Sol Harris Day Architecture

Furnishing your Classrooms for the Future: Part 1, The ‘Want List’

Thursday, February 28, 2019
By Yvette Zingery, Partner - Interior Design Leader
In Design, Planning

Furnishing your Classrooms for the Future: Part 1, The ‘Want List’

The term “school furniture,” for many of us, conjures an image of our childhood spent sitting at desks in perfect rows facing a chalkboard. Every classroom looked the same; every student sat at a square desk connected to a hard plastic chair. If you’re like me you might recall spending hours staring out the window or at the back of the head of the person in front of you, leaning from side to side occasionally so you could see the chalkboard. It’s no wonder students were antsy after a full day; there was certainly room for improvement.

Over the last decade, the prevalence of student-centered learning, project-based learning, and their affiliated pedagogies have ushered in a new set of priorities for the classroom. The focus of furniture selection has turned to how best to meet the educational needs of the student. Sitting at the same desk, in the same chair, in the same position all day, can’t possibly spark “excitement” or “creativity” in children, or adults for that matter. The role of furniture selection is a crucial element in creating student-centered environments.

Furnishing your Classrooms for the Future: Part 1, The ‘Want List’

So what does the new high-performance learning environment look like? These modern classrooms function much differently – students can be seen working independently or in groups, sitting in a variety of types of furniture, and changing locations a number of times throughout a typical day. A buzz word for furniture selection for the new classroom is 'movement' which is meaningful in two ways: 1) movement as in reconfiguration of the classroom (i.e. flexibility), and also 2) movement by the individual student (i.e. healthy ergonomics). Having the ability and freedom to move around in one’s seat has been found to improve attention and engagement, and even allow for better concentration.

Coinciding with movement is choice, as in, giving the students a choice in how they learn – and where they sit. Many districts are creating classroom environments that mix up the types of seating available within a single classroom – group tables, standing-height desks, and even lounge seating are common. Just as not all children learn the same way, not all children choose the same postures either. Some want to stand, some are constantly moving (the equivalent of “fidgeting”), and some want to sit on the floor. And in the new classroom, all of those activities are perfectly acceptable, and quite frankly, encouraged.

Furnishing your Classrooms for the Future: Part 1, The ‘Want List’

Topping the “want list” by most districts when it comes to furniture is the ability to reconfigure the classroom, based on the activity. With technology and devices at the ready, the time spent in class is expended differently than in years past. Particularly in the high school years, no longer is the majority of class time devoted to teacher lecture. Students may be expected to come prepared to class, leaving class time for valuable interaction with peers, group work, and collaboration. So the question becomes, is the furniture supporting those tasks? Can it be reconfigured quickly and easily, based on the activity? Is furniture light-weight enough for a student to move around themselves?

Furnishing your Classrooms for the Future: Part 1, The ‘Want List’

Furniture must accomplish a lot of things: not only provide comfort for children and young adults all day, but also support ever-changing technology needs. Whether students are toting their own devices or a school-provided laptop or tablet, the need for power and support of these devices continues to grow. Access to power, as important as it remains, still continues to be a challenge. Not only are older classrooms not equipped properly, but even newer schools must weigh the practicality of having multiple cut-outs in the floors, versus keeping power along the walls. Newer furniture options support these needs with the ability to integrate power and/or USB for device charging. Manufacturers are also recognizing this need with options to make power more accessible, not only through the furniture, but through creative means to distribute power under the carpet.

Furnishing your Classrooms for the Future: Part 1, The ‘Want List’

So we’ve established that furniture has to be flexible, mobile, and of course comfortable….all while maintaining a long lifecycle, which in the school world usually means 20 years or sometimes [much] longer. So how does all this new furniture hold up under the abuse of the school environment? And how much does it all cost? Next time we’ll tackle these issues and more.

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