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Learning Experience Labs Benefit Students

Learning Experience Labs
Classroom Designs to Fit Today’s and Tomorrow’s Learners

A unique collaboration of ESC Region 12, Baylor University and Huckabee Architects explores the next generation of classroom innovations

By Jerry Maze and Jennifer Marshall-Higgins, Education Service Center Region 12

Like other education service agencies, ESC Region 12 is in a unique position to facilitate and coordinate groundbreaking innovative programs between partners from different industries. Learning Experience Labs (LEx Labs) is a unique public-private-academic partnership in Waco, Texas and among leading efforts to align effective teaching strategies with classroom environments that enhance student engagement in learning.

Education Service Center Region 12 (ESC Region 12), Baylor University and design firm Huckabee are collaborating to transform classroom design toward more innovative spaces and to conduct research on the effects of classroom design on student engagement in learning.

“I’m not aware of another partnership of this type in the history of ESCs in Texas,” said Jerry Maze, Ed.D., ESC Region 12 Executive Director. “It’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity for three very distinct entities to work together to accomplish educational good—in the form of research and training and direct delivery to students.”

The idea for the LEx Labs began in the early days of the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative (BRIC). Truell Hyde, Ph.D., Baylor’s Vice Provost for Research, brought together ESC Region 12’s Maze and Huckabee’s Chief Executive Officer, Chris Huckabee, to start conversations about creating a think-tank environment to improve STEM instruction and attract more students to STEM careers. These conversations were fruitful as Maze and his team were exploring facility improvements for STEM training at its main facility where staff provide professional development to educators in a 12 county area in central Texas. After learning about the BRIC’s focus, the ESC team felt strongly this partnership was a perfect match for collaboration and research.

Lex Lab space representing more than $1 million in the latest architectural and design innovations

The nearly 6,000-square-foot Lex Lab space represents more than $1 million in the latest architectural and design innovations.

Opened by Baylor University in 2013, the BRIC is a 300,000-square-foot research facility representing the first phase of a 21-acre research and business development complex that will become the Central Texas Technology & Research Park. The BRIC is an environment for collaboration between researchers, industry, entrepreneurs, and workforce developers as well as a catalyst for increased interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) among K-12 students and the community.

Within the BRIC, the nearly 6,000-square-foot LEx Lab space represents the latest architectural and design innovations, including moveable glass partitions, interlocking furniture and instructional technology integration. From easy-to-change furniture formations to alterable room sizes and the ability to use horizontal and vertical spaces for instruction and note taking, the lab is almost infinitely adjustable to explore how changes in the learning environment enhance student and teacher academic success.

The LEx Labs is a conduit for creating opportunities for students to experience the real world of STEM careers. The partnership recognizes the opportunity for the LEx Labs project to bolster career opportunities for students. “There are a lot of very good high-paying jobs in STEM fields that are going unfilled because there are not enough students pursuing those fields,” Hyde said. “This is an absolute threat to both our national economy and our way of life. So, from the very beginning of the BRIC, STEM educational outreach and research have been a focus.”

For Huckabee, LEx Labs offers an investment in 21st-century learning and an opportunity to research new methods of classroom design through clients exploring and testing modern, flexible, and technology-driven learning environments to help Huckabee tailor design decisions to local needs.

LEx Labs offers Huckabee a connection for design innovation with school district administrators and educators in an exciting, outside-the-box space. Kerri Ranney, Huckabee’s Director of Learning and Strategic Development, said the company’s focus is on how to leverage the impact of the classroom environment on learning. “Our clients are in the education business, so their number one priority is to provide the best education to the students who come into their buildings,” Ranney said. “Naturally, the environment can have a very significant impact on that experience for both students and educators. The LEx Labs partnership allows us to look at the idea of a multipurpose space that can fit different types of instruction and provide the right amount of flexibility and adaptability.”

While the LEx Labs have an exciting, modern aesthetic, the LEx Labs partners are focusing beyond the “wow” factor of a glossy new space. Baylor University researchers, collaborating with Huckabee and ESC Region 12 specialists, have analyzed the space’s day-today uses to examine key questions about correlations between professional development, classroom layout, instructional design, and student engagement in learning.

“The business of instruction has been conducted in the same way for hundreds of years, and it’s becoming more and more apparent it does not work for today’s students,” Hyde said. “The current architectural infrastructure of our classrooms doesn’t appear to fit the new, evolving styles of instruction, but unbiased research is needed to show where the interface fracture appears. That’s where Baylor comes in.”

Classes & Research Begin, Summer 2015

For feedback on the LEx Labs learning space utilization, researchers use small, radio frequency identification devices (RFID). Every piece of equipment and furniture in the labs has a device, and participants and instructors wear lanyards that are tracked by sensors in the LED lighting grid. The researchers collect hard data about the furniture that is preferred by students, and which areas of the classroom are most-utilized by the students and the teacher.

“We can track the movement of people to monitor patterns and then tie that information to an individual’s learning style that may have driven decisions about the use of furniture, technology or moveable wall panels,” Ranney said. “We can also better understand connections between a person and a piece of furniture. It’s about understanding human behavior and the impact of spaces like this to increase engagement, which we hypothesize increases information retention and, in turn, increases learning.”

As an education specialist at ESC Region 12, Judy York is accustomed to providing research-based professional development for educators. But now, she has original research from the LEx Labs partnership to support changes in instruction.

“Everything we do is research-based, but this is an opportunity for ESC Region 12 to use our own data,” York said. “I think we have a chance to carry out valid research that will drive the future of K-12 education. This is an opportunity to obtain real data that supports or doesn’t support the way we use our teaching environment.”

As the main coordinator for instruction at the LEx Labs, York has seen a difference in the way she teaches sessions with educators, thanks to the flexibility of the lab’s seating.

“I now find myself considering the types of seating, desk arrangement, and even wall configuration as I plan and prepare instruction for professional development,” York said. “It’s really opened up my thinking as to how the physical space can support and even increase engagement.”

For the educators at ESC Region 12, it all comes back to the impact on student achievement. Much of the LEx Labs space will continue to be used for educator professional development, as well as a hub for driving student interest in STEM fields.

“We impact student achievement by impacting teacher effectiveness,” Maze said. “What we’ve done here is create an opportunity for teachers to receive training in a world class teaching and learning facility. Teachers come here to perfect their art and craft, and students are a part of that learning and training as well. Everyone wins.”

Matt Rogers, a science teacher in Region 12, has attended several sessions at the LEx Labs. He said he noticed a difference in the way he has been able to learn in the new space. “Like many of my students, I have trouble sitting still during longer periods of instruction,” Rogers said. “With the stations set up at the labs, we’ve gone from a quick instruction time to hands-on work and collaboration and then back together again to discuss our findings. The more movement and interaction with others in the class, the better engaged I stay. I think that will translate to students too.”

Implementing Active Learning Instruction

Active learning professional development focuses on preparing teachers to transform lesson plans from traditional teaching methods into student-centered project designs that reflect the active learning model. Bonwell (1991) notes, “in active learning, students participate in the process and students participate when they are doing something besides passively listening.”

During summer 2015 and the 2015-16 school year, a group of teachers participated in active learning instruction and practices. The teachers took a selected lesson plan and prepared it as an active learning lesson for classroom use during the school year. Their implementation was observed and compared to observations taken for the traditional method (Wang, Carmona-Reyes & Hyde, 2016). A second group of teachers are currently moving through the process, exploring modifications based on teacher feedback, such as the order of teacher exposure to content and instructional strategies that have been made (Wang, et al, 2016, October). The final goal is to determine the pathway and timeframe that best prepares teachers to move to active learning instruction.

Findings about a Flexible Classroom Environment

A basic premise of classroom design at the LEx Labs is that more classroom flexibility increases teacher mobility, which in turn makes students more attentive and increases student cognitive and behavioral engagement. According to this research, when the teacher perceives his or her environment more flexibly, multiple variables are affected. Such variables include the pedagogical approach where lesson plans become more student-centered and teachers feel empowered to address each student at a more personal level.

Classes of students from La Vega ISD

Classes of students from La Vega ISD took part in a research study on teacher mobility and student engagement.

Teacher perception of a flexible learning environment was the focus of a study with high school biology teachers in La Vega ISD (Carmona-Reyes, Wang, & Hyde, 2016). Teachers in the study used their traditional classrooms on campus and the LEx Labs to carry out lesson plans.

The researchers used logistic regression models that showed the magnitude of the correlation between classroom flexibility and student cognitive engagement. Results showed a small, but statistically significant difference between the LEx Labs highly flexible classroom and regular classroom environments for increasing student engagement.

The researchers found an unexpected correlation between teacher mobility and other variables that has not been reported in the literature, giving the collaborative an opportunity to further expand the research. As a result, further study will explore the impact that teacher professional development has on instruction.

Preliminary findings indicate that placing a teacher in a highly flexible classroom environment without professional development, leads to minimal change in student engagement. Consequently, the results point to the importance of professional development to help both teachers and students maximize potential impact within a flexible learning space (Carmona-Reyes, et al. 2016, October).

Elementary classrooms at Midway ISD

Elementary classrooms at Midway ISD are a part of a pilot study in the 2016-17 school year to explore the impact of elementary classrooms transitioning into highly flexible environments.

The LEx Labs team is conducting a pilot study in the 2016-17 school year to explore the impact of elementary classrooms transitioning into highly flexible environments (Carmona-Reyes, et al. 2017, January). Elementary educators from Midway ISD, Baylor’s School of Education and the Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics, and Engineering Research (CASPER) are leading research where traditional and highly-flexible classroom styles are compared. If the concept proves successful, the researchers hope to conduct a broader, longitudinal study of four or five years to determine if it is suitable for more general application.

Partnership Brings Challenges & Rewards

Every innovative project involving more than one party presents challenges, but with this project, came many rewards. Early on team members saw the importance of determining logistics, processes and communication that best support this type of research involving an education service center, a design firm, and a private university. Quickly finding a common vocabulary and shared expectations was a challenge among such different entities.

The original idea was for each partner to retain its individual focus while together pursuing a common purpose. On the surface, it felt like a natural pathway to follow; but, in reality, it took months of intense and thoughtful interactions between partners. The question of what the BRIC space would look like and provide for all stakeholders was a big question. Through several work sessions, dedicated teams from each partner worked together and with an external futurist–and ultimately, the design of the LEx Labs came to fruition.

The research process and questions were the next goal to work toward. Narrowing down the focus of the research while ensuring a beneficial impact to each partner was a top priority, but not easy. Once the research topics were chosen, the next step was to involve schools and for those schools to determine the value of their participation. Strong relationships between the ESC and school leaders and staff were the conduit to identify, approach, and secure research participants. In addition, Baylor University has a number of professional development partnerships with schools, one of which is participating in the latest research study.

Keeping communication active and uninterrupted by daily work priorities became an intentional focus early on to ensure that partners were on the same page with priorities so that efforts led to progress. To develop research protocols and opportunities, key staff and researchers met weekly and ultimately decided to research active-learning instruction and flexible classroom environment.

While involving students and teachers in the research requires some travel time to and from the labs, district leadership felt the opportunity for participation was a unique and impactful opportunity. For the several of the research projects, Huckabee began working with key vendors to outfit research classrooms so they mirror the LEx Labs, thus reducing the need for participants to leave their campuses.

Districts appreciate the opportunity to bring faculty or campus groups over for professional development and work sessions for employees. Some of these sessions have helped employees to think outside the box (or campus walls) when it comes to instructional practices on their traditional campuses. In addition, Huckabee regularly hosts schools from around the state and facilitates their exploration of the role that flexible environments play in student success. Baylor allows partners to use common spaces and presentation rooms in the BRIC at no fee and the ESC has hosted free community events, such as science-related activities for parents and their kids in the LEx Labs.

Through the challenges and rewards, the partnership now has as a three-tiered research protocol that is flexible enough to meet the needs of each partner. Research studies have yielded critical information that has driven the research toward the current onsite school pilot study. Next, the opportunity for a multi-year longitudinal study will investigate the effects of learning environments on student engagement in elementary classrooms. The partnership project continues to spark communication about STEM instruction and engagement amongst a broader field of stakeholders.

LEx Labs 2.0

LEx Labs is ready to enter its second phase, broadening its horizons by delving deeper into the maker culture’s impact on classrooms, libraries, collaboration, and professional development.

Maker culture combines manufacturing equipment, community, and education for the purposes of enabling members to design, prototype and create manufactured works that wouldn’t be possible to develop with the resources available to individuals working alone.

The conceptual plan includes the incorporation of new furniture into each space, which will be broken into zones including a classroom, maker space, and a library/innovation hub. Each zone supports the maker culture, allowing for ideation in the classroom, production in the makerspace, and reporting/researching in the library.

Furniture will include exchangeable surfaces, technology-based tools and writable walls. The plan calls for movable storage and workstations, stackable and collapsible furniture, a prototype teacher workstation, and exchange carts that support dynamic scheduling and a collaborative work environment for educators.

To keep the LEx Labs partnership cutting edge, Huckabee will redesign the space each year and the partnership will continue investigating what students need and why—even asking manufacturers to produce new products for testing purposes. “Years ago, we knew change was coming, but we wanted to validate the research needed to allow people to experience the space and see the impact on student engagement—for students from a wide array of backgrounds,” Chris Huckabee said. “We think the LEx Labs model is a way we can help schools retain students and keep them engaged.” Maze sees this project as both groundbreaking and central to the center’s mission.

The BRIC also houses other research departments that enhance the LEx Labs experience for teachers and students, such as Baylor’s School of Education and the Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics, and Engineering Research. Along with cutting edge research and resources, including a zero-gravity drop tower, there are museum quality scientific and technical artifact exhibits designed to spark interest in STEM among K-12 students and the community. The BRIC has a number of authentic space shuttle exhibits that are being used as part of its STEM Educational Outreach Initiative and NASA has invited the LEx Labs partners to apply for additional shuttle parts that will increase the project’s scope.

The possibilities for the LEx Labs partnership are endless. The experiences within the space have sparked change in classrooms across the state and will continue to help educators and administrators better understand the impact that flexibility, technology, and professional development have on learning. Moving forward, Baylor, in collaboration with Huckabee and ESC Region 12, is presenting the information on a national scale to obtain feedback and funding to carry out further research on the role of classroom environments on students’ and teachers’ success.

Maze hopes that this model between different industries will serve as a catalyst for innovation in education service agencies throughout the nation.

Steps Leading to Successful Partnerships

The LEx Labs journey has proven the power and impact that partnerships can have on student learning and community outreach that supports K-12 education. The LEx Lab partners suggest the following tips for creating similar high-level partnerships:

  1. Set expectations: Work with your partners to set expectations and communicate individual and shared goals up front.
  2. Be ready to learn: Spend time letting each partner talk about their backgrounds and their vision. It will pay off to better understand your partner’s history and motivation.
  3. Find commonality of purpose, but do not be afraid of differences: Great things can occur when people work on a common goal even when you have different backgrounds.
  4. Serendipitous collaboration: Innovative ideas occur all the time; do not be afraid to discuss ideas outside of formal activities.
  5. Facilitation and communication: When working as a group, consider a facilitator that can foster communication and engagement. Continue to allow open communication throughout the partnerships.

For more information on the LEx Labs collaboration, visit For more on Huckabee, visit For more on the BRIC, go to

Contact the authors:
Dr. Jerry Maze, Executive Director
Education Service Center Region 12
AESA 2016-17 President

Jennifer Marshall-Higgins, Assistant Director
Customer & Marketing Support/Quality & Planning,
Education Service Center Region 12


Carmona-Reyes, J., Wang, L., & Hyde, T. (2016). Identifying the Relationship Between Classroom Flexibility, Teacher Mobility and Student Cognitive Engagement, unpublished manuscript, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

Carmona-Reyes, J., Wang, L., York, J, Maze, J. Turner, J., Huckabee, C., & Hyde, T. (2016, October). Identifying Correlation Between Classroom Flexibility, Teacher Mobility and Student Engagement, paper presented at Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE) Southwest Regional Conference, Tyler, Texas.

Carmona-Reyes, J., Wang, L., York, J, Maze, J. Turner, J., Huckabee, C., & Hyde, T. (2017, January). Building Successful Community Collaborations to Enhance STEM Education, paper to be presented at 10th Annual Texas STEM Conference, Dallas, Texas.

Wang, L., Carmona-Reyes, J., & Hyde, T. (2016), A Multi-case Case Study of the Teacher Professional Development Experience on Project-Based Learning (PBL): Year 1, unpublished manuscript, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

Wang, L., Carmona-Reyes, J., York, J., Maze, J & Hyde, T. (2016, October). Improving Classroom Engagement in Secondary Science Classrooms: Proposing a Research Based Professional Development Model on Student Engagement, paper presented at Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE) Southwest Regional Conference, Tyler, Texas.

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