A Difference-Maker for PBL: Furniture
School Districts across the United States are seeking options differing from the traditional classroom in order to transform their spaces into project based learning environments. Traditional classrooms use passive furniture that support typical Information Transfer Learning (ITL) environments. While we have become more knowledgeable about the impact of the classroom environment on learning, it can be difficult to advance this line of thinking across districts. Typically, during the design process, and throughout the project, there is plenty of thought given to the classroom space. And, still, the vision will remain- “this will be a project based learning environment that will support ‘fill in the blank’ education”, depending on the district. Lots of discussion about technology needs, door locations, transparency, size, and daylighting is given; however, very little thought is devoted to the furniture for the space, in which the students and teachers will communicate.
Furniture impacts the learning environment, informs the way subject matter will be taught, and how students engage. These spaces are intended to accommodate different teaching and learning structures: one to one instruction, peer to peer discussion, small group work, individual study and reflection, teacher directed instruction. These spaces are also intended to be equipped with a wide breadth of materials for the students to use in presentations.
We know the proverb “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” There should be a new proverb that reminds us, “Our future is defined by the classrooms of today”.
Too many times furniture design is left to individuals that were not included in the visioning or the design thought process, whose primary focus is budget and parity for their school district. This task is not fair to them, the current students, future students, the instructors who are on board or the school. BUDGET & PARITY SHOULD BE THEIR FOCUS, and budget and parity are an important piece of the puzzle; yet, we are still missing furniture that compliments and supports the multi-disciplinary classroom and THAT IS the quandary of school districts. Project-Based Learning (PBL) environments need collaborative furniture that allows for breakout groups for students, congregation areas, individual reflection, storage for student presentation materials and accommodates technology.
So, what does that type of furniture look like? What criteria do you look for? Selection should be driven by the following criteria: BAMMFED – B- budget, A- accommodation of technology, M- mobility, M- movable storage, F- flexibility, E- ergonomics, and D- durability. Once the furniture has met that criteria – it can be integrated aesthetically with the design vision of the project. Types of furniture could include: tables that can be easily clustered, seating that allows for student movement, allows students to sit in other positions besides upright in a chair, accommodate different types of activities, and allows for collaborative, individual study and testing.
While a district can use some collaborative furniture in an ITL environment the opposite is not true. Passive furniture will not now, or ever, work in a PBL environment.