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What Does Modern Learning Look Like?

Lauren Gilchrist
Lauren Gilchrist - Ready for My HGTV Debut

It’s where children and young adults spend more than 15,000 hours of their most formative years. It’s where they learn to read, write, and calculate, where they uncover their history and invent their dreams. It’s where their lifelong foundations are laid.
Needless to say, the classroom plays an integral role in a child’s development. Does your classroom do enough to encourage creativity and development? Or does it unintentionally hamper the desire to learn?
If you think your classroom might be in need of a facelift, here are some tips to get you started:


Before You Start: Purge and Brainstorm

Get back to the basics. Go through your classroom and get rid of everything you don’t need. If you haven’t used something in two years, it’s time to throw it out or donate it. Your room will be easier to keep clean and organized when you have fewer items floating around. 

Ask your students for their input. Since the purpose of a classroom is to provide a space for students to learn, be sure to include them in the redesign process. Hold a collaboration session or take a survey. Ask questions about their learning styles and what their ideal classroom would include. Your students have a different perspective than you and your colleagues, so they may come up with ideas you’d never consider. Plus, students will appreciate the fact that you value their opinions. After all, the first step to a student-centric approach is a student-designed learning space.  

Contemplate your routine. Identify activities that waste time (moving desks, writing notes on the board for students to copy) or problems you encounter (tripping over backpacks, searching for papers). When planning your design, search for ways to become more efficient and eliminate these issues. Be sure to also identify your strong spots. Find parts of your classroom that you really like and practices you are proud of, and look for ways to duplicate them.

Put on your designer cap. Step away from your role as a teacher and think in terms of design. What style do you want in your room? Which colors and patterns will evoke the emotions and behaviors you desire from your students? If interior design is not your forte, ask for input from a pro, collaborate with a colleague, or seek out a friend with an eye for décor. 

Be creative. There are so many websites, blog posts, social media platforms, and other resources available to help spark your creative genius. Here are just a few you can check out:
Design created on Classroom Architect.


Nail Down the Plan and Materials  

Dream big when it comes to the layout of your room. Expand beyond shuffling desks or moving the projector.
Determine the purpose you want your room to serve. Should there be space for collaboration? If so, consider lounge-style seating or chairs around large tables. Do you want workstations where students can fly solo? If both environments appeal to you, consider “zoning” your room into different sections. You could also consider using desks on wheels, or sofas that can be pulled apart and pushed together. As a general rule, the greater the flexibility, the better.

Choose furniture based on your room’s purpose. When it comes time to select the furniture, put yourself in your students’ positions – literally. Try out the chairs and the desks. Are they comfortable? Functional? Can students see? Are the desks big enough for laptops and books? Will students have places to stash their belongings? Chairs with storage spaces underneath eliminate backpacks cluttering the floor.

A number of companies offer a wide variety of classroom furniture that’s both functional and stylish. Of course, furnishing budgets don't grow on trees, so we would recommend undertaking a full-school effort in conjunction with your administrative team to make an instructional case for something new.

Tend to the walls, floor, and ceiling. If your budget is big enough or multiple classrooms are undergoing renovations, consider using movable walls, which can allow multiple classes to work together. Regardless, don’t underestimate the difference a fresh coat of paint and adequate lighting can make. Replace fluorescent bulbs with full-spectrum lighting. Consider including writing surfaces on every wall so students can use them during brainstorming sessions. You can also install thicker carpeting or plush rugs so students have a comfy option for working on the floor.  

Invest in storage. As for classroom storage, take a hint from the setup of a makerspace. Consider taking off cabinet doors and putting labeled bins inside. Students will be more likely to explore the materials available to them – and put them away when they’re done – if they can see exactly what you are supplying them with and where these materials are found.

Money saving tips! Chances are, redesigning your classroom won’t be the cheapest project you undertake this year. But that doesn’t mean it has to break the bank. One way to drastically reduce costs is by requesting donations. Many community businesses will be happy to support education-related improvements. If you want to tug at the heartstrings, bring a few students with you when you approach potential donors or invite members of the community to a class fundraising event.

Another way to save money is by repurposing items already in your classroom or from your house. Check out thrift stores, rummage sales, or Craigslist – and once again, never underestimate the transformative power of a fresh coat of paint!


Consider Making Technological Enhancements

A key aspect of 21st century classrooms is the technology integrated within them. Carrying out a classroom makeover is the perfect time to determine which forms of technology will help you become a better teacher and which you’d like your students to become familiar with. Knowing what you plan to incorporate can also help when determining your classroom design. Here are some questions to consider:  
  • Are your administrators contemplating rolling out a 1:1 program with laptops, tablets, or Chromebooks? Will students be bringing their own devices? If personal technology is prevalent, design a device-friendly classroom with places for students to store and charge them.   

  • Do you plan to use electronic textbooks? If so, you can donate or repurpose the bookshelf taking up valuable classroom space.

  • Is your Wi-Fi adequate? Or would now be a good time to increase your bandwidth?

  • What technology can you incorporate that will make the environment more collaborative? Consider investing in a SMART Board, which gives you greater flexibility to involve students in your lessons.

  • Money saving tip! Can you repurpose any outdated technology? If you still have an overhead projector, for example, consider transforming it into an iPad projection stand, a project you can complete for less than $2!


The Logistical Side

Here are some logistical considerations to keep in mind when planning and carrying out a classroom renovation:
Present your proposal. Share your ideas with administrators and the school board. Bring a healthy supply of visuals – rooms you intend to model yours after, videos about the technology you would like to incorporate, etc. Once you get approval on the project, discuss ways you can obtain the funding to complete it.
Communicate regularly with maintenance staff. Throughout the renovation, these DIY experts will likely assist you with your project. Keep them in the loop and run major changes past them to ask for their advice and support. 
Talk to your CTO/IT director.
If you plan to make any major technical changes, be sure to get the tech staff involved since infrastructure updates may be necessary. 


Reno Time!

Once you’ve answered the big questions and your logistics are in order, it’s time for the transformation to begin!
Money saving tip! With the project underway, you may find unexpected expenses or decide to delve into more elaborate changes. If possible, avoid expending too much of your budget on manual labor. Ask for help from parents (especially those that work in construction or design), coworkers, students, community members, and friends. Ask a local pizza shop to donate lunch and turn the renovation into a day of teamwork and fun.

Renovating your classroom can be a challenge, but it’s also an exciting process that can make a measurable impact on your students’ achievement. Embrace your inner designer, think outside the box, and above all, have fun. Your new classroom will be an environment you and your students will blossom in for years to come.

Have you renovated your classroom? Share your tips and tricks (and links to photos!) for other Skyward users in the comments below!  



John Jennings
Hi Grace, thank you for your comment! Admittedly, new furniture does not always come cheap, and we know that not every teacher has the autonomy to make changes without administrator buy-in, but there are some great resources out there for the intrepid educator (not to mention some interesting research on the impact that the physical learning environment can have on outcomes). This recent blog from Getting Smart offers some good starting points: http://ow.ly/WSzWr
1/10/2016 11:55:35 PM
Grace Turner
Sometimes reinventing yourself as a teacher is hard or even trying to become better. I like the idea that just changing up my room can help make my classroom a better learning environment. I usually just think of the classroom as mine not the students. So I want to try to put myself in the students position in regards to furniture. Is buying new furniture for a classroom pretty expensive?
1/7/2016 9:33:32 AM
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