Does the look of a classroom really matter?
The learning spaces in our classrooms have a large impact on student learning. In fact, according to Barrett, Zhang, Moffat, and Kobbacy, “…classroom design could be attributed to a 25% impact, positive or negative, on a student’s progress over the course of an academic year”. As educators, we need to take the design of our classroom seriously and think about what will be the best structure for our students.
The six most important factors that should be taken into account are color, choice, complexity, flexibility, connection, and light (2013). When I was moving through my process of redesign, I was constantly thinking back to these six elements.
Before jumping right into the creation of my new classroom, I had to stop and think. I used the Stanford D School’s Design Thinking Process to help me understand the improvements that I wanted to make. In addition to using these five steps, I followed the Why, What If, and How questioning framework of Warren Berger (2014) to effectively come up with the best design I could.
WHY? Why redesign?
Empathize: The classroom where I co-teach Geometry is outdated. The desks are connected to the chairs and sit in rows of partnerships. The room has a few windows, carpet, and plain brown brick walls. As I redesign I need to consider the needs of my co-teacher, my Geometry students, Algebra II students, and myself.
Define: My current limitations are the desks. They can move around the room, but are difficult to form groups and change seating arrangements. How can I foster collaboration and encourage creativity in this environment?
Ideate: What if I…
- Got rid of bookshelves?
- Had stackable chairs on wheels?
- Added more whiteboards?
- Had different tables?
The focus of my ideas centered on the flexibility of the classroom furniture. With my current resources, it is hard to foster different group activities. Flexibility is one of the six elements to consider when designing a learning space (2013). My thought was that mobile chairs would allow for new seating arrangements and groups. In addition, these chairs will encourage “forced collisions” (Kahl, 2011) between students. Just as Pixar has seen in their company, these spontaneous meetings may spark great ideas or new understanding that would not have occurred in the old classroom setting.
I also wanted to open up the space and place the focus more on the students. Students have the chance to share their learning on the multiple whiteboards. The whiteboards will also help foster questioning processes (Berger) and the maker movement. Students will be able to be creative and collaborate more in this new environment.
HOW? How can I do this?
Prototype: I used Google SketchUp and an imaginary unlimited budget to transform my current classroom.
I chose to build off of my ideate stage and open up my classroom. I replaced the old furniture with stackable chairs on wheels, hexagonal tables, and tall tables. The variety of seating is great for students with special needs that need to move around or stand to complete their work.
I included more whiteboards and thin carpet so the chairs can move easily. Students can spin around in their chairs for class notes or a lesson shown on the Elmo. As Barrett, Zhang, Moffat, and Kobbacy suggest (2013), I chose to use warm colors on my walls.
Test: Even though I have spent a lot of time designing this new room and believe that students will be successful learners here, there may be a better design. I would start by making small changes and allowing students to have a choice of different chairs. They could test different options to see where they feel most comfortable and most productive. After that, we can make more large scale changes to the room.
It would cost a lot of money to make all of these improvements. Regardless, I still need to consider these ideas at the beginning of the school year. I can make changes to support my ideas of learning and move away from the traditional rows. Flexibility is the key! I want my students to collaborate and be creative.
If you are thinking of redesigning your classroom, remember that many factors impact your design. Please comment below with some of your ideas!
Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Moffat, J., & Kobbacy, K. (2013). A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on on pupils’ learning. Building and Environment, 59, 678-689. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2012.09.016
Berger, W. (2014). A More Beautiful Question. New York: Bloomsbury.
Kahl, M. (2011, November 22). What Schools Can Learn From Google, IDEO, and Pixar. Retrieved July 17, 2016, from http://www.creativitypost.com/education/what_schools_can_learn_from_google_ideo_and_pixar