Extreme Classroom Makeover | Oak Ridge Associated Universities



Students, Parents and Teachers Alike Get Pre-Back-to-School Peek at Alvey’s New Classroom, Technology


Had Gresham Middle School teacher Jenny Alvey not witnessed the gradual transformation of her sixth-grade science classroom all summer, she might not have recognized her once-familiar surroundings. The transformation came as a result of a $25K Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU)-sponsored Extreme Classroom Makeover, which was awarded to Alvey in May.

On August 13, ORAU returned to Gresham to host an official “reveal” of Alvey’s new classroom for her previous and incoming students, their parents and the public. In true “Ty Pennington-Extreme Makeover” style, Knox County schools superintendent Dr. James McIntyre, Gresham Principal Donna Parker, ORAU’s Homer Fisher and a crowd of students yelled, “Move that bus” as a big yellow school bus was moved forward to reveal the entrance to the new classroom. Alvey was at the door waving everyone in, and the students ran to see their new space.

Student Makayla Wolford said she “couldn’t wait to use the podcast and iPods.”

Some students posted their impressions of the classroom on Alvey’s new blog.

Student Aaron Cate wrote in Alvey’s blog that he “loved [her] new room;” and parent Tina Davis, mother of Lucas Davis, called the classroom “amazing.”

“Lucas,” she said, “can’t wait to be in your classroom to use the devices.”

Alvey said, “Two weeks ago, I thought this might not happen. Then it all came together.” A summer conference helped her merge lesson plans with extreme classroom features. She thanked ORAU, the district and Gresham Principal Donna Parker for support, as well as Paul Awtrey and David Dixon who aided installation and taught her skills.

“Now, we’re ahead of the curve,” she said at the Aug. 13 unveiling.

Alvey beamed while demonstrating classroom capabilities for Dr. McIntyre, her former students and rising sixth-graders. Using the Promethean board that dominates one wall of her classroom, Alvey screened an astronomy question. Students used cellphone-sized “student-response” clickers to guess whether Titan was a moon of Jupiter, Pluto or Saturn. One-third correctly chose Saturn.

Homer Fisher, ORAU’s senior advisor to the president,  called the renovation “an example of how technology can improve learning.” ORAU was proud to support Knox County schools, he said. Dr. McIntyre commended ORAU’s generosity and congratulated Alvey.

“The makeover lets us see what a technologically advanced classroom looks like,” he said. “This gives us great opportunity to see what’s possible, what works well.”

Makeover beneficiaries include Nathan Rupeka, who enjoyed Alvey’s preview with his father, Tim Rupeka. Nathan felt lucky to enjoy a makeover won by Alvey’s previous class.

Students examining Alvey’s new PCs included Evan Hamilton and Josh Smith, rising seventh-graders from the science class that helped produce Alvey’s winning video entry.

“This is so cool!” they told Alvey.

Enjoying the session was Michael Venusches, an eighth-grader who’d never seen such lightweight keyboards. Classroom gear includes 25 iTouches and two high-tech “Macairport routers” that make Alvey’s classroom “totally wireless.”

Dr. Elizabeth Alves, Knox County middle schools director, called Alvey’s students part of a technologically savvy generation.

“This is absolutely their world,” said Alves. “They spend lots of time texting, using computers. Until now, they’ve had to power down when they came to school.” An extreme classroom, she said, lets students “use technology at the point of learning. That shifts the whole process from teacher-directed to student-based learning.”

A before photo of Alvey’s classroom showed desks in neat rows, spheres hung to represent a scorching sun and cool blue earth. A bulletin board listed scientific method steps — from forming a hypothesis to evaluating results and formulating a conclusion.

Those principles remain prominently displayed in her new extreme classroom. Alvey knows the basics of science haven’t changed. But her methods of teaching them just did!

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