A look at your kid's classroom of the future

Tampa, Florida -- You don't have to go very far to get an amazing look at what your kid's classroom will look like in the future. A school in Tampa is one of the most advanced in the entire country.

During this back to school week, we've told you that Citrus County will soon have an iPad for every student, and Pinellas County has two new technology-driven elementary schools.

What's now happening at Tampa Preparatory School near Downtown Tampa is the next step beyond that.

The middle school at Tampa Prep was entirely rebuilt over the summer so every classroom is loaded with technology designed for the future of learning.

And the changes they've made may eventually become the norm at every school in the coming years, including the ones where your kids learn.

Every student at Tampa Prep has an iPad. It's their textbook, their notepad, and more and it's tied into each lesson plan and the way teachers teach.

Impressive touch-screen projectors -- the first of their kind in any American school -- fill two walls with screens where up to six students can do group activities together.

Teachers can also project the image from up to four students' iPads onto the walls using the projectors. That lets the students become the teachers as they explain what they're working on to the class.

The seating arrangement is not row after row of desks. Each desk is on wheels and can be grouped and moved in seconds. The fluid setup is much more like the way effective groups solve problems in real life.

And each student now has a front-row seat. Teachers wear wireless microphones that hang around their necks like a pendant so students anywhere in the room can hear them clearly through a speaker system.

The days are over of a teacher shouting from the front of the class, as kids in the back of the room zone out.

Tampa Prep's leaders say they didn't come into this overhaul with a list of gadgets to use -- they came with a list of goals they wanted to achieve.

The amazing technology is another teacher's tool, all focused on stirring up critical thinking skills and making sure each student has equal access to the learning that's going on.

How can the school where your kid goes start down this same path?

Administrators at Tampa Prep say every school can take two steps right away in this direction.

First, let kids use their electronic devices like tablets and smartphones in class as learning tools -- instead of locking them up or banning them.

And second, as the school buys new desks, get ones that let teachers regroup and rearrange students in an instant.

At Tampa Prep, they say using desks that are stuck in rows gets kids thinking only in rows, and not in new creative ways.

But they caution that technology alone won't take kids' learning to the next level.

Making a change at your kid's school also requires a change in philosophy there about what learning should be like in a classroom of the future, the Tampa Prep team says.

Working in groups, dropping the "old school" lecture style of teaching, focusing on critical thinking more than memorization, and giving each kid equal access all have to be part of the plan.


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