This post was written by summer intern Michael O’Neill.
Melrose High School library media specialist Tom Scudder and academic facilitator Josh Cristiano feel the new Learning Commons will help further integrate 21st-century education techniques and tools into the everyday learning of Melrose students. “What we’re really moving towards is redefining learning [by] doing things with technology that would be impossible without it,” Scudder says.
The Learning Commons, which opened in September, replaces the old resource center. “Not a lot of high schools have an opportunity to get a brand new educational space of this size, and it’s an incredible opportunity for the district,” Scudder says. The new Learning Commons features state-of-the-art technology in the form of a new computer lab and television studio. All computers in the lab are equipped with Adobe Creative Suite, which includes programs such as Photoshop and InDesign, providing additional tools to students. The television studio features entirely new equipment and will be used for the school’s television classes and productions.
Cristiano is using the technological capabilities of the Learning Commons for the school’s blended learning program, which integrates online and classroom instruction. The Learning Commons were designed with blended learning techniques specifically in mind. “Blended learning takes the best parts of traditional learning and combines them with the best parts of online learning,” Cristiano said. “We get to use massive online courses that are run through colleges such as Harvard, and then as a teacher I build in different sorts of high school checkpoints,” such as classroom discussions and inquiry projects. Cristiano, who is now in his fifth year at Melrose High School, helps facilitate these discussions and organize the online media for students to use. He also researches new software and apps for educational use, and he trains teachers in grades 6-12 in how to use them in the classroom.
Scudder, entering his third year at Melrose High School, supervises the Learning Commons and works closely with Cristiano to develop and modernize the school’s approach to education. “There are important skills that students need to develop in order to be successful in the 21st century, and one of our main roles is helping teachers integrate technology in a more engaging and productive way for students,” Scudder says.
While the Learning Commons has high-tech capabilities, there are also areas designated for more traditional education. Semi-open study spaces provide students a quiet place to study in groups. Several classrooms line the perimeter of the commons, including a double classroom that allows teacher to combine two separate classes for collaborative purposes and a classroom with an enormous whiteboard that spreads across three walls and makes sharing information between students easier.
As the weeks go by, Scudder and Cristiano expect students to become more familiar with the Learning Commons and put all of its available tools to use. “We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what we can do in here,” says Scudder. Student tech leaders will be taught about the various capabilities of the Learning Commons and can then show fellow students how to use them, which should bring in more and more students to take advantage of the tools being offered. “I really envision students taking ownership of this place,” Scudder says.
Scudder and Cristiano are excited about the way the Learning Commons has turned out and what it will mean for Melrose High. “I’m really glad the city voted to give kids the opportunity,” Scudder says.
“We are so excited to use this place to bring the best teaching practices into Melrose,” added Cristiano. “We have a 21st century space so that we can do some 21st century learning.”