Flexible Seating – Classroom Design

We all have a place we call “home.” Whether it is a small house in the country, a penthouse overlooking the busy streets of a city, or a bungalow on the ocean, “home” is a place of safety and comfort.

(WHY) Does the space really impact the context for teaching and learning?

The answer is yes! A classroom should be no different than “home.” Students should walk into their classroom and feel safe, and comfortable in order to learn. Therefore, the classroom environment is an important aspect for student’s progress over the course of an academic year.

At my school, fourth graders have individual student desks. (The type where the surface lifts up and students can store their belongings inside.) These are very clunky, and organization is a struggle for many students. I am a strong believer in collaborative learning and discussions, but this type of desk makes it very difficult to maneuver around the room because they take up so much space.

(WHAT IF) How can the space better reflect my emphasis on teamwork and going north?

The Third Teacher+ group has studied classroom design and claims, “We must give children spaces and lessons that foster lifelong creativity, that teach them to take calculated risks, to innovate and experiment,” (Mau, B., O’Donnell, Wicklund, Pigozzi, & Peterson, 2010). One way I intend to push my student’s level of creativity is to redesign the learning space.

This fall, the desks will be removed and I will be using tables. I hope this will make the space more comfortable and allow for more discourse throughout the school day. Additionally, I intend to have supplies organized and accessible for the community. Instead of individual desks overflowing with papers/folders/snacks etc. the supplies will be accessible for all students to share. I think this will further emphasize the importance of being a team, because everyone will need to take care of the supplies and hold one another accountable for organization.

As for me, I have never had a teacher desk. There was one in my classroom this year, but I never used it. I think it is important that I am experiencing the same classroom environment as my students. “Good lessons need exquisite design – so that teachers can stretch students in their dominant and preferred learning styles, and also their non-dominant styles.” (Mau, B., O’Donnell, Wicklund, Pigozzi, & Peterson, 2010).  With an open flow to the classroom, I will be able to better facilitate and listen to student’s conversation and thinking.

A study about classroom design was completed by the University of Salford School of the Built Environment, in Manchester, England. They assessed classroom design about six parameters—color, choice, complexity, flexibility, connection, and light— all of which had a significant effect on learning (Venhemert, 2013).

(HOW) Prototype of my classroom design and vision

I have decided to challenge myself, and come up with a design that highlights each of these parameters in a unique way. I spent several hours (yes hours of practice) completing the tutorials of su_logo_color before coming up with this design, because it reminded me so much of SIMS. (Which was my favorite computer game back in the day.)

Once I started the challenging task of redesigning my classroom, I stayed true to a time limit of 2 hours. Here is what I came up with:

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Here are some of the key ideas I would like to highlight from my design:

  • Color/Complexity – I would love to be able to paint my classroom walls, but as of right now they are a light beige color. I have three bulletin boards, two in the front and one in the back (only this one is pictured on my SketchUp). The bulletin boards are a source of complexity for students, because they are used by the students. I try my best to make the boards interactive in order to keep students engaged. This year I am working on a blue and green theme, for a calm environment.
  • Choice – students will have choice in where they sit. There will be various options available when it comes to seating. With the help of our school’s janitorial staff, I was able to have my desks removed and tables brought into my class. The tall DIY rolling cart I made will be a moveable space that students can stand or sit on barstools at. I have several bean bags and pillows that can be used on the floor, and there are always clipboards available if that is their choice for seating. I created bench seating in the book nook, which may be my next DIY project!
  • Flexibility/Connection – because of the design, students will be able to work collaboratively more often. Rather than moving the clunky desks for small group work, students will have ample space to work with one another.
  • Light – in addition to the four big windows on the wall in my room, I have lamps around the classroom and counter lights behind the sink. I usually keep one of the light switches off when I teach. The mood is much calmer as students enter a naturally lit room (or more naturally), than the blaring fluorescent lights.

Thinking about the classroom environment, and its impact on student’s success makes me very excited for the coming school year. Now that I realize how much the physical surroundings mean, I am going to be more aware of what works well for my students.

What ideas do you have that has worked well in your room? Please share or comment below…this whole flexible seating idea is new to me, but I can’t wait to get back in my room to set it up!


Mau, B., O’Donnell, Wicklund, Pigozzi, & Peterson. (2010). The third teacher: 79 ways you can use design to transform teaching & learning. New York: Abrams.

VanHemert, K. (2013, January 18). Study Shows How Classroom Design Affects Student Learning. Retrieved July 19, 2016, fromhttp://www.fastcodesign.com/1671627/study-shows-how-classroom-design-affects-student-learning




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