Students need classrooms that inspire them

Students need to be in classrooms that inspire them—spaces that are light, airy, and filled with examples of work that they aspire to do. Each school will have a variety of spacious classroom settings. Some will be more traditional in the way that we envision classrooms now, but others might be set up outside or within an atrium or amphitheater. There might be desks, cushions, or benches arranged in rows or circles—however the teachers want them, as not every classroom will follow a template. Each classroom will be set up based on what is necessary to meet learning objectives. But schools will prioritize configuring classes to inspire learning first and foremost, and, where appropriate, reflect the diversity of environments that students are exposed to outside a school setting. Students will have beautiful spaces that make them feel good to be at school—with art, living plants, music where appropriate, comfortable seating, and fast internet access.” [Bold added]

Rita Pin Ahrens, the director of education policy for the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, in an article on The Atlantic, “Reimagining the Modern Classroom

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Deaf Space

Some interesting design considerations for design of spaces that can not only provide a better environment for the deaf, but possibly a better environment for all.

Open High School Design

By Runner1928 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
A quick link to an interesting article on Fast Company’s Co.Design blog on a high school in Alexandria, Minnesota, which redesigned its infrastructure and interior with Google’s iconic complex in mind.

The new space is bright, open, social, and reconfigurable. It’s made up of six smaller, acoustically separate environments, which connect through an open area called the Community Commons, a combination cafeteria, theater, and social space. Everything is open, right down to walls made out of glass, while all of the furniture is designed to be easy to move around and reconfigure.

This idea of configurability, as well as providing a mixture of different types of spaces, is something we’ve discussed here before.

On the architect firm’s website describing the project, the Cuningham Group, the vision of the school as a community is also brought to the fore:

The design was conceived as a village of learning communities that share an open light filled community commons, the heart and soul of the village. This ‘village’ includes both an Activity Center complete with a Fitness Center that will be open to the public; and a Performing Arts Center featuring a 1,000-seat theater designed in collaboration with several community arts groups.

The firm also made a video which provides a view of exterior and interior spaces of the school. What can be seen is that most spaces are well-lit with natural light from large windows, and provide many sight-lines between spaces for safety and transparency.

Chairs

There’s a motif that strangely kept recurring in my Twitter and news feeds a while ago: chairs.
Many of these links were, of course, business related, as productivity mavens recognize that how one sits and what one sits upon have an effect upon how one works.
Mashable finally ran an article that focused on classrooms. After all, it is children who spend hours every year sitting in poorly designed chairs that could be rightfully claimed to be the polar opposite of “ergonomic.”
This concern for the quality of seating is strongly linked to a perspective of a school as an ecosystem. When we think about the impact of the learning environment on student achievement, what could be more fundamental then the manner in which students sit?
Such concern goes beyond simple ergonomics. Pedagogy hinges on how students are seated. Some seating enables flexible grouping. Some seating is bolted down in rows. At Exeter, a special round table known as the Harkness Table is used, reflecting their commitment to discussion based pedagogy.

Safety is another concern. Students who experience crisis will grab anything in their vicinity that can be used to express their frustration, which typically involves throwing chairs. I’ve even had a student try to throw a desk at me (it was a bit too overladen with workbooks to go very far). Hence why some schools still feature the seemingly medieval feature of bolted down desks.

So what is the ideal seating for a student? Both ergonomics and safety should be the primary considerations. But whatever designers come up with, the next concern is, of course, the pricing. As Megan Garber notes in her Mashable article:

Ray [the name of the chair mentioned in the article], in its simple, plastic, IKEA-esque glory, is currently gaining traction where you’d expect it to: Scandinavia. And also Germany. And also the U.K., where Dennehy’s company, Perch, offers a mid-range version of the chair that’s cheaper than the original. 

So could Ray make its way into U.S. classrooms? It’s hard to see already cash-strapped administrators making the investment — though with the new emphasis on making schools healthier places for kids, the idea of ergonomic classrooms could gain more traction now than it might have a few years ago.

Ah yes. Of course, when we get to the US, pricing becomes THE primary concern.

What sort of seating do you believe public schools should offer our children?