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Pulling Classrooms Out of the 19th Century: It's Time

There’s no shortage of talk about innovation in schools.

But for all the promise of new technology, innovative teaching methods, and professional training, schools often overlook the place most in need of change: the classroom.

Replace a few electronic white boards with old-school chalkboards and some wooden desks, and the classrooms of today don’t look all that different from the classrooms of 50 years ago.

That’s a problem. Especially when we consider how student engagement and behavior has changed since the turn of the century.

Some contend that today’s classrooms would work a whole lot better if they were less 19th-century schoolhouse, more 21st-century coffee shop.

New classrooms, new choices
Elementary teacher and education consultant Kayla Delzer is a leading voice in the movement to redesign the classroom.

While visiting a local Starbucks, Delzer had an epiphany: She decided that classrooms should be less rigid, more inviting, and more fun.

“How can we expect our students to solve problems and make choices independently if we constantly solve their problems and make choices for them?” she writes in Edutopia. “Our classroom environments should be conducive to open collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. This simply cannot be done when kids are sitting in rows of desks all day.”

Over a recent summer break, Delzer scrapped many of the traditional desks in her classroom and replaced them with bean bag chairs, stability balls, tables, even yoga mats. For more on her experiment, check out her post in EdSurge.

Rather than assign seats in her classroom, Delzer allows students to pick their spots for the day and change those spots based on the work they are doing—empowering them to make their own choices about how they like to learn.

The result? Students are more engaged, she says, and more willing to participate in group activities. Delzer says she sees little of the distracting behaviors she saw when students were forced to sit in traditional rows.

The case for change
Like any new approach, classroom shake-ups will meet with resistance.

A practical question administrators often ask about classroom redesign is “How much will it cost?” Fortunately, says Delzer, most overhauls can be done on the cheap. Clever redesigns leverage everyday items either underused in schools or that staff and students bring from home. In that respect, the DIY approach often makes a major upfront investment unnecessary, Delzer says.

Research shows that well-“redesigned” classrooms can have a positive impact on student health, including:

  • Burning more calories
  • Expelling excess energy
  • Increasing metabolism
  • Improving posture
  • Increasing oxygen flow to the brain
  • Better student engagement

Experts say including students in the redesign process drives student collaboration, imagination, and engagement. It also helps ensure that students have a voice in how they learn best.

If you’re thinking about redesigning classrooms in your school district this summer, make sure students and their parents are actively involved in those conversations.

Have you considered giving your classrooms a makeover this year? What steps have you taken to include input from parents and students in that process? Tell us in the comments.

Want to kick off your next classroom redesign right? Before you order up bean bags for every student in your class, conduct a survey to ask teachers and students if it’s what they want.