Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Classroom Design?

VMDO Architects' Design Diagram

A few dollars became available for classroom furniture recently.  During my tenure, furniture has not been a consideration.  Typically teachers brought in interesting tables, chairs and other objects from yard sales.  Sadly, those "yard sale" pieces were often removed by fire officials since they didn't meet the fire codes.  We also waited for a teacher with a desired piece of furniture to retire so we could inherit a treasured piece. That was the case for me when it came to a paper drawer.  I always wanted one, and finally inherited one about ten years into my teaching career.

Now with a few dollars available to replace broken chairs, old desks and needed tables, I'm wondering what's the best decision to make with regard to that money.  Do we simply replace what we've been using for decades, or do we think deeply about creating learning environments that match our 21st century learning goals and practices?  Tom Whitby has written about this many times and prompted this post.

As you may guess, I want to rethink the classroom environment, and make sure that our purchases support our learning priorities: literacy, numeracy, project base learning in content areas, multi-modal instruction, and 21st century skills: creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills.  A materials short list might include the following:
  • Comfortable seating for reading, writing and thinking work.
  • Collaborative spaces for small book groups, RTI, and project teams.
  • Whole class meeting area for shared books, discussions, meetings and audio/video shares.
  • Classroom libraries with book shelves for hard copies and storage spaces for digital equipment: iPods, laptops, iPads, earphone, and more.
  • Bulletin boards and white boards for display and collaborative work.
  • Large screen computer(s) and/or white board(s) for presentation.
  • Paper drawers for posters, paper and project materials.
  • Storage cabinets and containers for hands-on learning materials.
As I think aloud, I hope that our school will move towards greater RTI: targeted instruction in small, focused groups throughout the day in all subject areas.  That means our large one-size-fits-all spaces will become spaces that accommodate many learning groups and teachers at once while still leaving areas for larger group presentations and shares.  
People Pads

A dedicated colleague wrote a grant to fund a number of these
Hoki stools for our school. The students really like sitting on these
wonderful stools.

Last night, I spent a long time searching the web for interesting classroom furniture and objects.  The images posted here intrigue me.

As I continue my exploration of learning design, I realize that the learning environments we create impact what we do. What furniture, material and set-up do you feel are critical for teaching in the 21st century?  What traditional pieces are essential and what new equipment is needed?  How would you spend your replacement dollars?  Please let me know as I continue this investigation.

At The Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia I was struck by their use of what looked to be sturdy, easily moveable tables.  I found one source for "husky tables and desks" that looked interesting:

Many of the objects above come from VS Furniture.

Take a look at how students weighed in on this topic: Classroom Design: Children Speak


    1. Hi Maureen - great thoughts! I love the images you posted, not only in terms of ergonomics, but also in regards to 21st Century teaching and learning. One thought I have is creating work areas that offer students the opportunity to stand. Students sit for such lengthy amounts of time and we all know how strong the mind/body connection is (just check out the book, "Spark" at:

      Movement feeds the brain! I'm going to do some research on furniture which provides a standing work area, and will keep you posted. I've heard it's quite expensive, and have a personal interest in designing/creating it in our own home workshop - yes, seriously! Also, my HS daughter who received her GS Silver Award is looking into going for her Gold Award via a lengthy community based project. This project is one of the possibilities on her list. I'll keep you posted.
      Thx for the discussion, Carolyn

    2. Maureen- thank you for the research and time. I spend a lot of energy and effort each year figuring out my classroom spaces. I still collect chairs, tables, bookcases- from the 'as is' room at ikea, yard sales, hand me downs.. and even at my own expense from Lakeshore and the container store.

      I try so hard to have all of those kinds of spaces. Independent work spaces, collaborative spaces, a place to have long term work-in-progress projects, art spaces and science spaces and a group gathering space. And every year I have to change it- never yet fully satisfied after 18 years in first grade, I am still searching for better ways to use my space and furniture.

    3. Hi Carolyn and Deede, Thanks for responding. You are both so keenly aware of how the learning environment effects optimal learning. I hope you'll continue to share your research and efforts with me. Do you think that any of the posted images would be good purchases for our school's learning environment next year? I'm also adding another image that Maureen T. sent me last night--the "standing" desk. Let's keep the conversation going.

    4. I love your ideas and your energy! I would love to see at least some cozy reading corners. We tried to create those spaces at BASE, but between the fire code, lice and now the cafe we have not been able to maintain that comfy space. I hope you get the chance to create your space!

    5. Thanks for commenting Kathy. I hope to work with the fire department before ordering.

      1. For standing, I had a friend build a few simple desk-top podiums. Children who choose may use those for standing during work or lesson times. -Carol

    6. Thanks for the tip, Ms. Van Deelen. At Educon, archtects presented and suggested that some of the furniture that works best for children can be easily created by carpenters. I like your idea. I just posted another write-up about design:
      Thanks for joining the conversation. - Maureen

    7. I teach at a rural school in Idaho, We don't have money for construction paper, let alone new furniture. Our pay is being cut every year through furlough days, so I can't buy as many out of pocket items for my class.

      It's nice to know that someone somewhere can afford this fatastic furniture.

    8. Hi A, Actually we don't have any of the furniture above, and we were short on chairs that's what led me to this research. This is a kind of wish list I've created. However, I did go to a talk last week about school design and the architects showed schools that do have some of this furniture. Some of this furniture represents European design. Also, the architects mentioned that many of the archetypal designs can be created by carpenters and others for much less money. I'm not a carpenter, so I couldn't comment on the validity of that idea.

    9. I've just been given this challenge. A school focus group is trying to make a "model" classroom. Money is not an issue (how often do you hear THAT???). I've started a Pinterest wall of options. I'm having trouble finding a range of options. What did you finally go with? Can you add to my boards?

      Janet |

    10. What an awesome challenge, Janet. Where will this ideal classroom be? Let me think about this.


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