10 Classrooms (Almost) Too Cool for School

When it comes to learning, engagement is everything. And while a standard chalkboard-and-lecture presentation will always be effective, students can often get more out of a classroom that breaks from the mold. To celebrate National Teacher Appreciation Day, take a look at 10 rooms with themes, decorations, or ideas worth studying.


It’s not often that you find a whirring bone saw in an eighth grade classroom. Thanks to the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center in Houston, Alaska, students at Houston Middle School had an opportunity to don scrubs and observe surgical procedures in a mock operating theater. One station was devoted to intubation; another examined how bone fractures are set; a third was for practice IV insertions. Students could saw bones, then insert screws to repair them. In order to see how delicate a tibia is, they practiced drilling into an egg shell. When the gory curriculum was over, kids got to keep the bones and gowns.   


We’ve seen planes turned into restaurants and homes. So why not a kindergarten class? Gari Chapidze, the headmaster of a school in the country of Georgia, purchased a dormant Yakolev 42 aircraft and converted it into a pre-grade school activity hub. Kids can push buttons, stare out of the cockpit, and generally have about a thousand times more fun than anyone in a boring old building. Originally a class of 20, the air-school quickly developed a waiting list of kids hoping to get on board.       


Fourth-grade teacher Adrian Perez was inspired to give his homeroom a makeover after watching Kanye West perform at a televised awards show over the summer. Perez took song titles from West’s discography and used them as themes for his Mendota, Calif. classroom walls. “New God Flow,” for example, became “New Job Flow,” where students can see different tasks they’ve been assigned. Perez even mounted the bear from Graduation on his class door. The only problem? The kids are really too young to know much about Yeezy. "The kids did not get it," he told ABC News. “They just thought I liked the color red and bears.”    



Students at the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Ga. are used to people gawking at them: The school is set up for demonstrations, with teachers across the country visiting for tips on how to better engage young minds. In one of their many elaborately-decorated rooms, classes are conducted in a video game-inspired environment. The Mario blocks mounted on the wall can even be punched to retrieve the candy inside.       


Jamie Knudson’s kindergarten class in San Diego, Calif. gets to experience a little bit of time travel with her Western-themed room. Knudson bought the kid-sized covered wagon (above) for $300 at a yard sale several years ago; it’s now a reading nook. The nearby “bonfire,” made by a fellow teacher’s student, is the centerpiece of a daily campfire meeting. Knudson also has some burlap, hay, and other Western amenities in the room. Unless she’s taken it too far, the children are still allowed to use indoor plumbing.


If your art teacher isn’t going to get creative with her classroom, there’s no hope for anyone. Cassie Stevens converted the exterior of her Nashville, Tenn. elementary art room into a Van Gogh-inspired mural using bulletin board paper and charcoal. To give students a sense they were walking into a café, she added a business sign and awning to her door. (The only wrinkle: not all schools may be cool with a lot of tacked-up paper due to fire codes.)


The UK-based 4D Creative Group has been commissioned by several English primary schools to create immersive, “4D” learning environments for a variety of subjects. For one like Hebden Green in Winsford, 4D constructed a full-wall projection screen and motion-activated floor. Teachers can pre-load software curriculums; students can take the sensory cues to better absorb lessons involving world history, literature, and more.   


You may recall we’re fond of the Ron Clark Academy for its visually inventive classrooms. Co-founder Kim Bearden, who also teaches language arts in the school, welcomes students to her class with a massive Hulk fist breaking through the floor. No wonder she was once Cobb County, Ga.’s Teacher of the Year.


Students heading into the seventh grade in Dacula Middle School in Dacula, Ga. should abandon any thought of mocking William Shatner. Teachers Celisa Edwards and Jayne Dawson dress in Starfleet uniforms and use Star Trek-inspired lesson plans to entice students in their “Starfleet Institute of the Sciences" class. The teachers are often referred to as “Commanders” and the students by their last names; written tests sometimes involve Trek lore in their examples. The two have been at it since 1994 and have seen rising test scores as a result of their efforts.  


The METI school north of Bangladesh had sustainability in mind during the planning stages of an educational facility for impoverished residents. While the first floor is made out of bamboo, the ground floor features classrooms connected by cave-like portals where children can study alone or in groups.

This piece originally ran in 2015.

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Tulane University Offers Free Semester to Students Affected by Hurricane Maria
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As Puerto Rico continues to assess the damage left by Hurricane Maria last month, one American institution is offering displaced residents some long-term hope. Tulane University in New Orleans is waiving next semester’s tuition fees for students enrolled at Puerto Rican colleges prior to the storm, Forbes reports.

From now until November 1, students whose studies were disrupted by Maria can apply for one of the limited spots still open for Tulane’s spring semester. And while guests won’t be required to pay Tulane's fees, they will still be asked to pay tuition to their home universities as Puerto Rico rebuilds. Students from other islands recovering from this year’s hurricane season, like St. Martin and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are also welcome to submit applications.

Tulane knows all too well the importance of community support in the wake of disaster. The campus was closed for all of the 2005 fall semester as New Orleans dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. During that time, schools around the world opened their doors to Tulane students who were displaced. The university wrote in a blog post, “It’s now our turn to pay it forward and assist students in need.”

Students looking to study as guests at Tulane this spring can fill out this form to apply.

[h/t Forbes]

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Pablo, a Groundbreaking New BBC Series, Teaches Kids About Autism
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Autism spectrum disorder affects one in 68 kids in the U.S., but there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the nature of the condition and what it feels like to have it. As BuzzFeed reports, a new British children’s program aims to teach viewers about autism while showing kids on the spectrum characters and stories to which they can relate.

Pablo, which premiered on the BBC’s kids’ network CBeebies earlier this month, follows a 5-year-old boy as he navigates life with autism. The show uses two mediums: At the start of an episode, Pablo is played by a live actor and faces everyday scenarios, like feeling overstimulated by a noisy birthday party. When he’s working out the conflict in his head, Pablo is depicted as an animated doodle accompanied by animal friends like Noa the dinosaur and Llama the llama.

Each character illustrates a different facet of autism spectrum disorder: Noa loves problem-solving but has trouble reading facial expression, while Llama notices small details and likes repeating words she hears. On top of demonstrating the diversity of autism onscreen, the show depends on individuals with autism behind the scenes as well. Writers with autism contribute to the scripts and all of the characters are voiced by people with autism.

“It’s more than television,” the show’s creator Gráinne McGuinness said in a short documentary about the series. “It’s a movement that seeks to build awareness internationally about what it might be like to see the world from the perspective of someone with autism.”

Pablo can be watched in the UK on CBeebies or globally on the network's website.

[h/t BuzzFeed]


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