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18 April . 2017

Collaborative learning a focus for Rancho Sienna Elementary

When Liberty Hill ISD opens its new Rancho Sienna Elementary School in August, it will showcase some of the newest and most successful ideas in primary education, including collaborative learning, makerspaces and student-enabled technology.

We caught up with Rancho Sienna Elementary Principal Melanie Bowman recently as she was on her way to Dallas to visit several schools that had successfully transformed their libraries into vibrant hubs of learning.

“Far from being just a place to check out books, we envision the library as a springboard for innovation for all students,” said Bowman, who brings 20 years of teaching and administrative experience to her new position.

“The library is a physically beautiful space, with a curved stone walls and expanses of glass that invite in daylight,” she said. “We also want the library to be a hub for learning and literacy for all students.”

Artist rendering of the library space within Rancho Sienna Elementary

Artist rendering of the library space within Rancho Sienna Elementary

The school will include a makerspace, which can simply be described as a community center with tools such as a 3D printer and laser cutter, where students gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment and knowledge.

“The idea of the makerspace is to give students the tools to solve problems and come up with out-of-the-box solutions to real-world problems. We want to inspire students to invent and create, and working in groups is an important mode of learning,” said Bowman.

The makerspace is just one example of the collaborative learning features that have been incorporated throughout Rancho Sienna Elementary. Everything from the school’s furniture to the layout of classrooms has been carefully considered, Bowman said.

“Today, students don’t learn the way we did in the past, so we’re moving away from traditional classrooms, where students sat still at rows of desks,” she said. “Our classrooms and other learning areas have moveable desks and furniture on wheels that can be easily arranged and rearranged, giving students the ability to move around and collaborate in different groups.”

The school’s design also features collaborative work spaces between grade areas, so groups of individual students or entire classrooms can work together on collaborative projects.

Artist rendering of the collaboration space between classrooms

Artist rendering of the collaboration space between classrooms

Technology is another focus for the school, with an emphasis on student involvement. Instead of projectors, classrooms will have 65-inch wall-mounted monitors that both teachers and students can interact with via wireless handheld devices.

“We want to create learning environments where the teachers are facilitators, helping students take more ownership of the learning process,” Bowman said. “Like all LHISD schools, we will also have a digital learning coach to help teachers and students apply the latest technology to learning.”

Why is collaborative learning important? “We live in a society where it is increasingly important to learn to collaborate and solve problems together, and we want to give our students the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in the future,” Bowman said.

Experts say that encouraging students to reach out to one another to solve problems and share knowledge builds collaboration skills, and also leads to deeper learning and understanding.