Case Study: Buffalo Creek Academy – Creating 21st Century Concept Classrooms

Buffalo Creek is a non-profit, public charter school for fifth and sixth-grade students in Buffalo, New York, delivering a Global Perspectives curriculum for building critical thinking skills. They began instruction in August of 2020. As a Cambridge International School, Buffalo Creek engages and empowers students to look critically at the world and themselves to meet the demands of their own lives. Here we’ll quote extensively from Dr. Christopher R. Manning, the school’s head and founder.

“Buffalo Creek Academy is a public charter school, but we’re also a Cambridge International school. Global Perspectives is more than just a course. It’s a thought pattern and an approach to thinking where we are able to develop within our students’ strong critical thinking skills, the ability to discern between value judgments, opinions, and facts. Students can interrogate data. They can compose essays and conduct projects that, in some cases, have nothing to do with their local community. It could be an incident that occurred anywhere in the world. They can look at it and see, okay, how would that impact me from a personal perspective if I were in that country. And then how I would look at that impact from a national perspective if I were in that country. How would I look at it from a global perspective? How would that impact the world?”

Buffalo Creek Academy wanted not only to duplicate the in-person classroom experience but surpass it by more effectively deploying technology to an unprecedented context, effectively training educator-practitioners, and supplying all participants (parents, teachers, students) with thorough, ultra-responsive IT support. 

A Goal of Immersive Technology for the Current Moment and Beyond

“Technology is at the forefront of how we were going to operate, even if COVID didn’t occur.“

With a background in instructional technology, Dr. Christopher R. Manning, Buffalo Creek Academy’s founder, had a vision for the school: use technology to engage students more effectively both during the pandemic and seize the opportunity to improve how technology supports education in general. Students would be immersed in technology—creating a seamless experience immune to changes in learner or teacher location and context. 

To do that, they needed the right constellation of equipment deployed in a particular way they dubbed Teaching Studios. They needed a partner that could match their vision to collaborate on the required infrastructure and logistics. And they needed to execute within budget and without waste.

The Challenge of Deploying Optimal Technology Effectively to Maintain Quality

The idea was to take cues from digital influencers and the best in broadcast media and repurpose the way those contexts engaged young minds for educational purposes. Buffalo Creek’s Teaching Studios use lights, cameras, lamps, computers, big screens, and microphones to create a classroom experience equal to an in-person classroom but adapted to home environments. 

“If you go to your influencer’s apartment, or studio or home, they have a little nook in their house where they have the right lighting, right audiovisual. They know the devices to purchase. They know what they have to do in order to reach their audience with good audiovisual. 

Even before them, I can remember some good examples—the Reading Rainbow or the best example I can always think of is Bill Nye the Science Guy. Someone who was able to engage me as a young learner, and keep me on the edge of my seat, even though he was on the screen. My challenge to the team was if Bill Nye could do it back in the nineties, why can’t we do it now? And we’d better do it just as well as YouTube influencers.”

Enter CTS—Extraordinary Vision Calls for an Extraordinary Partnership

CTS built out Buffalo Creek Academy’s initial/temporary site with technical infrastructure, A/V, network equipment, connectivity, phone systems, and devices, and was, therefore, their first responder on the technical side when New York schools were ordered to teach remotely just as Buffalo Creek was preparing for the school year.

“I called CTS and said, “We’re building studios in our classroom. We’re not having a traditional classroom. We’re going to flip it into a studio. CTS was very flexible. Listening was the key. We went over it with a team, and they asked, “What do you want to do?” Since they were not familiar with the approach and the teaching studio was not something that they’d done before, I said, “I’m going to describe to you what I think we need inside the studio. Let’s talk about it.” They found what we were talking about, and then asked, “Do you think this is it?” I said, “Yes.” We ordered it. It showed up; we set it up. It worked. They moved very quickly, but they listened.

They started with open-ended questions. “What do you need? What are you trying to do?” And when I described it, they were able to use their expertise to pinpoint what equipment I would need in order to carry it out, even when we had to do another logistics setup because we had to coach teachers on how to do it correctly. So, we bought AirPods that teachers could put in their ears while they’re teaching–a page we took out of the book of news reporters.”

While many schools were reacting to remote learning, Buffalo Creek Academy was responding with an opportunity to do something unprecedented in educational technology. Careful thinking by CTS, with a focus on educational outcome made a high-demand, fast unfolding situation go as smoothly as possible. 

“I calibrated their minds to my mind’s eye, and we got the equipment here and hit the city by storm. All the news channels were here. The first day of school was like, “What? I want to see this studio. What are you guys talking about?” It was phenomenal.”

“It’s rare and most vendors that I’ve dealt with are leading schools to their preferred line of products. “Oh, you want this, but we have this, this, this, this, and this.” And that was not the case with CTS. It was literally, “What do you need? Okay. What are you trying to do? Here’s what you need.” I got what I needed, nothing more. Everything we ordered we’re putting to use right now. There were no markups; there were no sell ups. So, I didn’t feel like I was actually talking to a supplier. It was a partner. It felt like an extension of my school.“

Immediate Result: Supported Teachers, Enthusiastic Parents

Parents didn’t need to take on the responsibility of being technical staff or teaching assistants for Buffalo Creek students, because the infrastructure and support were in place.

“The only thing I ask of parents is that at 8:00 or 8:30, their child is sitting in that chair with a uniform shirt on, they’ve already had their breakfast and are ready for school. We’ll take it from there. We have not promoted them to teaching assistant. We’ve got this. We will take care of it. All we’re asking parents is to make sure their kids are there in class. We’ll take it from there. And if ever there’s an issue, we contact them.”

Teachers received training in the new way of conducting a virtual classroom on the enhanced technical footing, and thoughtful support for any exigencies that arose.

“For teachers, it’s always training. If they’re trained and we model for them how to teach effectively, which we did, they respond really well to it. We’re very responsive to them. 

The first person that conducted a lesson with an AirPod in my ear, in front of the camera, was me, and I had someone else in my ear. I was showing them how we do it. And then I had the assistant principal and the principal in my office watching me, and then they did it. It was modeling first. Then they did it with us.”

Long Term Outcome: Resilient Concept Classrooms for any Future

CTS enables visionaries to achieve with technology whatever they can see in their mind’s eye. We don’t think we can say it better than the client has. 

“The new reality is that education will never be the same. My hope is that we do not go through this strong regression back to the old system. I do not want to see, at least in our school, the pre-2020 approach to schooling ever exist again. 

Technology has been proven to be effective. It’s no longer ‘are we going to use instructional technology’, so much as to what degree are we going to employ these tools. That’s the conversation that’s around the country now, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”

There is no limit now, and I’m hoping that there’s no stigma any more about setting up and positioning online learning at work. That provides even more opportunities for us to reach underserved children all over the world.

Elon Musk and everyone has concept cars; we have a concept classroom. What does the new hybrid class truly look like? We don’t want any interruption if three kids have to be at home for two weeks or if the teacher happens to have to be isolated for a couple of weeks.

Because we are an international school, we have big goals. As I said, there are other parts of the world that require help with education and conducting education, and technology has proven that I can be in America and I can teach a class to students sitting in Dhaka, Bangladesh, as long as I wake up on time.

CTS has been really involved with the architects and designers. They’ve been on site ensuring that everything is set up for our security and our IT systems. CTS is going to be our partner with the concept classes and ensuring that our new campus is completely hybrid, as well as other projects.

CTS has been really involved with the architects and designers. They’ve been onsite ensuring that everything is set up for our security and our IT systems. I don’t see a situation where we’re not going to have an IT partner that operates in that manner.”

Read an interview with Dr. Christopher R. Manning, founder and head of Buffalo Creek Academy.

There are other parts of the world that require help with education and conducting education, and technology has proven that I can be in America and I can teach a class to students sitting in Dhaka, Bangladesh, as long as I wake up on time.

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