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New Classroom Design Trends Fostering Engaged Students

A standing desk or a bean bag chair in a room might have been considered absurd in decades past. Today, some schools are beginning to experiment with their classroom designs and the results may surprise you. These new classroom designs have a positive effect on student engagement and comfort in the classroom.

Getting students at the elementary grade levels to stay on task is a difficult one for many teachers. However, some educators have chosen to experiment with the design of their classroom and it could be one of the keys to help diminish the daunting task of keeping students stimulated and engaged. 

Shayna Hicks, a second-grade teacher at Mountain View Elementary school is Corvallis, Oregon experimented with her classroom design, filling it with comfy chairs and a coffee table, according to the Gazette-Times. Reporter Anthony Rimel observed her class and found that her students were on task most of the time and some were clearly ahead on their assigned work. However, it isn't just the classroom design that drives Hicks' classroom. Students are allowed to change their location/seats throughout the day.

The students will move from their seating to swivel stools and exercise balls. These are both tools that will keep her students moving while completing their tasks. Her basis for this experiment is a 2006 Journal of the American College Sports Medicine study, which found that students who were given the chance to exercise for 10 minutes once a day, were more on task following the exercise. Hicks also believes in giving her students the power of choice.

"My environment is conducive to learning because they have choices … when you give kids choices, they learn more. When they move around, they learn more," said Hicks.

A similar classroom setup is being used at Scullen Middle School in Illinois. Like Mountain View Elementary, the purpose of the unorthodox classroom designs is to encourage mobility with the hopes of improving student engagement. Scullen educators interviewed by the Daily Herald said that giving students "[t]hese freedoms make learning more personal and less structured, in a way that leads to increased participation."

Students at the school have been receptive to the choice-centered classroom layouts. "It's actually really comfortable," seventh-grader Gaurika Suresh said, according to the Daily Herald. "It helps me think better now that I have a comfortable place to sit in."

Meanwhile, back at Mountain Valley another type of classroom design is being studied. Researchers at Western Oregon University have replaced traditional school desks in Mary Lynn Roush's fifth-grade classroom with standing desks in order to determine whether the physical act of standing increases students' attention span and engagement, reports the Gazette-Times. Alicia Wenzel, one of the researchers of the study, argues that "gradual increases in education standards and curriculum requirements over time have created classrooms where students are expected to be more focused"; consequently, it is important to examine whether "changing the physical environment of the classroom helps kids meet these demands."

Interestingly enough, an infographic released by CDW-G and Ergotron claims that "after switching to standing desks, 12 percent of students experience higher engagement," according to EdTech Magazine.

The endgame for these classroom design experiments is to create an environment conducive to learning. This clearly starts with something many may not have considered in the past, increasing students' comfort and/or activity level may be the key to increasing their engagement. 


Article by Navindra Persaud, Education World Contributor



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