a rubric format for assessing the future school project. The entire class would then look at the finished product and make suggestions. By the end of the evening everyone agreed to the rubric designed by the subgroup.

Total Score
Project Development          

Data Gathering/ Research

All data is gathered from information in the classroom or no data gathering is evident.

Participants/groups depend on gathering data or input from local sources only, using at least two methods.

Data gathering is incomplete.

Participants/groups depend on gathering data or input from at least one geographically distant partner using a number of methods such as experts, e-mail, online resources.

Data gathering is almost complete.

Participants/groups depend on gathering data or input from a number of geographically distant partners using a number of methods such as experts, e-mail, online resources.

Data gathering is complete.

Reporting Participants contributed nothing to the group or the class. Participants contributed infrequently to the group or to the class. Participants contributed frequently to the group or to the class. Participants actively contributed to the group and to the class.  
Participants did not work as a member of a team or with a partner in this activity. Team groupings of participants on at least part of the activity. Participants worked as members of a team/group for most of the activity. Participants worked in changing teams/groups for most of the activity.  
Use of Technology          
Importance of Technology Technology is not an integral part of the activity. Tasks could be accomplished as easily and effectively without the use of technology. Technology is used infrequently for a few tasks. Most tasks were accomplished without the use of technology. There is infrequent use of technology for some participants. Technology is used for many activities. There is regular individual and group use of technology for most participants. The activity would not have been feasible or as effective without the almost constant use of technology.  
Use of the Internet The activity's use of the Internet treats participants as passive recipients of information, is not well defined, or is a trivial use of the medium. The activity's use of the Internet is focused and may originate from a teacher designed web site. The activity's use of the Internet helps participants achieve goals by by going beyond the facilitator's list of sources and actively involving them in searching for information or communicating with peers or experts. The activity's use of the Internet helps students achieve goals by actively involving them in searching for information or communicating with peers or experts AND synthesizing information and data into a presentation that is published online.  
Information Access Participants do not manage their own information using technology.

Participants access information that is pertinent to their topic using technology, but do not manage it using technology.


Participants access and manage information that is pertinent to their topic using technology. Participants access and manage information that is pertinent to their topic using technology.  
Proposal Components Proposal component are missing and those included are not fully developed. Three or more proposal components are missing. Those included are well developed. One or two of the proposal components are missing, the rest have been well developed. All of the proposal components have been included and are well developed.  
Web Page Design        


Visual Appearance/ Organization The layout has no structure or organization. Backgrounds, if used conflict with text.
Page is difficult to navigate.
Text is broken into paragraphs and/or sections.
Backgrounds work with text, but do little to enhance the overall effectiveness of the page.
Page is difficult to navigate.
Text is broken into paragraphs and/or sections.
Headings label sections and create some hierarchy and consistency. Backgrounds work with text, but do little to enhance the overall effectiveness of the page.
Page is relatively easy to navigate.
There is a consistent format from page-to-page.
Text is broken into paragraphs and/or sections.
Headings label sections and create an easy to understand hierarchy and consistency.
Backgrounds enhance the text and the overall effectiveness of the page.
Page is easy to navigate.
Text The written text is difficult to understand and does not stick to the topic.
There are spelling and/or grammar errors.
The written text is easy to understand.
There are spelling and grammar errors.
The written text is easy to understand.
There are no spelling errors, but one or more grammar or syntax errors.
The text is clear, concise, and well written.
There are no spelling or grammar errors.
Graphics Graphics, if used, are not related to page content.
Graphics (size and type) used make loading of pages very slow.
Too many graphics.
Graphics show some relation to page content.
Graphics (size and type) used make loading of pages very slow.
Too many graphics.
Graphics enhance the page.
Graphics (size and type) used make loading of pages very slow.
Graphics enhance the page.
Images are proper size, resolution and coloring.
Graphics are used as links.
Links Links are either missing, inactive, or do not work. Some links work, but some are not active or are missing.
Return links are not always provided.
Most links work or are activated. Some return links are provided and work. All links are present, active and work.
Return links are consistently provided and work.
Presentation Participant did not participate in the presentation to the class. Participant minimally participated in the class presentation.
The presentation was not convincing.
Participant participated in the class presentation.
The presentation was convincing.
Participant took an active role in the class presentation.
The presentation was very convincing.

I explained that the rubric would be posted on the future school web site for all to see, so that they could refer to it often in the following weeks as they worked on their proposals.

Week 2+

Over the next couple of weeks the participants in their groups looked at many sites on the web, e-mailed colleagues and schools across the country to see what types of learning environments were evolving, and talked with educational experts both on the web and on the telephone. Groups chatted with each other at prearranged times throughout the week to keep each other posted about their findings. Much information was posted in the threaded discussions and individuals from other groups were beginning to make interesting comments. Each step of the way they recorded their findings, as well as their own preferences, both in a discussion board format, as well as in their own online journal. In class, computers were in use almost constantly as some participants were doing research on their topics, members of the teaching methods group were checking e-mail to see if they had gotten a response from alternative schools in California, members of yet another group were logged into a chat with an architectural firm in northern Illinois who specialized in school construction.

A couple of members from the building group were meeting with two members from the methods group to discuss information they had both found on the Internet regarding virtual schools. They traded information and web sites. One participant was heard to exclaim, "Wow, I thought I found a lot, these sites are all different. I had no idea there was so much up-to-date information available on the web." This group then decided to set up a chat with a one of the oldest virtual high schools on the east coast to discuss pros and cons of virtual schools, as well as a chat with Max McGee from the ISBE and see how the virtual high school for Illinois was progressing. When everything was ready to go, the facilitator indicated she would be interested in participating in these two chats also.

Many times the facilitator saw, as well as read in online journals and e-mails that the participant groups checked the rubric to see which parts of the project had been completed and which were still pending, Facilitators were available in class, as well as by chat, discussion and e-mail to answer questions, guide the participants, as well as to keep enthusiasm at a high level. Facilitators also checked journal entries to see that everyone was on task and not struggling in any way. In addition, facilitators kept track of threaded discussions, as well as the number of times individuals were making comments and adding information.

Along the way, the facilitators gently assisted participants by adding web sites and video tapes that each group might want to look over, including some really neat examples of engaged learning in action in various educational environments around the country. No judgments were passed - just suggestions. The curriculum group was especially excited about some of the things they were seeing in the engaged learning realm.

Middle/In Progress

Weeks 3-5

By the beginning of the 3rd week of class, each group was ready to make an oral report to the class. Based on the information presented and the degree of acceptance by the rest of the participants, they would then regroup with other participants who had similar philosophies about their school of the future.

Time had finally come for each group to design their school environment for the future. Hopefully, because they had regrouped themselves, members within each group had similar ideas on what the school should look like, as well as the group contained members from most of the original research groups so there was variety in knowledge. Each group decided for themselves how they would present their final educational environment to the class before sending their proposals off to the NEA/AFT teams. Groups continued to frequently check to make certain they were on target with the rubric, as they designed their school proposals.

At every meeting the room was always a buzz with activity and class time went quickly. The next two weeks were spent designing multimedia presentations and web sites. As luck would have it, there was somebody in each group who had a working knowledge of PowerPoint, Hyperstudio, Astoud, web page design, etc. There was much action in the chat room and over e-mail as participants worked at home during the week designing web pages and presentation slides. Where they were sketchy or got stuck we were available to facilitate getting the job done. Since the main focus of this task was the presentation of the new school technique, presentation modes were kept simple. When they thought they were almost finished, one group decided they would fill out a sample copy of the assessment rubric in order to self-assess their plan. Other groups hearing that, decided that would be a great thing to do too.

One night the facilitators had to finally chase everyone out of the classroom. Class ended at 9:00 PM and at 9:45 PM three groups were still working furiously on their philosophies and presentation. It seemed that one group had needed just a little more information from the Internet and were excitedly exclaiming that they had finally found just exactly what they needed. "It just couldn't be time to quit already! Couldn't they stay just a little longer?"

While the final decisions were being made and presentations were being generated participants continued to keep up their journals each time they worked, including an outline of the major aspects of their new educational environments. The facilitators also continued to spend a great deal of time answering e-mail, chatting, and assessing progress as the groups worked.

Week 6

Presentations were finally made to the class the 6th week. Many diverse, but great ideas were presented and justified for future school environments. Various aspects of engaged learning, if not EL itself and integration of technology were evident in most all of the presentations. Each group not only rated their own presentation against the rubric, but also rated the presentations of the other groups, as well. That way the participants felt they would have a variety of opinions and would be able to make last minute changes before their proposals were sent off to the contest.

When the presentations were completed, participants were asked to assimilate what they had learned about both the process they had gone through, as well as the environments they had generated. After some talking one participant said, "you know what? I'll bet you just put us through an engaged learning process to teach us how to do it." "Wow" another participant said, "I was so busy designing the environment and doing the tasks, I did not even consider that. It was a fun way to learn." Yet another participant indicated that the class would not have been able to do this project nearly as fast or effectively without the power of the Internet.

As facilitators we were ecstatic! "I'd like to teach my students this way? Today, not in the school of the future, spouted on of the class members."

"You can, you know! Because your actions just proved - that one idea for a school of the future can work today." Participants eagerly agreed that they would like to learn more about integrating engaged learning with technology into their current classrooms.

"Okay, that's where we will go." Participants left the 6th night armed with a list of web sites on engaged learning, some print sources, and a copy of Plugging In, as well as online examples of successful projects utilizing the engaged learning indicators. They were asked to begin thinking about three topics they might like to turn into an engaged learning unit.


Weeks 7-13

Throughout the next two weeks participants split into groups and discovered for themselves the various aspects of an engaged learning classroom. Based on the readings and discussions they evaluated a number of weak engaged learning lessons and attempted to suggest improvements to them. The computers were used extensively as a source of materials, information, and examples. Those participants that could, also took a field trip on two occasions to visit both an elementary school and a high school class which were using engaged learning concepts. Both visits were taped for those who could not attend so they too could share in the engaged learning experiences. Participants who went to the schools were excited to talk to the engaged learning teachers and find out why they like teaching this way.

Regular journal entries indicated that the participants were beginning to think they could also take a stab at teaching integrating engaged learning and technology. Participants from schools having little technology were having more problems with that aspect, but our local ROE offered some traveling laptops to the participants which might make the job a little more "doable", if scheduling could be worked out.

Participants have chosen their three topics and with the help of the facilitators and their classmates have narrowed their choice to one topic for their first engaged learning unit.

About week 8 a group of participants with the help of the class again designed a rubric for assessing the new engaged learning lessons/units that were going to be developed. The rubric was referred to frequently and again participants performed self-assessments with the rubric to check their progress.

Projects themselves, as far as they are completed, will be shared with everyone in the last two weeks of the class. They will be presented either as multimedia presentations or better yet web sites hosted on our server or combinations of the two. By the end of the course all projects will have been rated against the rubric by the designer, three of their peer participants and the facilitators. During one of the last sessions, participants will reflect on what they have learned and evaluate the process they went through to learn engaged learning. (Yes, those "school of the future" proposals will be sent to IEA/NEA/AFT for possible inclusion in their publications.)

It still remains for the participants to actually teach the unit in most cases. However, the facilitators have made plans to stick with the participants, via e-mail and discussion boards through the second semester as they teach their engaged learning unit. After the units are taught the participant and one facilitator will meet face-to-face to discuss what went well and what needs to be revised. Plans for future engaged learning units will be discussed.

In June the entire class has asked to meet for one last night to culminate the experience and discuss future plans as a group. All engaged learning projects will remain on our web server for future groups.

Created for the Fermilab LInC program sponsored by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Education Office and Friends of Fermilab, and funded by United States Department of Energy, Illinois State Board of Education, North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium which is operated by North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL), and the National Science Foundation.

Author(s): Barbara Holdiman
Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210, New Lenox, IL
Created: March 12, 2001 - Updated: April 18, 2001
URL: http://www-ed.fnal.gov/lincon/w01/projects/future school/scenarioBh.html