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Remodel brings technology to math and science classrooms (03/03/2013)
By Chris Rogers

The Math and Science Wing at Winona Senior High School (WSHS) will get a $2.4 million facelift this summer thanks to a gift of over $3 million from the late Richard Kolter, a former math teacher. The renovation will provide more space for learning by combining two existing hallways and making the wing more technology- and cooperative-learning-friendly.

School district officials met with contractors last week to discuss the plans. On Thursday, March 7, the School Board will consider bids for the project. Construction is scheduled to start this summer and be completed in time for the first day of school this August.

Six science rooms, five math rooms, a special education math room, a special education science room, and two small meeting rooms will be included in the new wing. The meeting rooms are new, as are "break-away spaces" in the hallways—nooks with chairs, a white board, and a flat-screen television for plugging in electronic devices and sharing information—where students can work on group projects. Classrooms will also be more flexible, with tables on wheels and light chairs, instead of bulky desks, that can be easily rearranged for traditional lecture-style teaching or small-group work.

Making it easier for classes to break into small groups—or to participate in "collaborative learning," in education jargon—is one of the main goals of the renovation. Research indicates students get more involved when they work in a small group setting and learn how to work well with others, said Superintendent Scott Hannon. "The teacher ends up being more of a facilitator," he said of collaborative learning. "The research is clear that kids who end up being involved in their learning in that way are more likely to retain it."

Science classrooms will get a new layout, combining currently separate lab and lecture spaces. Having those areas separate was an inefficient use of space and time and made supervising classes difficult, said anatomy teacher Sandy Bussian.

A biology room will feature a "climatorium," a mini-greenhouse set into the hallway wall of the classroom so that students can observe plants growing there from inside or outside the classroom. The science department will also get new cabinets and vent hoods as well as a washing machine for beakers.

"I am excited. It is going to be a whole new atmosphere, with lots of hands-on opportunities," Bussian said. "We are going to really get into the 21st century."

Math teacher Kathy Wade said she felt the science and math wing had been lacking up-to-date facilities for a long time. "I feel extremely blessed that I get to have an opportunity to have a state-of-the-art facility," she added.

Typewriters probably would have clacked in Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) offices for years longer if it were not for Kolter. Kolter was a middle school math teacher, railroad engineer, and one of the first at WAPS to embrace computers and other new technologies. He organized the district's first foray into digital scheduling: punch cards filled out by students and then read on the nearest capable computer. Which was in Austin.

"He was a pioneer in the district," Hannon said.

While the district could have used Kolter's funds in many ways, incorporating new technology into math and science classrooms seemed fitting for the bequest of a technology standard-bearer.

"We could put that into so many areas where you would never know that Kolter gave us any money. So here is a way to not only get one major area upgraded but also leave a legacy for the man who donated the money," Hannon explained.

A virtual walk-through of the planned renovations is available online http://vimeo.com/60666612. 


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