A Design Classroom

This week my CEP 811 course taught me about designing with intention. Our students sit in one classroom after another for a major portion of their day, and sometimes we forget about how that environment affects them. Experience design suggests that would should arrange the environment to foster the sort of experience we want our students to have.

So I went to look at my classroom to consider what it says about what students will experience. However, it is summer, and they had just waxed the floors, so I went to my old classroom, which is nearly identical. Here are some pictures:

As you can see, there’s a series of independent desks, all in rows, facing the front. This does not suggest an environment of student choice and collaboration. It is the same classroom set-up that has been seen in many high school classrooms for decades: teacher-oriented, factory setting, ideal for churning out obedient workers, not creative, problem-solving individuals. At least there’s a window, so the students get some exposure to daylight.

If I could design my classroom, I would choose something like this:

classroom pic 2

As you can see, the room is full of desks moved into groups. One of the things that struck me from the 79 Ways you can use Design to Transform Teaching + Learning was #23: “Make classrooms agile”. In order for students to collaborate and become thinking problem solvers, they need to be able to work together. I wanted desks that would allow for flexible grouping. The green desks are Interchange Diamond Desks, which allow for a variety of groups sizes. I have chosen to place them in groups of three, but you could easily rearrange them to be groups of 2-6. This also allows me to separate the desks for things like state testing. The white desks in the back are standing desks. These are for my students who need a break from the confinement of the desks, or who simply do not fit well in the typical high school desk, or students who may just want a change of pace. I was considering the Third Teacher’s #20: Make peace with fidgeting, and #29 free choice as I added these.

classroom pic 1

Another thing I added to my classroom, is the chromebook cart next to the brown teacher desk tucked by the storage cabinets. I want to be able to use technology, but I don’t want it to be everything. I find chromebooks a great fit for easily implementing great mathematics sites like Desmos, and keeping access available to students through the Google Education suite. However, they are also easily put away, if we are doing other hands-on activities.

I also have white boards on 3 of the 4 walls. These white boards would be surfaces for the students to work on in groups as they work through certain problem strings. This would let me easily keep an eye on how they are progressing in their thinking, while still being able to tend to the needs of each group.

I think this classroom is not an unreasonable set-up, but it would require quite a bit of expenditure. The diamond desks cost approximately $215 according to School Specialty, and do not include the chair. The standing desks are about $150. This means refitting my room for 30-32 students would take approximately $6,500, still not including chairs. I could probably find some grant money for it, but I would need to make sure I have the buy-in of my administration before rearranging my classroom so drastically. This is a change that would be pretty comprehensive and disruptive, so it would need to happen over the summer. The chromecart would be another question entirely, but I already have requests in for one for my room, or at least one to share.

Schools can be slow to move on new ideas, but I think this classroom redesign could go a long way toward the results we would like to have for our students. Perhaps these changes could come around sooner than we think.


Ch 2: Minds at Work. In O’Donnel, Wicklund, Peterson, Pigozzi & Mau. (Authors), The Third Teacher: 79 Ways You can use Design to Transform Teaching and Learning. Abrams.(2010)