Sunday, July 01, 2018

Creative classroom configurations

Take a look at any kindergarten or grade one classroom. There are areas for whole class assembly, quiet reading corners, tables for small groups of students to use for collaborative activities, and carrels for students who need a place to think, write, or record.

I believe all classrooms should have these same components. Besides the research that this type of flexible environment can help promote creativity, many of the office environments of major corporations are also utilizing these varied types of spaces, and our students need to get used to working in them!


If you need research to support your ideas for a flexible classroom, Melina Uncapher offers insight into the impact noise, light, classroom arrangement,  temperature, and other environmental factors have on student learning and cognition. I found it interesting that changing the lighting in your classroom to blue-light can help students at school but can hinder sleep at home before bed. We often change high school schedules so the students can get more sleep, but perhaps limiting the activities that involve blue-light late in the day, like computer use and texting, could help, too.
Carmen Richardson, an ITS at the Kamehameha Schools in Hawaii, and Punya Mishra, a dean of the Teacher’s College at Arizona State, developed an instrument for identifying if a classroom environment is conducive to creativity. ISTE’s Empowered Learner publication outlined the components.

First, a physical environment is necessary that offers flexible work areas for students and a multitude of resources, like this 2nd grade classroom of Alisha Knapp, a teacher in Dunlap CUSD 323 in Peoria County, IL

Secondly, a classroom that is conducive to creativity is one that is messy and noisy, has students actively participating in discussions, allows for collaboration, and is one in which different points of view are valued.
The authors’ final component of a classroom conducive to creativity is having engaged students who:
  • Work at their own pace on open-ended, authentic tasks
  • Seek many viewpoints and use different modes of investigation
  • Take risks and reflect on their learning
  • Have the time to think creatively and develop their ideas
The USC Rossier School of Education created an infographic  to showcase research into many aspects of classroom design and atmosphere that can “set students up for success”.


Many years ago (circa 2004), in a presentation, I included a classroom set-up I created to showcase the type of classroom that I felt was needed to take advantage of the infusion of technology into the classroom. Everything was moveable and offered large group, small group, and collaborative spaces.
Since then, many creative teachers have published ideas online that deal with classroom set-up. Some are specifically designed for project-based learning, STEM, collaboration, and creating. However, with the right type of furniture and layout, a classroom can turn into a place where any and all effective types of teaching and learning can take place. Here is a great illustrated article from the Bored Teachers Blog with ideas for flexible classroom set-up!
Chris Johnson wrote an article for Edutopia in which he answered many of the questions teachers might have when considering a flexible space.  The topics covered include:
  • How to handle state testing in a flexible classroom
  • How to implement it in a small classroom with many students
  • How to convince your school administration to do it
  • How to pay for the furniture
  • How to keep the furniture clean and free of “pests”
  • How to make sure you are adhering to local fire regulations
The ISTE Learning Spaces blog includes practical and useful posts to help you implement the move to a flexible and configurable classroom. Some recent posts include:
Some tips for designing a useful and functional makerspace are offered by Alex Baddock in this article. His ideas include:
  • Make sure to have both a clean and dirty space, but keep them separate.
  • Don’t forget to calculate the electrical load of all equipment planned for the space
  • Build in as much storage as possible
  • Try to purchase furniture that is mobile to be able to change the configuration of the room
Diana Rendina journals the process of the development of a makerspace in a school library over a multi-year time period, and created this video overview about the transformation.
The Sassy, Saavy, Simple Teaching blog showcases how another teacher implemented flexible seating in her classroom. There are plenty of ideas and photos. And this article from Smith System, which provides a more in-depth overview from this  same teacher, includes additional information which may be helpful as you begin to think about creating a flexible classroom.  For example, she includes a list of questions you should be prepared to answer from parents. These are:
  • What are the benefits of flexible seating?
  • How do you select the types of seating and the overall arrangement?
  • How do kids get to decide their spot?
  • How often will they rotate among choices?
  • How do you keep kids focused if they’re not sitting uniformly?
  • How will this arrangement work with testing?
  • Will you keep any traditional desks and chairs?
  • What happens if my child can’t handle the nontraditional set-up?


Have you implemented a custom configuration or flexible seating in your classroom? Let us know on Twitter how you did it, the cool DIY items you included to save costs, and anything else you want to share! #kathyschrock