In 21st Century Learning Spaces, It’s OK to Write on the Walls

Imagine a school where students can write and do Google searches on the walls of their classroom.

“How wonderful would it be for kids to have access to this kind of technology on their classroom wall?” said Furr High School Principal Bertie Simmons. “You can write on it. You can search the Internet with it. It’s just a really neat and innovative way to teach a class.”

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Some classroom walls in HISD’s newest campuses may be getting an upgrade with modular magnetic glass walls created by DIRTT (Doing It Right This Time) Environmental Solutions. The company, based in Calgary, Alberta, manufactures the walls, which are attracting attention as schools embrace 21st century learning environments.

As HISD renovates or builds 40 schools as part of the 2012 bond program, campuses are increasingly looking at ways to maximize the flexibility of their spaces so that their new schools can easily adapt to changing technology or learning styles.

“We’re really encouraging our architects and project advisory teams to be innovative so that the schools that we build in the next few years will be flexible enough to serve our students for generations to come,” said Sue Robertson, HISD’s general manager of Facilities Planning. “Walls that are transparent and can be configured into different learning areas are really just one strategy to achieve that goal.”

Modular magnetic walls can be easily written on and allow for support of technology. They integrate clean aesthetics and durability by embedding writeable and magnetic surfaces inside the wall versus having a variety of dry erase boards in a classroom. The walls also provide flexibility in reconfiguring classroom sizes.

“The students in our community – we’ve never seen something like this before, so the kids that come to this school will be surprised to see they have a magnetic wall they can write on and search the web,” said Furr student Keondre Osborne, who is on the Project Advisory Team that is helping architects and HISD facility planners organize the design of the new campus. “This kind of technology will inspire students to want to do more with technology, learn how it all works together and even go into a field where they can learn how to make this kind of technology.”

At Sterling High School, the Project Advisory Team is also considering implementing this concept into the school’s design and is currently evaluating the cost.

“We’ve used this design concept at higher educational facilities in and outside of the country,” said Ashlea Hogancamp of the SHW Group, the architectural firm designing Sterling. “What’s unique about these walls is that they’re flexible. In the future if you want to redo classrooms by making them smaller or larger, you don’t have to tear down walls. You can rearrange the room with the walls you have at a lower cost and by wasting less.”

Designers prefer the modular, magnetic glass walls because sheet rock offers no flexibility, said Eli R. Ochoa of ERO Architects, the firm designing the new Furr campus.

“Schools are looking to (these walls) as a flexible, clean design solution,” Ochoa said. “They will be used throughout the learning centers to encourage collaboration among students and faculty. These schools will be leading the way in 21st century classroom design in the local community.”