Extreme Classroom Makeover | Oak Ridge Associated Universities



Alvey’s Summer Spent Immersed in Classroom Transformation

Science wall mural

Jenny Alvey, a Gresham Middle School sixth-grade science teacher in Knoxville’s Fountain City community, breathed a sigh of relief once her classes resumed for the new school year. Or perhaps she could finally catch her breath from her fast-paced summer!

Some teachers enjoy leisurely vacation travel or relax on some beach. Not Alvey. A Tennessee Tech University graduate in her sixth year of teaching and a busy mother of a 3-year old son, Alvey spent her summer parenting, coaching volleyball, attending teacher conferences — and oh, yes! — revamping her entire classroom within the 1931-vintage school.

With help from Oak Ridge Associated Universities’ (ORAU) $25,000 Extreme Classroom Makeover and assistance from the Knox County School District (KCSD), she’s seen her conventional classroom morph quickly into a high-tech learning center with a Promethean touch-screen dwarfing one wall. Part of ORAU’s mission includes making sciences, engineering and math more attractive for young students, and that concept fueled the organization’s first-ever makeover competition.

This past spring, Alvey’s sixth-graders bested students from 20 schools in producing a video detailing just why their class would most benefit from an “extreme” high-tech classroom makeover, and in May, they got word of their win in a big way. A large group of ORAU representatives, Gresham Principal Donna Parker, Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre and a host of photographers and videographers sneaked into Alvey’s classroom to surprise her and her students with flowers, balloons, banners, shirts, and news of their big win.

Now, a new crop of sixth-graders in her five daily classes will benefit from a bright, new space transfigured, literally, from the ground up.

This summer, as Alvey worked with ORAU to select and purchase the latest technologies that would help her engage the minds of her students, KCSD workers were transforming the physical classroom —installing floor tiles, building cabinets and remodeling a shower stall for secure storage.

When Alvey stopped by to check on installation of her new tile floor, a harsh surprise awaited her. As she entered her classroom, she discovered workers had applied a floor tile adhesive, but no tiles. So her shoes stuck fast to the adhesive and Alvey became affixed to a gooey floor.

Gresham Principal Donna Parker said she’d always known Alvey was attached to her students, but she hadn’t realized that firm attachment also included the floor! Parker didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when she saw Alvey’s predicament. Once the whole thing was over, both laughed heartily, but Alvey asked, good-naturedly: “Would it have hurt them to have posted a ‘Wet Floor’ sign?”

In July, as a muralist brightened classroom walls by adding “science graffiti,” Alvey took special training enabling her to introduce students to their high-tech milieu. Gresham students now will use cutting-edge technology to learn about the physical sciences in a $25,000 “dream come true” classroom. And, according to Alvey, students’ natural curiosity will create a positive atmosphere for creativity, study and learning.

Most sixth-graders, Alvey said, are familiar with iPods, computers, cell phones, video games, DVD players and camcorders; so they adapt quickly to new equipment. She hopes her classes will start by using the new equipment to perform simple functions like taking the daily roll of attendance.

Alvey invites students and parents alike to use an ORAU-designed blog to help gauge classroom use and learning experiences. ORAU will also assess through an evaluation tool how well students learn using the technology that includes the giant screen, an LCD projector, laptop computers, documenting and digital cameras.

Gresham parents visited the new classroom during an Aug. 13 introductory meeting. Gresham sixth-graders returned to the classrooms Aug. 17.

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