Spotlight on Cooper MS School of the Future Project
Imagine that you, as a middle school student, had the opportunity to envision classrooms with as-yet-unheard-of technology, in an energy-efficient building that works with the environment in which it exists. That’s what seventh graders in the advanced academic program at Cooper Middle School were challenged to do as their school prepares for a renovation as part of the 2018-22 Capital Improvement Program.
The seventh graders served as architects and planners for their vision of how to renovate the building for their School of the Future project. Teachers challenged students to envision how the redesigned school should look, how it would be environmentally sustainable, and how the renovation would support student learning in the future.
Beginning with visits to nearby Langley High and Westgate Elementary, the Cooper students were able to examine architectural details and energy-efficient solutions used at other FCPS schools. They met with the architects working on the redesign, then began their research on how to ensure their school can support 21st century learning and maintain relevance for the next 50 years; how to establish realistic and defensible budget expectations; and how to explain and ground design choices in research.
Teachers presented the project with three cross-curricular connections: science, history, and English. Students participated in science labs and mini-lessons, toured the school grounds, and used GIS (geographic information system) instruments and maps to assess the property while taking into account land features, water quality, potential pollution sources, and man’s impact on ecosytems. They then created a digital map of the property that highlighted the geographical features and identified potential environmental problem areas. Using their research, the seventh graders incorporated the concepts of sustainability and environmental responsibility into their design.
By applying their knowledge of the past and present, the students researched the economic evolution of the U.S. at the end of the industrial revolution to understand the societal functions used by public education to prepare citizens for the workforce. They applied that information to their interpretation of how the school of the future should prepare students for 21st century society. And while exploring literature on the concept of going into the unknown, students honed their summarizing and literary analysis skills, crucial to the design and presentation process.
The students were grouped based on an interest survey on their vision for schools and the future of education, so some groups focused more on technology, some on curriculum, and some on design. Students had the opportunity to select a method for presentation: blueprints or classroom designs in Google Draw or other programs; 3-D models in Tinkercad; or actual models.
Student Aarti Sabharwal said his group created a new design that they felt would work for the next 50 years, including organizing the rooms to be more efficient and adding additional rooms for students and teachers. Their design also included features to ensure that clean water would flow into storm drains, keeping pollution to a minimum. Their detailed models provided a clear picture of the changes they incorporated to improve the learning environment.
Student Katie Dzwonczyk said her group focused their efforts on the second floor of the school, including knocking down the MOD and adding a student lounge along with geothermal heating and cooling, solar panels, and energy-efficient windows. They also allowed space for a 3-D printing room, new electives, and new technology. The group incorporated improvements to Dead Run and the school grounds and ended up with $67,000 left over, which they set aside to cover unforeseen needs. She added a memorable quote that resonated with her: “We can think of so much with only our imagination…. Think of what we could do if our imagination was real. We’d be unstoppable, guys.”