In this week’s transforming K12 learning spaces vlog we will continue to explore how learning space design affects student success, but this week we will put the emphasis on design elements such as color and texture.

How the elements in our environment affect us emotionally is referred to as “sensory ergonomics,” and it’s just as important as physical comfort.

Factors such as color and texture can affect a student’s mood significantly, and decades of research suggest this can influence a student’s ability to focus or succeed.

Next week’s topic is about Redesigning School Libraries. Mark will discuss how to transform traditional school libraries into vibrant 21st century learning centers.

Thank you for joining this week and as always, thank you for supporting Paragon Furniture.

When the leaders of Ohio’s Pickerington Local School District decided to redesign their learning spaces to better meet students’ needs, they turned to the real experts for help: the students themselves.

In return, district officials received a wide range of classroom designs that are more engaging, inviting, and supportive of 21st century teaching and learning.

As director of instructional technology, Brian Seymour has been leading the district through a change in pedagogy. Pickerington has given every middle school student a Chromebook to support a style of blended learned that it calls “tradigital learning”—a mix of traditional and digital instruction that focuses heavily on cultivating the five Cs: communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and citizenship.

But Seymour and other district leaders realized their learning spaces also would have to change to support this shift more effectively.

During the 2017 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in San Antonio, Seymour described how including students in the design process has made a big impact.

One of the reasons Pickerington involved students in the design process is because the district tried purchasing new chairs in the past, but the students didn’t like them. “The last thing you want to do is buy new furniture and then when kids come in August, they hate it,” he explained.

Including students in the design process has encouraged them take ownership of their classroom spaces, which district leaders hope will lead to more investment in their education. What’s more, Seymour turned the project itself into a learning opportunity.

“We decided we would use this as a problem-based learning exercise with kids, modeled after the TV show Shark Tank,” he said.

Working in groups of four, students researched ideas for effective, flexible classrooms. “We didn’t give them a budget; we simply told them to be ‘reasonable,’” Seymour said. “Kids used 3D design software to map out their designs, and they had to present their ideas to the community.”

Each design had to include a teacher station area, a place for independent work, and a space for collaboration. The top designs were chosen by a committee of adults—and now the district is working to redesign the classrooms in every middle school based on these winning designs.

“We need to change our learning spaces to meet our kids’ needs,” Seymour concluded. “And we have to include students in this process. What do they want from their classrooms?”

During the 2017 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in San Antonio, David Jakes, a former educator and administrator who now helps schools transform their learning spaces, shared several strategies for redesigning K-12 learning spaces to support 21st century instruction more effectively.

Here are eight of his best recommendations for K-12 leaders.

Develop a new mindset and lens to see space.

Try to visualize new possibilities for learning spaces, Jakes said. Most people don’t start with a fresh canvas in mind; instead, they simply look at how to enhance the current space. “The first step in redesigning the classroom is to discard the notion that it has to be a classroom,” he said, “because that comes with baggage. What about imagining it as a studio instead?”

Immerse yourself in resources.

Here are some resources that can help you redesign your learning spaces:

Focus on experience, not things.

When redesigning learning spaces, let the type of learning experiences you want to foster be your guide, Jakes advised. “This is not about furniture, it’s about the learning,” he said. “What experiences do I want to create for students? Then, what design would support that?”

The American architect Louis Sullivan coined the phrase “form follows function,” and this is true of classrooms as well. A classroom with rows of student desks facing the front of the room creates a teacher-centric space that implies students are expected to sit and listen as the teacher talks. But a classroom with students sitting facing each other in small groups encourages a more active, student-centered style of learning, powered by teamwork and collaboration.

Create a multidimensional space.

It’s important to have a space that can assume many different roles, Jakes said, depending on the kinds of learning going on. He used the word “agile” to describe the ideal classroom: a flexible and dynamic learning space where the furniture can be rearranged quickly to support various activities. Paragon makes desks and tables that easily can be arranged into creative groupings of multiple sizes.

Promote movement and activity.

Research suggests that allowing students to move around during class offers both academic and health-related benefits. Consider buying chairs that allow students to rock or move around, as well as height-adjustable desks and tables that enable them to stand or sit.

Add color.

Studies show that color affects our moods and can make for a more engaging space to be in, Jakes said. Look for opportunities to introduce a variety of colors into the classroom, such as on walls, desks, chairs, trim, accent colors, the insides of cabinets, and carpet tiles.

Design with digital in mind.

Think about electrical power sources for students to charge their devices, he recommended. For instance, Paragon has designed furniture with embedded power outlets for students to plug in their laptops and tablets. Also, consider the surface area of tables and whether it’s sufficient to accommodate student devices.

Get off site.

Take inspiration from how others outside of education use space to create warm, inviting environments for gathering, sharing, or studying, Jakes suggested—such as your local Starbucks, The Next Door Cafe, or 1871 Chicago.

In my last blog post, I highlighted four questions that can help you plan an effective maker space for students. Once you have a plan for how your maker space will be used, you can design the actual space itself. Here are five design aspects you’ll want to consider.
How you plan to use your maker space will influence what kind of space you choose to host it. For instance, if you want the space to be used by students or members of the public after school hours, you’ll want a location that is easily accessible from outside without having to traverse the school hallways. Here are some ideas for current school spaces that can be converted into a maker space fairly easily. But don’t confine your thinking to these suggestions; your only real limit is your imagination.
  • classroom.
  • A science lab. Most middle and high school science labs already have sinks, which can be useful for cleaning up after projects, as well as cabinets for storing materials.
  • The library. School libraries are centrally accessible to students across all grade levels, and they’re often open after school already. Many schools have converted part of their library into a maker space as they replace their reference collections with digital versions.
  • A computer lab. Instead of replacing old computers with newer desktop versions, some enterprising schools have replaced their outdated machines with laptops, tablets, 3D printers, electronics kits, and other fabrication tools.
  • A home economics or industrial arts shop. These subjects have fallen out of favor in recent years, and a maker space would be a greatway to revitalize these spaces.
When you’re designing a maker space, you’ll want to make sure the space promotes creativity and collaboration. You can encourage both of those traits through the design of the space itself. Here are some ideas to guide you.
  • Ask students what they want. Giving students a voice in the design of the space can inspire their ingenuity.
  • Build flexibility into the design of the space. Use furniture that can be arranged easily in many different configurations to promote different kinds of student groupings and activities.
  • Take inspiration from the “stations” approach to classroom design that is common in elementary schools. Consider creating separate areas for different kinds of activities, and equip each area as appropriate.
  • Include open, informal spaces for students to gather together, brainstorm, and bounce ideas off one other. Soft seating options can make the space comfortable and inviting for students to congregate.
Tools and materials
The tools and materials you choose for the space will depend on your goals for its use, as well as your budget. Here are some of the types of materials you might consider.
  • Equipment and machinery such as computers, laptops, tablets, video monitors, 3D printers, laser cutters, and vinyl cutters.
  • Electronics kits and components for building simple circuits, machines, computer motherboards, and robotics. Commercial kits include littleBits, Makey Makey, Raspberry Pi, and Arduinos.
  • Digital media production tools such as cameras, tripods, green screens, video editing software, keyboards, turntables, music composition software, and graphic design software.
  • Materials to create with, such as paints, paper, cardboard, plastics, wood, fabrics, and metals.
  • Tools for cutting, joining, and splicing, such as scissors, wire cutters, glue guns, soldering irons, hand tools, and power tools.
Storage and utility
Your maker space must be functional. It should be large enough for students to work without getting in each others’ way. It also should include plenty of shelf or cabinet space to store equipment safely. Here are some key questions to think about.
  • Does the space have adequate power supplies and internet access?
  • Do desks and tables include large surfaces for working?
  • Are materials easy to find? Consider using clear or mesh containers for storing materials so they are easily visible, or at least clearly label their containers.
  • Are cleaning supplies easily accessible for cleaning up the space when you’re done using it?
  • Have you set aside space to showcase student projects? Students love to see their works displayed, and past projects can serve as inspiration for a new wave of creations.
Keeping students safe as they work in the maker space is vital. Students must learn the proper use of, and respect for, tools and equipment. Students also should understand the rules for the space, and these rules should be clearly posted. Here are some other safety considerations:
  • Make sure you provide enough space for tools to be used safely, as well as safety equipment such as goggles and earplugs.
  • Keep all pathways and exits clear.
  • Make sure the space is well lit and ventilated. Make sure it’s equipped with a firstaid kit and a fire extinguisher.
  • Make sure students clean up after every use to keep the space free from clutter.
Looking to inspire the next generation of tinkerers and innovators, a growing number of
schools are creating maker spaces equipped with everything from popsicle sticks and glue guns to electronics kits and 3D printers.
When educators encourage students to learn by creating, they inspire students to take ownership of their learning. Students become highly engaged and invested in their education.
In the process, students can learn not only key STEM concepts (like how an electronic circuit works or what the engineering design process entails), but also 21st-century skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, critical thinking, creativity, and perseverance.
Creating a maker space for your schools might seem like a daunting task. But it doesn’t have to be. The first step is to articulate your vision for the space and outline the goals you hope to accomplish. Your vision and goals will help you answer other critical questions, such as what the space should look like, how it will be equipped, and so on.
Here are four key questions to guide your initial planning.
Who will use the space?
When you’re deciding who your maker space is intended for, consider which grade levels or age ranges you want to target. Are you building a space for students in grades K-2? Grades three to five? Six to eight? High school? Will the space serve multiple age ranges?
Also, which classes or academic disciplines will use the space? Is it meant only for certain subject areas, or for all academic subjects? Finally, will you open your maker space to members of the public, such as adults for night classes or students from other schools?
How, and when, will students use the space?
It’s also important to understand how—and when—you plan to use the space. Will it be used for formal, structured learning activities led by a teacher? Informal, student-directed learning and exploration? Or both? Will students use the space during school hours? Before or after school? Or both?
What are your instructional goals?
You’ve addressed the “who,” “how,” and “when.”Before you go any further, you also have to answer “why”: What are your learning goals in creating a maker space for your school? Are you hoping students will learn core academic skills, 21st century skills, or both?
If core academic learning is your target, how do your intended learning activities align with state instructional standards, Next Generation Science Standards, or other curriculum goals? And if 21st skills are your desired outcome, which specific skills are you hoping students will acquire? How will the activities completed in the space lead to the development of these skills?
How will you measure success?
Finally, what methods will you use to evaluate the success of your maker space initiative? Will you use formal measurements of the skills students gain, informal observation and reflection, or both?
If you’re measuring the skills that students gain, what types of assessments will you use? How will you put these together? If you’re using informal observation and reflection, how will you collect this information? Will you use teacher observation forms, post-program surveys of students, or some other method?
Once you have a plan for how your maker space will be used, you can design the actual space itself. That will be the subject of a future blog post.
The way the furniture in a classroom is set up can have a significant effect on both how students learn and how much they learn, studies suggest.
How a classroom space is designed shapes the kinds of learning that happen there, writes Nancy Van Note Chism in Learning Spaces. For example, “a room with rows of tablet arm chairs facing an instructor’s desk in front of chalkboards conveys the pedagogical approach: ‘I talk or demonstrate; you listen or observe,’” she writes. On the other hand, “a room of square tables with a chair on each side conveys the importance of teamwork and interaction to learning.”
Arranging desks or tables so that students are facing the teacher at the front of the room works well for direct instruction, because it focuses students’ attention on what the teacher has to say. Arranging desks or tables in a large circle or “U” shape makes whole group discussion easier, because every student can see every other student in the class. Arranging desks or tables in small groups, with three or four students facing each other, facilitates small group interaction and collaboration.
Because there will be times when teachers will want to use each of these strategies in their classrooms, flexibility is critical when designing learning spaces, Van Note Chism observes.“
A group of learners should be able to move from listening to one speaker…to working in groups…to working independently,” she writes. “While specialized places for each kind of activity…can accommodate each kind of work, the flow of activities is often immediate. It makes better sense to construct spaces capable of quick reconfiguration to support different kinds of activities [using] moveable tables and chairs.”
A 2013 study by the University of Salford in England confirmed that classroom design can have a 25% impact, either positive or negative, on a student’s progress over the course of an academic year—and flexibility (defined as how easily a classroom’s furniture could be rearranged for a variety of activities and teaching approaches) was one of six key environmental factors that showed the most effect.
A decade of research from the national nonprofit group Project Tomorrow tells us that students want access to anytime, anywhere learning opportunities through the use of mobile digital devices. And K-12 leaders have responded in kind, with a growing number of schools creating mobile and digital learning environments. But this shift has important implications for how we design learning spaces to support more agile learning.
Three-fourths of students believe that every student should have access to a mobile device during the school day to support their learning, according to Project Tomorrow’s latest SpeakUp survey results. Many already have such access: 50 percent of students say they frequently use a mobile device to look up information in class.
Meanwhile, teachers are using more digital content in their classrooms than ever before, the survey reveals. Sixty-eight percent of teachers say they use videos in their instruction, 48 percent say they use digital games, 36 percent use online curriculum, and 27 percent use animations. All of those figures show increases over the prior year.
In short, learning is becoming more mobile, multimodal, and technology-rich. It’s also becoming more social, as teachers assign collaborative group projects to help their students develop important 21st-century skills—and K-12 leaders must redesign their learning spaces to reflect these powerful shifts.
Students need more agile learning environments that support communication, collaboration, and multiple forms of learning, such as furniture on wheels that easily can be moved around and reconfigured to support various classroom activities. They also need readily accessible power sources to recharge their laptops, tablets, Chromebooks,and other digital devices.
Paragon’s classroom furniture is designed to be reconfigured easily to support many different teaching and learning styles, and many of these products are manufactured with power supplies seamlessly integrated into their design—allowing for the creation of highly agile learning environments.
The traditional classroom setup, with rows of desks facing forward, worked fine when
lecturing was the main form of instruction. But as more schools have shifted from a teacher-centric to a student-centric approach to learning, the design of K-12 learning spaces is evolving as well.
“New kinds of learning require different approaches to classroom design,” said Leslie Wilson, founder and chief executive officer of the nonprofit One-to-One Institute, which advises schools on the use of technology to transform instruction.
Aided by mobile technologies, students are working together in groups to solve problems or challenges, Wilson said. They’re working independently with adaptive online software that tailors the lessons to meet their needs. They’re making movie trailers, designing photo books, or creating other artifacts to demonstrate their learning.
And the environments in which they perform these tasks must be flexible enough to support this more active, collaborative style of learning. For this reason, many schools have begun integrating furniture that students and teachers can move around easily and put together in various configurations to accommodate different groupings and activities.
Want to rethink the design of learning spaces in your own schools, but you’re not sure where to begin? Here are four suggestions.
1. Visit other schools.
Wilson recommends visiting other schools to get ideas for what
is possible.“Touch it, see, it, and visualize it,” she said. “You’ve got to see the space in your mind in order tocreate it.”
2. Ask students what they want. 
“Kids like being able to have a choice in where and how they learn,” said elementary school educator Erin Klein, who studied interior design in college and now writes and speaks about K-12 learning spaces. Klein has several conversations with her students about the type of learning environment they want, then sets about creating it in her
3. Focus on the learning goals. 
“Build learning spaces based on what you want kids to be able to do,” Wilson said. For instance, if you want students to be able to create artifacts using technology, you’ll need aspace for creating—complete with the tools they’ll need to do this work.
4. Consider power supplies.
 How are you going to power up students’ digital devices? “Make sure you have enough power outlets to support recharging,” Wilson said. For instance, Paragon builds power supplies directly into many of its student tables and seating.