The neighborhood
Students in Wetzel's Four-Five-Six Learning Lab are taking the first steps in DODEA's new 21st Century Teaching and Learning concept. Four classrooms have been combined into one large learning lab for fourth, fifth and sixth grade students.

Wetzel Elementary School has taken its first step into new teaching and learning concept by creating a learning lab consisting of 60 students from grades four, five and six. The students have come together into a large learning environment known as a neighborhood.

This revolutionary DODEA concept, known as 21st Century Teaching and Learning, reshapes not only the traditional classroom but also the learning process. Wetzel has modeled its Four-Five-Six Learning Lab after the DODEA-wide initiative.

The most visible difference is the learning environment. What once were four classrooms is now one large learning lab for the 60 Wetzel students. "It was originally four classrooms but we had the ability to move the walls in all four of those classrooms so it's now one large community area. The kids and the teachers have broken it into four pods so there's instruction going on in each of the four pods at any given time," said Angie Lamonski, Wetzel Elementary School principal.

"Actually there's a whole team involved, not just the four teachers. We have a professional learning community and each day we have a collaborative planning period where the whole group of teachers meet. There's the two home room teachers, the special education teachers, the gifted teacher and we have a literacy coach who are involved," said Lamonski. The information specialist is also involved as well as specialists from the district who travel to Baumholder to interact with the children. During the day, there are different teachers in the learning lab at different times. "It's a whole team collaborative approach," said Lamonski.

Within each of the four pods, the teachers are differentiating the instruction to meet the needs of each and every student. "They're in the pods based on what their need is on that particular unit of study or whatever's going on at that point in time," said Lamonski.

Like all things new, there was some apprehension about this new concept of learning, particularly from parents. After all, bringing 60 students into one large learning environment with four teachers and no walls does not exactly sound like a recipe for success, but Lamonski points out that the environment is amazing and surprisingly quiet most of the time. When the noise does go up a few decibels it's because there is a lot of learning going on.

"Yes, we've had apprehensive parents but we have some that were happy about the idea. But we definitely welcome parents at any time to come and observe, or schedule a parent teacher conference, or give us ideas and tell us what we're doing well and not so well.

"There are times when it gets a little bit loud but when you go in there you see that the kids are engaged in what they're doing and they're talking about what they're learning so they're very focused," said Lamonski, adding that "what's been very interesting about this environment is that the teachers, the lessons and the kids are very focused. The lessons are meeting the needs of that learner so it's not something that's above their head, or it's not something that's too low for them."

"It's all about collaboration and individual students working to their best potential and learning all that they can. It's different than the traditional classroom -- one teacher, 25 kids -- in that everybody is sharing in the collaboration, the planning and the learning. That includes the teachers and the students, the, administration, districts and parents," said Lamonski.

No new learning concept these days would be complete without taking advantage of what technology can contribute to the learning process and Wetzel's Learning Lab has done just that.

"We've put in place a one-to-one laptop program. Every student in that environment has been issued a laptop so we are integrating technology into the learning," said Lamonski. She adds that this program has been very wonderful and successful. "When we're able to digitally engage the kids it's an interactive learning environment and often times the kids are getting instant feedback," said Lamonski.

Page last updated Tue November 5th, 2013 at 00:00