If you visit a coffee shop, restaurant or ice cream shop that has a variety of furniture, what type of furniture draws you in most?
Do you gravitate toward the plush, overstuffed chairs? The high bar stools? A basic table with chairs?
I have a teacher friend named Matt Miller. (Funny story … we’re both named Matt Miller and we’re both educators in Indiana. He’s an awesome social studies teacher at Cascade Middle School in Clayton, Ind.)
One day, after visiting an Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt store, Matt started thinking about learning spaces. Specifically, he started thinking about how the typical classroom — desks in rows, teacher at the front — just didn’t set the tone the way he wanted.
“I want students to feel home, to feel like it’s a safe place, where you’re trusted, where you are accepted,” he said.
So, on a whim, he wrote a quick post on Twitter about how he felt.
— Matt Miller (@dropstepdunk) February 3, 2015
“When I walked into (an Orange Leaf) for the first time, I just noticed they have better learning environments than I did in my classroom,” Matt said. “I saw people having fun, talking and interacting with each other in a way you don’t in a classroom.”
His message, to his surprise, caught the attention of some Orange Leaf representatives. Some discussions and emails followed between his principal, Eric Sieferman, and Orange Leaf.
Then a large shipment of Orange Leaf furniture arrived at the school. Chair and high tables and stools. The orange and white furniture immediately started popping up in classrooms.
I was fortunate to be presenting some professional development at Cascade Middle School the day the furniture arrived. Students were working together to assemble the furniture. There was a buzz about where it was going and what it would mean.
Having a stimulating learning space fits well with the school’s 1:1 initiative with Chromebooks in the hands of every student, Sieferman said.
“As thorough as our planning was and in spite of our best efforts to prepare for just about everything, it became glaringly obvious to us that we did not adequately consider just how ineffective six rows of five traditional student desks was for student collaboration, communication, and engagement,” he said. “Our partnership with Orange Leaf Yogurt has enabled us to create innovative learning spaces in most of our classrooms.”
(As you read this post, think about your ideal classroom and your thoughts about the importance of classroom design. Please leave them in a comment below!)
These ideas are echoed wonderfully by Kayla Delzer in a recent edSurge article called “Why the 21st Century Classroom May Remind You of Starbucks.” She opens her article by writing, “It’s been my dream to make my 2nd grade classroom look more like a “Starbucks for kids”, and less like, well, a classroom.”
I love this Orange Leaf furniture story for a number of reasons. It’s a great way to ditch our textbook views on classroom design, and I think there are reminders we can take away from it.
“If we could all have whatever we wanted, we wouldn’t have the typical school desks and chairs,” Matt said. “We would have something that resembles more of a Starbucks or a commons area at colleges and universities. I think this furniture sets the students up for that.”[reminder]If you could design the classroom of your dreams, what would you include in it? How have you innovated in classroom design, or how have you seen others innovate? How important is classroom design?[/reminder]
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