In 21st Century Learning Spaces, It’s OK to Write on the Walls

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By Ashley Anthony and Elizabeth C. Martinez

Imagine a school where students can write, watch videos, and do Google searches on the walls of their classroom.

“How wonderful would it be for kids to have access to this kind of technology on their classroom wall?” said Bertie Simmons, principal of Furr High School in the Houston Independent School District.  When the campus is rebuilt, it will include modular magnetic glass walls.  “You can write on it.  You can search the Internet with it.  It’s just a really neat and innovative way to teach a class.”

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As HISD renovates or builds 40 schools as part of its 2012 $1.89 billion bond program, architectural firms, such as South Texas-based ERO Architects, are increasingly looking at ways to maximize the flexibility of their spaces so that new schools can easily adapt to changing technology or learning styles.

ERO was the firm selected out of a pool of 85 qualified architectural firms to design the new $55 million Furr High School for up to 1,300 students in east Houston.  This was a big feat for a 100 percent Hispanic-owned business headquartered in McAllen, 345 miles away from Houston.

“Houston ISD is committed to creating 21st century learning environments, and ERO is fully in support in giving the community what it needs and wants,” said ERO Architects President/CEO Eli R. Ochoa, PE, AIA.  “Designers prefer the modular, magnetic glass walls because sheet rock offers no flexibility.”

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Some classroom walls in HISD’s newest campuses may be getting an upgrade with modular magnetic glass walls created by DIRTT (Doing It Right This Time) Environmental Solutions.  The company, based in Calgary, Alberta, manufactures the walls, which are attracting attention as schools embrace 21st century learning environments.

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Modular magnetic walls can be easily written on and allow for support of technology.  They integrate clean aesthetics and durability by embedding writeable and magnetic surfaces inside the wall versus having a variety of dry erase boards in a classroom.  The walls also provide flexibility in reconfiguring classroom sizes.

“Schools are looking to (these walls) as a flexible, clean design solution,” Ochoa said.  “They will be used throughout the learning centers to encourage collaboration among students and faculty.  Not only are they flexible, but the system allows for support of current or future technology to be embedded within the wall — essentially ‘future proofing’ the construction investment of the school district.”