Extreme Classroom Makeover

The Focus of Education is Changing and so Should Our Learning Spaces

As technology advances and we integrate more with the changing world, we need people who are responsible digital citizens. We need to teach our students in new and creative ways that allow them to develop as a creative person, not as a carbon copy factory worker that was the ideal during the industrial revolution (Bransford, et al., 2000).

In order to teach and develop creativity, innovation, and collaboration, we’re going to have to ditch the norm of…

“…self-contained classrooms that require teachers to instruct from front-teaching walls and students to sit in fixed chairs and desks in neat rows.” (Le, 2010)

Thankfully, there are those out there researching and implementing a variety of alternatives. In this post, I’m going to borrow from some of them to create the ideal learning space for my own students and situation.

Creating a Classroom for the 21st Century

Before I could get to work creating my ideal classroom, I needed to use the design thinking process from Stanford school to guide my thoughts. I asked one major question from each part of the process, answered it, and moved on to the next question. 

Empathize: How does the room currently impact the teaching and learning context?

My first thought was that although my room is large, it really doesn’t lend itself well to student movement or fidgeting. The desks and chairs are solid and stationary. I KNOW how hard it can be to sit still for even 10 minutes, let alone the hour that I have them for. Because they cannot move, they have a harder time collaborating and creating, which is one of their natural instincts as a child (O’Donnell, et al., 2010).

Define: What are the limitations or constraints of the current space?

My room currently is absolutely huge. My colleagues like to talk about how it is the ‘nicest room in the district.’ However, the main constraint is that I share it with another teacher. I am in there every other day, and she is in there on the days that I am not. So, in order to implement this design I would have to collaborate with her and make sure that nothing is off-the-wall crazy.

Students face each other, and not the whiteboard, in their main learning area. Swivel chairs absorb student movement and can be rolled around the room.

Ideate: How can the space better reflect 21st century ideas about learning?

To reflect the things I’ve been learning about how the 21st century is changing education, I focused on three main aspects to include in my dream room.

  1. Sound-absorbent materials – My room has four distinct sections with no real dividers in place, so using sound-absorbent pads would allow me to focus on teaching, not repeating (Mau, et al., 2010).
  2. Student work display area – I am PROUD of my students and want them to know it, so having a space to display various samples of student work was a must. It would also help my students track their progress in a visible way and reward creativity (Mau, et al., 2010).
  3. Collaboration areas – Learning a language, at least the way I teach it, is all about communication. Sometimes with a partner, sometimes with a group, but almost never alone. So my dream room had to have many different collaboration areas, including where they spend the majority of their time – the interactive whiteboard/projector area.
A shared library/student work display area provides a more comfortable place for collaboration. Acoustic panels in the corner help keep things quiet in the large room.

Prototype: Why did I make the design decisions that are present in the new space?

I wanted moveable desks or tables, but my students are 5th and 6th graders and they move and fidget ALL the time. The standard desks we have now end up 2 feet from their starting position, and they are practically velcroed to the floor with tennis balls. I was afraid if I included tables that moved on wheels, it would end up like that game you played in gym class where you scoot around on the floor as if you were in a shipwreck. No, thank you.

Instead, I included swivel chairs with bending backs to absorb instead of restrict their movements, which will increase their ability to concentrate (Mau, et al., 2010). My table groups are stationary, but because the room is so large, they can easily move their chairs to other groupings and collaboration stations around the room.

A technology center, collaboration café, and whiteboard tables allow students space to plan, research, and come together to speak French.

Test: How will I know if the space meets the needs of my students?

If I could build this space, I would spend a lot of my time designing lessons that allow my students maximum collaboration and creation in their new environment. With the focus now on the students, instead of me, I would have time to more closely observe how they work and collaborate in the new space.

I love and care about my students more than anything. This new space allows me to tell them without words that their learning and their growth is the most important thing. To me, that is the real beauty of human- and student-centered design.



Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Retrieved from https://www.nap.edu/catalog/9853/how-people-learn-brain-mind-experience-and-school-expanded-edition

Le, T. (2010, May 4). Redesigning Education: Why Can’t We Be in Kindergarten for Life? Retrieved from https://www.fastcodesign.com/1637619/redesigning-education-why-cant-we-be-in-kindergarten-for-life

Mau, B., O’Donnell, Wicklund, Pigozzi, & Peterson. (2010). 79 Flashcards. New York: Abrams. Retrieved from https://mrsmadameblog.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/f6362-tttideasflashcards.pdf

O’Donnell, Wicklund, Pigozzi, and Peterson, Architects Inc., VS Furniture., & Bruce Mau Design. (2010). The third teacher: 79 ways you can use design to transform teaching & learning. New York: Abrams.

All images belong to Kate Wojtas.


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