Embrace the New with HuddleVu: Innovative Screen Sharing and Collaboration Table Solutions from SMARTdesks

From business to education, collaboration and leadership are the cornerstones of today’s workplace. Technology, the ultimate tool for consensus building and problem solving, has shaped how we communicate ideas and develop solutions at a faster rate than ever before. From network building to our instant access to information, the culture of sharing defines how we think, work, and play.
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SMARTdesks recognizes that sharing technology in the office and university increases productivity and success across an array of collaborative work environments. Our BoostTM Collaborative Conference Table presents the all-in-one solution. The BoostTM comes outfitted with a FlipIT Lift monitor display easily visible from all sides of the table, and that neatly hides away when no longer needed. In addition, the easy-to-install HuddleVuTM HDMI video switcher enables up to four users to plug their computers in and seamlessly toggle the main display to show their individual screen at the touch of a button. For small meeting rooms and open-plan spaces alike, the BoostTM and HuddleVuTM make an elegant pair, bringing collaboration to your fingertips. With a simple installation and no software or programming required, sharing your screen has never been so easy.

Classroom Design for the Modern World

The "Lampe de Marseille" is a characteristic lighting fixture by Le Corbusier, and shows the importance of aesthetic illumination in office and classroom design.
The “Lampe de Marseille” (1949-52) is a characteristic lighting fixture by Le Corbusier, and shows the importance of aesthetic illumination in office and classroom design.

“Modern life demands, and is waiting for, a new kind of plan, both for the house and the city,” famous Swiss architect and designer Le Corbusier said in 1923. His words are still relevant today not only for the home and the city, but also for classroom design and office design.
Le Corbusier was among the pioneers who developed a relationship between interior design and architecture. Many of his furniture designs have become hallmarks of 20th century architecture history. Although he worked before the ubiquitous presence of computers and technology, his prescient view of furniture design and organization applies to the thinking behind cutting-edge classroom and office environments of the 21st century. Le Corbusier’s seamless integration of lighting fixtures, shelves, cupboards, and cabinets into their surrounding environment parallels the best contemporary classroom designs, where those elements are accompanied by comprehensive wire management systems, podiums, computer tables, and collaboration furniture.
High quality classroom design, complete with computer desks, computer tables, and collaboration tables, falls into a category that Le Corbusier called “human limb objects” — physical things that extend human capabilities and productivity.  In the world of furniture and classroom design, his words apply to tables and chairs as artwork of their space: “Certainly, works of art are tools — beautiful tools. And long live the good taste manifested by choice, subtlety, proportion, and harmony.”
The careful balance Le Corbusier articulates is one of aesthetics and functionality. It forms the core of sound classroom design and ergonomic desks and chairs. The versatility and flexibility of convertible computer tables are the key components of an advanced technology center or modern learning space. Architectural efficiency was one of the Le Corbusier’s most prominent ideologies, and it still plays a vital role in classroom and office space planning.
Here are a few tips and guiding questions to keep in mind when designing for efficiency in your own classroom.
1. Before beginning the planning phase, brainstorm all possible uses for the space. Does your classroom design need to include ample space for breakout activities and modular-shaped furniture, or are lines of computer tables for a more traditional approach most suited to your needs?
2. Computer tables and conference tables come in a plethora of shapes and sizes. Which accommodates your existing technology infrastructure best, and/or what is the technology infrastructure you would like to change or develop?
3. Consider the scale of your room(s). From K-12 environments to higher education to the corporate boardroom, the size of your furniture will define your space and the activities within it.
4. Similarly, what is the maximum number of people who will need to occupy the space? How can you choose furnishings in a way that makes the room feel as open as possible?
5. Chairs should encourage both comfort and good posture. This is most easily achieved through ergonomic design, which enable people to accomplish their work with greater ease and sharper focus.
6. What limits need to be placed on the available technology for your classroom design or office design? If participants will partake in both computer based and paper-and-pencil pursuits, your computer tables must offer sufficient ergonomic design to accommodate both.
7. Aesthetic and flexible wire management is an important part of designing any modern working and learning environment. Do you need moveable outlets, or would you prefer a more static arrangement? Careful consideration of technology needs will show you where and how flexible to need your computer cable organization options to be.
8. Finally, how long do you need this classroom design or office design to last? Will it be updated in the next ten years, or sooner? Think about building a space that incorporates the timeless element of high-quality furniture materials with the flexibility to update technology, such as computer monitors and smart boards, as each new model is released, and before your next major renovation.
If you’d like more ideas for designing your space, feel free to call us at 1-800-770-7042 without cost or obligation.
 

Designing the Classroom for Academic Honesty

Students are constantly faced with academic dishonesty. Unfortunately, although technology has become a powerful learning asset both inside and outside the classroom, it has also become an additional tool for cheating. According to major higher educational studies, an average of 75 percent of students admitted to at least one form of cheating over the course of their college career. But, this problem is not just found within academia. The same statistics ring true for high-school-aged children.
While we can put out a clarion call to scan student’s essays through online software that notates plagiarism and create several versions of tests for students to take, the need for combatting academic dishonesty is much more than that. It is about developing a culture of pride and personal integrity within students. Now, this is much easier said than done. Academic dishonesty has been around for decades; and will still be even in classrooms where teachers take action. But, that does not mean that it should go unnoticed.
Teachers and school districts can design their classrooms for success and honesty by:

  1. Changing the focus of learning

Cheating is increasingly prevalent during high risk assessment, like highly-weighted exams or essays. While testing can be argued to be an important aspect of learning, the focus across the United States needs to be realigned to focus more on the mastery of the skills. Teachers should consider methods other than traditional closed-book exams to test students on their ability to apply their knowledge, not simply demonstrate memorization. Students would be less likely and capable of cheating if the notion of learning focused on enrichment and mastery of skills rather than testing standards.

  1. Adding tools that decrease the possibility of cheating

How test takers are seated can affect the probability of cheating. While it is not possible in all schools, adding testing privacy shields between desks that clamp to the desk not only discourage cheating, but encourage focus. This will allow students to do their best on exams.

  1. Academic integrity code of ethics contracts

Many teachers have each student and a parent or guardian sign a code of ethics policy that clearly lays out the policy at the beginning of the year. This can help educate students on what constitutes as plagiarism or academic misconduct and lay a foundation for a no-tolerance enforcement. Students will be a lot less likely to attempt to cheat if the policy is very clearly spelled out.
4. Be an active teacher during testing
For teachers administering tests, testing day is not simply a time to catch up on reading. Teachers need to be actively looking for common cheating signs during test-taking situations. The more aware a teacher is, the more difficult it will be for a student to cheat; and the less likely they will.

  1. Consider school-wide devices over BYOD

In a 21st century school, technology is prevalent. If the school has a policy of providing students with individual iPads or laptops that they can use in the classroom, there is more of a possibility that the school can utilize computer monitoring software that bars students from browser windows and tracks where they go. Blended learning and the use of technology in the classroom is arguably extremely beneficial, as long as the teacher is knowledgeable of the technology.
How do you create a culture of academic honesty within your school?

Secrets to More Productive Meetings

It’s Friday at 3pm. The clock is ticking, employees are fidgeting, and everyone is glancing at the clock. Voices drone and no one’s listening…
Every businessperson knows the importance of meetings, but most companies don’t take advantage of the time they have with their employees. Long meetings with little productivity result in wasted money and time for the business. Here are three tips to help you maximize your time in the office.

  1. Keep your meeting to 15 minutes, max.

Have you ever been in a 2 hour meeting? Regardless of the topic — which may be crucial to a project’s success — the mere duration can drain your energy. The human brain is not designed to process information continuously for that long of a time span.
Carmine Gallo, a professional coach and personal trainer, recently released an article on “The Science Behind TED’s 18-Minute rule.” TED Talks, a popular webinar series, limit their speakers to a mere 18 minutes.
TED Talk curator Chris Anderson offers his reasoning behind the rule: “By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say.”
Did you know?

  • Most business people spend approximately 25 percent of their working hours in meeting.
  • Studies show 20 minutes is the average attention span before people lose focus.
  • Middle managers spend at least two days out of every week in meetings.

Don’t think you can hold a meeting for 15 minutes and get everything done? It takes planning and efficiency. These famous speeches of history only took about 15 – 20 minutes.

  1. Planning

To get your point across in a shortened amount of time, you must hyper-plan every moment of your meeting. If not, you company could lose money for the time that could be spent elsewhere.
For example, let’s say you have a meeting of 10 people and the meeting lasts over an hour. With 10 people in the room, that meeting is equivalent to over 10 hours of time utilized by the company. A 15 minute meeting, on the other hand, takes just over 2 hours total.
The first step to planning is to make sure you actually require a meeting. Keep the end goal in mind. Does the meeting require action items? You may find that you can accomplish the meeting goals with an email discussion or distributing the news in an email newsletter. Typically, reoccurring meetings are superfluous.
Globalization – If you are planning meetings that require meeting with people in different locations, consider using a conference table with smart technology to bring everyone together virtually. This eliminates travel costs and enables worldwide communication.

  1. Scheduling for Success

Never plan meetings for Monday or Friday. These two days are the most common for employees to take long weekends and and be the least focused on their work.
The online meeting scheduling service “When is Good” conducted a survey of 34,000 events and determined that Tuesday at 3 p.m. is the most “available” spot for a meeting.
Not only are more people typically in the office on Tuesdays at the standard office, but 3 p.m. is early enough not to impede with the average workday and late enough to be after meal times. Moral of the story? Always pick a time that works best for your team.
So, are Mondays and Fridays non-productive days in the office?
They are only non-productive if you allow it. Mondays and Fridays may not be good meeting days, but if you delegate deadlines and tasks for those days, employees will be motivated to get the job done.

Workplace Productivity? Try Community + Engagement

Results from a 2013 Gallup study provided a surprising (and rather dismal) statistic: of 25 million workers polled, only 30% were actively engaged in their work, and the other 70% fell short of their productivity potential. According to the same study, employees who are engaged in their work are enthusiastic, committed participants in their company whose creativity generates new ideas, attracts customers, and contributes positively to their organization as a whole.
This chart from the Gallup poll shows that since 2000, employee engagement levels across the US have barely changed.
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So, what is to be done?
Assuming that employee engagement levels are tied to feelings of (1) personal satisfaction, (2) balance, and (3) enthusiasm in their companies, it makes sense to examine how spatial design can improve these three aspects of their working lives.
(1) Personal Satisfaction
Easy-to-work-in office settings are crucial to a developing a sense of personal satisfaction among employees. The instant-gratification of younger office workers can see one another and easily interact, the same way they do with the instant technology-based communication that they use in their daily lives.
(2) Balance
Environments that foster interaction among employees — whether friendly or professional — are likely to improve company morale and willingness to work. A physically balanced space in the office can guide employees to a sense of psychological balance in their own lives. According to this blog post from WorkDesign magazine, breaking down walls in the office in favor of open architecture can drastically improve employee performance and productivity. Removing barriers between office also removes barriers between employees and enables them to connect on a personal level.
(3) Enthusiasm
Spatial design, coupled with charismatic leadership, boosts employee engagement tremendously. Settings that offer the possibility for both individual and group work, as well as welcoming meeting spaces, build community and camaraderie in the workplace. Flexible furniture offers the option to work individually or in groups – employees have control over their workspace, whether they’re problem solving on their own or as a team.
And not to be forgotten…company management / leaders also play a key role in defining workplace engagement (see this Huffpost blog).
Did you know? “Employee engagement” is such a hot topic right now that it has its own Wikipedia page. It also has increased significantly in relevance in Google’s search engines (based on a growing number of searches) according to the graphic below.
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Workplace Collaboration: Why You Need It and How to Achieve It

Collaboration in the workplace not only allows companies to provide their consumers with the best solutions, but it helps employees stay on task and stay motivated. When looking to start a new business or revamp an existing business, executives should consider adopting a collaborative model. As this article from TechRadar aptly expresses, the prevalence of social media, mobile technology, and an international information-based economy have developed, so too has a greater need for collaboration in the global marketplace.
Why you need it…

  1. Increased Innovation

Through collaboration, employees bring together expertise and experience to develop the best solutions  for customers. Working on a team employees utilize their own unique strengths and abilities that go beyond their job descriptions and allows for greater creative input. According to this Crain’s New York Business article, open offices even spur employees to set more ambitious goals in the workplace.

  1. Better Rapport

While a job may be a 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. commitment, to truly encourage commitment and success within a company, the members of each team need to know each other. The standard cube-style office approach encourages employees to be closed off from one another. By encouraging a collaborative workspace, it allows employees to get to know each other on a deeper level. Employees can open up and feel at-ease when expressing new business ideas. Google is following (or perhaps even setting!) this trend with their new GoogleDocs features, and increased storage in the cloud, which allows collaborators to share and edit their work together even when they are a world apart from one another.
How to achieve it…

SmartDesks is currently running a limited time sweepstakes to win a set of 6 igroup tables to help businesses promote collaboration.
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The iGroup is known as the “origami of interaction” because the tables are flexible in formation – you can create hexagon, pinwheel, star, wave, and abstract shapes among many other options. The iGroup is ideal for both the workplace and educational institutions.
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  • The value of this prize is $5,000!
  • Entries will be accepted until 7/30/14, 12pm EST.
  • One entry per person, please.
  • The winner will be notified via email on 7/31/14.
  • If winner does not respond via email within 48 hours, a new winner will be notified. (Watch your email & check junk mail.)

For more information: Visit the official sweepstakes page.
 
 

The Common Core State Standards, widespread standardized testing, and the American education industry

Standardized testing is historically a hot-button topic in the American public education system.  From the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002 and Race to the Top in 2009, to the more recent controversy surrounding the release of the Common Core State Standards in 2010, questions abound as to whether standardized testing can provide an accurate metric for academic success, in terms of both teacher and student performance.
According to the Common Core website, the standards “provide clear and consistent learning goals to help prepare students for college, career, and life. The standards clearly demonstrate what students are expected to learn at each grade level, so that every parent and teacher can understand and support their learning.” The ultimate goal of the standards is to produce college and career readiness from a young age — beginning in the elementary years. 
But concerns remain about how exactly to prepare students for college, especially across a diverse array of school districts and student bodies. Some who oppose the Common Core cite the limiting influence of “teaching to the test,” which according to this editorial could create a standardized test meritocracy, defining students by ratings and rankings rather than their individual intellectual and creative strengths (which are not well measured by multiple choice tests). In addition, the Common Core standards were written by 27 members of the organization Student Achievement Partners. Many of these writers are involved in the pre-existing standardized testing industry and maintain interests in its economic growth. 
On the other hand, proponents of the program argue that because the standards merely indicate what students should be capable of as they progress through the grade levels. Individual curricula are still left to the discretion of their teachers and schools. As such, they claim that teaching a standardized skill set within the flexible framework of the Common Core will, on the whole, boost students’ academic performance.
SMARTdesks and the Common Core  
SMARTdesks is a firm believer the project-based learning and collaborative work allows students to grow in ways that exclusively “teaching to the test” does not offer. Standards have the capacity to enrich education, but they also must constantly adjust to account for students and their individual learning needs. Just as rows of desks are a dated classroom layout, uniform standards can curb the opportunity to foster creativity and entrepreneurship from an early age.
This Washington Post article offers a pertinent critique of the standards and their dependence on standardized testing as a measure of success, calling this method the “test-and-punish” approach as opposed to a “support-and-improve” model. Involved diagnostic entities working to improve education – such as the California Collaborative mentioned in the article – can identify strengths and weaknesses of schools in a way that the ranking inherent in standardized testing cannot. This approach emphasizes constructive feedback rather than punitive sanctions, and enables educators to better design curricula without the looming threat of losing their jobs based on their students’ standardized test scores. 
In general, how much do Americans really know about the Common Core?
A UConn poll from earlier this month showed that the more Americans know about the initiative, the less likely they will be to support it.
Some Statistics:

  • 39% of Americans have heard of the much-debated initiative in 44  states; 95% have heard of No Child Left Behind;
  • 33% believe adopting Common Core standards will increase the quality of education in their communities, 27% say it will have no effect, 30% believe it will damage education;
  • 29% believe the Common Core will increase the number of students who attend college;
  • 33% say the initiative will mean that more of those Americans who graduate college will be ready for a career;
  • 53% of liberals favor the policy, compared to 24% of conservatives who responded to the poll.

And…38% believe Common Core is a good policy, in contrast to the 44% who believe the opposite.
This reticence perhaps stems from the consequences of No Child Left Behind, which some consider a fundamentally flawed program due to its dependence on test scores. The cost has been hefty as well; pre-NCLB annual state spending on standardized tests totaled $423 million, a figure which rose to $1.1 billion in 2008, according to this Huff Post blog entry.
For the Common Core’s response to criticism click here for the program’s elucidation of “myths vs. facts” regarding its standards.
In your opinion…Do you think the Common Core will help or harm students and teachers in the long run? What does college-and-career readiness mean to you?

Millennials in the Workplace

According to a study from Deloitte University Press, by 2025 the Millennials/Generation Y will comprise 75% of the global workforce. Born between 1976 and 2001, this generation has a perhaps unfair reputation for laziness and entitlement — and the labor market is soon going to have to absorb them in droves.
Despite their renown as multitasking video gamers, millennials can be an industrious crowd, who have different employment priorities from their (generally-speaking) baby boomers managers.

Generally speaking, millennials have different workplace priorities -- and ones that sometimes clash with their management's view of "a good day's work."
Millennials’ preferences sometimes clash with their management’s view of “a good day’s work.”

So, what exactly are Millennials looking for in their jobs?
Of course, not all Millennials share the same set of preferences, but here are a few principal values that many seek in their employment.
1. Collaboration. Millennials do well with project-based work in teams and open communication channels. They value both offering and hearing opinions before making decisions.
2. An emphasis on “company culture.” In this Sentinel article, Nikki Sutton, owner of Level Interior Architecture, said: “’Millennials didn’t grow up studying in libraries. They studied in coffee shops and more social environments, so that is reflected in what they expect when they go to work every day.’”
3. Idealism. According to this Forbes article, 64% of millennials want to make the world “a better place.” Millennials aren’t looking to be faceless worker-bees, but valued participants who can enact change in their work and their world.
4. FlexibilityMillennials aren’t looking for just a life-work balance, but rather life-work integration. The preponderance of technology and mobile computing makes accessing work materials easy (and sometimes a compulsive habit) when millennials are out of the office.
5. Entrepreneurship. Millennials recognize the value of the start-up company. With social media and instant communication, they can solve problems efficiently at companies that value speedy information exchange; according to this New York Times article, top millennial talent often goes to innovative start-ups. To compensate, Goldman Sachs cut down the number of hours new recruits work with the hopes of attracting young people to investment banking.
Here’s a snapshot comparison of the 21st century work-ethic vs the “traditional” workforce (for source study, click here):
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And for an interesting Huffington Post blog entry written by a millennial who says perseverance is this generation’s greatest necessity, click here.
In your opinion…If you’re a Millennial, what’s most important to you in a job? If you’re not, how do you interact with Gen Y in the workplace? 

New SMARTdesks Classrooms at Union County College

Early this year SMARTdesks revamped four classrooms at Union County College in Cranford, New Jersey. The project was a collaborative effort between the Design Team at SMARTdesks, the Union County IT department, and other college administrators. SMARTdesks generated layouts for the rooms within a week of receiving floor plans, and through GoTo meetings and live presentations jointly developed a vision for the classrooms.
SMARTdesks’ challenge was to turn this type of old-fashioned classroom, previously furnished with fixed desk chairs, into an ADA compliant, collaborative classroom with multi-use FlipIT desks. (The blocks in front of the white board are the new floor, pre-measured and ready for installation).
The Starting Point . . . 
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The Final Product . . .
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In four days, SMARTdesks finished the makeover. To begin, installers covered linoleum floors and old carpets with the Floor + Furniture Integrated Technology (FFIT) carpet flooring, which distributed power to 15 duplex outlets and each of the moveable computer workstations. The FFIT can be rearranged according to the desk layouts.
A new power system . . .

FFIT Floor raised carpet tiles.
FFIT Floor raised carpet tiles.

This new floor was designed with fire code regulations and ADA compliance in mind. A ramp leads into the classroom for wheelchair accessibility.
ADA Compliance . . . 
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The furniture itself had to accommodate a minimum of 24 students, and is built on locking casters that enable mobility. They can be arranged back-to-back (shown here), around the perimeter of the room, or in rows, depending on the professor’s needs.
Top of the line desks . . . 
Closed monitor lids offer a flat workspace when needed.
Closed monitor lids offer a flat workspace when needed.

These desks feature the FlipIt, which allows for both computer and traditional pen and paper desktop uses. They will be used for library and classroom  work, conducted in teams or independently. As Michele McHenry, director of design at SMARTdesks said, “This answers the need for adaptive teaching and learning styles.”
In your opinion…What does your ideal classroom look like?

An Educator’s Insights on K-12 Collaborative Learning

Collaboration is trending these days, especially in the education industry. In K-12 and higher ed, some educators strive to foster group interactions in class; others prefer a traditional lecture approach. This week, we spoke with middle and high school teacher Mosie Choudhry for her professional, empirical opinion on the subject. Read on to find out how she balances her pedagogy as both “sage on the stage” and collaborative learning facilitator.

SMARTdesks: How do you see classroom dynamics shift when you ask your students to work collaboratively?

MC: It depends a lot on the group and the work. With older students, I find that individuals fall into their “roles” unless I intervene. For example, there’s usually a “can-do” kid who will push the group to be productive and stay on task. This will free other members to under function. Or there will be bickering among two+ “Type A” types. But if I carefully choreograph the groupings AND offer specific roles with job descriptions, it can be very rewarding.
For example, with illuminated poetry [(in which students superimpose poetry onto video and images to reveal their interpretation of the text)], I found that the outcomes were much improved by assigning a content director, an art director, a researcher, and an editor.
SMARTdesks: What kinds of work do you find most conducive to group work?
MC: Projects. My first mentor, back in 2000, used to call group work: “group work, AKA the blind leading the blind.” When the aim is to deliver content, I still prefer the sage on the stage.
But I’m a big proponent of project-based learning.
SMARTdesks: So, in project-based learning, should the goal be defined by the teacher?
MC: For younger students, yes. I’m not 100% comfortable with student-directed learning, but that’s because I’m a control freak. I like to bring my experience in effective management to bear.
SMARTdesks: Is collaborative learning a tremendously different process in middle school than it is in high school?
MC: I don’t have a statistically significant sample to draw from at this point, but I would say that the biggest difference is that in middle school, social concerns press heavily on the kids’ minds to the point where it can be a hindrance to productive group work. I find that pairs work really well. For example, I’ll pair kids to create a research query or review the previous night’s reading. I’ve grouped students for more extensive projects, but it takes a lot of work. The cost/benefit ratio has to be carefully analyzed.
SMARTdesks: Then are you more a proponent of letting the students sort themselves into teams, or because of that cost/benefit ratio, do you think it’s more effective to do that yourself?
MC: I always do it myself. Control freak.
I have never once seen students make wise choices. They want too much to work with their friends.
And by work I mean play. And by friends I mean people who may have similar strengths and deficits so might not be the best people to learn from. Google Docs has elevated my ability to do group work. I can intervene by dropping in on a doc and keep kids on task.  It allows me to allow students to move physically out of the classroom and still manage their work. Kids know there’s a record of their work, too, which takes things up a notch. It’s so rewarding to be in an environment in which kids have grown up on Gdocs. It means they’ve grown up on collaboration. They don’t mind in the least that writing is a very public activity. It brings up the quality.
SMARTdesks: Has specific furniture and technology ever helped or hindered your efforts? How? 
MC: Heavy, clunky furniture is bad. It’s outdated.
Most classroom furniture I’ve encountered is designed for pen and paper. I like lightweight desks that work well with laptops. Since students work comfortably with laptops in their laps, they don’t always need a big heavy desk with an affixed chair.
SMARTdesks: Do you have any tips for teachers looking to diversify the sage on the stage, and get into collaborative classroom methods?
MC: Yes: script the collaboration as much as possible, at least the first time. Prescribe roles with job descriptions. Use Google Docs to enforce accountability. [For some tips, click here.]
SMARTdesks: What would be your vision for optimal collaboration to traditional learning ratio in middle school environments in particular?
MC: It would depend on the material. For social studies, which is really content-driven, the sage on the stage happens about 60-80% of the time. This can take the form of an interactive lecture, but you can’t expect the kids to generate content. For English, I use a lot of group work: reading groups, project groups, and in providing writing feedback. I also did a cool project in social studies in which students in groups of 3-4 studied objects at the Met and presented research onsite at the museum. Again, the roles were heavily micromanaged by me, but the students had a lot of room to overachieve.