RED OAK — Within a two-year timespan, Red Oak ISD has already transformed six of its seven campuses' libraries into learning commons and soon, Red Oak High School will complete the districtwide transformation.
The Red Oak ISD Learning Commons web page shares “Our mission is to help each student in the Red Oak ISD community excel and achieve maximum potential through 'Learning Commons' that empowers all students to become critical thinkers, enthusiastic readers, skillful researchers, and responsible and creative digital citizens.
"By combining new technologies available in this digital age with our print resource collections, we connect with others locally and globally, read for pleasure and knowledge, learn about our world, and create products that will help solve global problems and enrich our lives.”
The initiative has included the involvement of several leaders throughout the district. One of those key individuals is ROISD Coordinator of Instructional Technology Lindsay Cadenhead.
“I work in the curriculum department, and part of revamping our libraries as Learning Commons is incorporating makerspaces, which allow students to create, invent and learn. We want the Commons to be a great place for students to come to do book research but also do online research, collaborate and to develop products,” Cadenhead said.
For those wondering what a "makerspace" is, the George Lucas Education Foundation has the answer.
The foundation's website explains that “Makerspaces provide hands-on, creative ways to encourage students to design, experiment, build and invent as they deeply engage in science, engineering, and tinkering. A makerspace is not solely a science lab, woodshop, computer lab or art room, but it may contain elements found in all of these familiar spaces.
"Therefore, it must be designed to accommodate a wide range of activities, tools, and materials. Diversity and cross-pollination of activities are critical to the design, making and exploration process, and they are what set makerspaces and STEAM labs apart from single-use spaces.”
Beginning with the elementary schools, ROISD began creating these makerspaces in 2014.
“Once we started with the makerspaces, we decided to transform the libraries and change the environment to be more welcoming and inviting for students to want to come in and enjoy it,” Cadenhead said. “We wanted to make it more of a lounge where you can read a book and where it is quiet, but also serves a space to collaborate. We have computers on wheels for the students to use and we have also added presentation spaces.”
The Learning Commons themes differ from school to school, and each one is a reflection of its campus and designed with the help of campus principals and librarians.
“At Schupmann Elementary there is a tree in the middle of the Learning Commons, and at Eastridge Elementary there is an aviation theme with propellers on the wall that move,” Cadenhead explained. “There are things we call 'caves' at some of the Learning Commons, and at Shields Elementary there is a cave that looks like a frog. It is a place to get nestled in with a good book and escape. Each has its own unique features which are great for the variety of spaces.”
The “cave” is just one of the four Learning Spaces that are incorporated into the Learning Commons. Students thrive on variety, and they have many learning styles. The Learning Spaces allow students to explore new ideas in a variety of ways. Based on the work of David Thornberg, the four Learning Spaces are:
Campfire: One expert -- teacher, student or another individual -- teaches a group
Mountaintop: A celebration of new learning. This can be a class, a group, or an individual’s learning space.
Cave: Quiet reflection that leads to connections between concepts
Watering Hole: A group of peers works together in a way that results in new learning
A student who prefers to explore a subject with others might want to learn in a “watering hole” setting, while another student might prefer to curl up with a book in a “cave.” A “campfire” setting allows one expert to teach a group. Finally, a “mountaintop” is a celebration of learning, such as a student or group of students giving a public presentation.
ROISD Director of Communications Helen Williams noted that there is significance to the frog “cave” at the Shields Elementary Learning Commons other than just learning and reading.
“The frog cave was built in memory of a former ROISD teacher, Mickey Elrod, who loved frogs. She passed away with cancer last year and now there is a photo of her next to a sign in the commons reading ‘every child is a story to be told,'” Williams said.
In a video previewing three learning commons in the district, a librarian from Red Oak Middle School Cheryl Hawkins explained that the Learning Commons are a full-service learning space for research and projects.
“We have a flexible environment to accommodate multiple learning experiences. Here at the Red Oak Middle School Commons, we offer a variety of makerspaces to give our students opportunities to learn about computer science, coding, engineering and all kinds of design,” Hawkins stated.
The Learning Commons are described as “more than just a library” by Dr. Brenda Flowers, ROISD Deputy Superintendent, and Chief Academic Officer.
“A traditional library of the past is largely a place to go to check a book out and learning took place outside of the library. Our theme for the learning commons is ‘iRead, iLearn, iCreate and iConnect,'” Flowers stated in the preview video.
Flowers also shares that there are already plans to expand the four learning spaces to continue providing the “richest experience possible.”
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Kelsey Poynor, @KPoynor_WDL
(469) 517-1454