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Planning Your Flexible Classroom - Part 2

A key element in developing a flexible classroom setup is having mobile furniture - furniture that can easily be moved around, even during a lesson. Flexible furniture should be lightweight, and easy to maneuver. Often that maneuverability is provided by locking casters, so any piece of furniture can be rolled around inside the classroom. Another element of this furniture style is a modular design, which allows the same furniture to be arranged in various layouts. Certain shapes, sizes, and styles are more suitable to these adaptable arrangements. The more flexible your school furniture is, and the more effort you put into choosing it to serve this purpose, the better your flexible classroom will work.

How to Choose Flexible Classroom Furniture

Flexible classroom furniture is critical to the modern classroom. By choosing pieces that enable you to facilitate unlimited arrangements, you are creating a truly flexible learning space.

  1. Consider how each piece of classroom furniture can facilitate flexibility. Many educators automatically think of collaborative desks on wheels as a means of creating a flexible learning space. These are definitely one key ingredient in many such classrooms, but if you want to maximize adaptability, you need to think about every piece of furniture in the room as part of the bigger picture. That means everything from student seating, to bookshelves, to the teacher’s desk, and more. The more flexible furniture your classroom has, the more options you will have for rearranging the space to suit various needs and activities.
  2. Choose desks and chairs that are mobile or stackable (or both). Mobile desks can easily be rolled into various configurations, to support learning clusters of different sizes. This includes the student desks as well as the teacher’s desk. Mobile desks have locking casters to ensure that they stay in position once they are put in place. Desks can either have casters on all four legs, or have casters on only two legs, which enables wheelbarrow-style rolling. Student chairs can have casters as well, which makes the transition process between different configurations even easier. Alternatively, you can choose desks and chairs that are stackable, which increases the layout possibilities, as the floor of the classroom can be cleared completely of desks and chairs, to make room for various out-of-the-box activities.
  3. Find a collaborative desk or table shape that works for you. Collaborative work surfaces come in various shapes, which can fit together in many different ways. This allows students to work comfortably in groups of different sizes. It also gives the teacher the freedom to change the seating arrangement, even while the lesson is in session. Because configurations of collaborative shapes use space in a different way than traditional rectangle or tablet work surfaces, it is important to map out how the various arrangements will fit in your space, and experiment with different work surface shapes to find the ideal one. Some collections, like the Harmony Series from Academia come with different shapes that can fit together, as opposed to using the same shape for every work surface.
  4. Rethink student seating. Not everyone needs to be sitting in a chair, and not every student has to be sitting in the same kind of seat. The flexible classroom often uses a variety of seating options, including active seating, stools, bean bags, and soft seating. Additionally, many such learning spaces have some standing-height work surfaces, which allow students to work without sitting at all, if that is what they prefer. When thinking about the various learning areas in your classroom, consider which type of seating is ideal for each area, and each kind of student, and then choose accordingly.
  5. Get creative about classroom storage. Don’t assume that lockers and book boxes are the only or best option. If the desks are constantly being relocated, it doesn’t make sense for students to store personal items there. Perhaps mobile classroom storage is a better idea for your classroom. Giving each student a cubby inside the classroom can allow them to keep what they need on hand, without letting it distract them during the lesson. If there is a concern about leaving valuable devices in an open storage area, you can add a locking device storage cart. This will serve the double purpose of keeping devices charged and secured. The combination of cubbies and a lockable device cart can eliminate the complications and clutter that come with having backpacks inside the classroom. The bottom line is, by not assuming that every student needs to keep all of their things in the same place, you can eliminate clutter in the classroom, which will make it easier to move furniture around.
  6. Find the hidden potential in each piece of furniture. The more ways you can use the same item, the less individual pieces you will need in your classroom, and the more freedom you will have to move around. For example, the teacher’s desk can double as a group study table; storage and bookcases can be used as room dividers as well as a hanging space or whiteboard work surface. Tables and desks with a whiteboard surface allow brainstorming and diagramming right on the tabletop, which can save paper and provide a larger and more open space for work.
  7. Provide varied work surface heights. Just like not all of the seating needs to be uniform, not all of the tables and desks need to be the same height. You can have some standard height work surfaces, standing height and/or counter height surfaces, and some tables which are very low, so students can work while sitting on the floor or soft stools. You don’t necessarily need to buy multiple types of tables and desks to get different heights. Many models are adjustable height, so the same item can be used in many different ways. When choosing a work surface with adjustable height, make sure to consider the seating you need and what type of adjustment mechanism it has, so you know if students can do the adjustment themselves, if it requires tools to be adjusted, and if it is tamper proof.
  8. Use furniture to create learning zones. When you want to have the classroom split into different activity areas, you can use the flexible classroom furniture to accomplish this. An area rug or carpet squares can designate a quiet reading area. Additionally, you can use the different table and seating heights as a way to designate different zones in the classroom.
  9. Create a corner of calm. Students of any age can benefit from having a space in the classroom where they can go to calm down, or just enjoy some quiet time alone. Bean bags, soft seating, and carpeting can make such a space especially inviting and soothing. Make sure to choose calming colors, such as pastels, and have relaxing images in this area. For younger students, the calm corner should include a bookshelf with some toys and games, including blocks, picture books, stuffed animals, and an activity rug. For older students, the area may include a tablet with headphones, where they can play games or listen to music.

Flexible classroom furniture is an incredible tool for creating an adaptable learning environment. When each piece of furniture is carefully chosen, and used to its full potential, your dynamic classroom is transformed into a personalized learning space, where the layout supports each student, and each activity perfectly.

Read Flexible Classrooms Part 1 here.

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