During the summer before my first year of teaching, I was focused on building a classroom library, pinteresting a way to decorate my bulletin boards, and planning out class rules. However, I wasn’t thinking at all about how I’d set up my classroom. This was my original design.
To me, it was perfect! My first classroom and my first set of minds to mold – this was going to be great! Until the kids came and filled the room… Then I realized very quickly, that this setup wasn’t everything I had imagined it to be.
There wasn’t a great flow of traffic throughout the room. We didn’t have space to move around the room and work without bumping into furniture. Tracy Evans explains in her article that children should be given the freedom to explore the room and choose to sit where they learn best (Evans, 2016). When I gave my students freedom, they opted for pillows and beanbags on the ground as opposed to working at their desks. Needless to say, I quickly realized I needed a change for the following year.
I researched personalized learning, and alternative classroom setups. Based on what I found, I started flirting with the idea of having less desks. According to Jaana Hakkarainen, an innovative teacher in Finland, deskless classrooms are safe environments where students can thrive (Hakkarainen, 2015). As Hakkarainen states, “Humans were not designed to stay still, so there is no reason why we ought to sit in the same position all day at school” (Hakkarainen, 2015). After some encouragement from peers and support from my principal, I decided to move forward with creating a deskless classroom.
Based on data, observations and student testimonials from that year, I was able to conclude that students thrived and were excited to learn in this setting!
(If you’re interested in learning more, read the blog post about My Deskless Classroom!)
After more even more research, I learned that I, as a teacher, sometimes need to get out of the way and let students lead.(After all, this is their learning space!) I also learned that students need to be able to have free time for exploration and creative expression. Sometimes that can take the form of a makerspace (West-Puckett, 2013). Furthermore, a deskless classroom connects to the learning theory of collaboration. Students are able to become more successful at problem solving when they work together and share ideas (Couros, 2015). This type of classroom allows students to have daily practice and reinforcement of several key 21st century skills they will need for the future, such as social interaction, collaborative group work and space for kinesthetic learning. (Hakkarainen, 2015). Based on this knowledge, I decided to update my deskless classroom from last year.
There are several components that I wanted to have in my redesigned classroom.
Flexible seating options, space to explore and learn, collaborative group work areas, technology incorporation, small group lesson area, whole class meeting area, a maker space, and cultural appreciation are some of the staples to this type of environment (West-Puckett, 2013).
Using Sketchup, I created a model that includes all the components of a 21st century, deskless learning environment.
This deskless room includes a sofa, exercise balls, mobile tables for student use, flexible seating, flags to represent our different cultures, space for exploration, and a small makerspace in the corner.
A deskless classroom actually doesn’t cost any more than a traditional classroom (Hakkarainen, 2015). I wrote a grant for $250 through Donors Choose in order to fund the exercise balls for my classroom, in addition to a few other items we would need for this year. The sofa and cushions could be purchased at Lakeshore Learning for about $400, but honestly, for less than $100, I bought all of my seating at garage sales, Goodwill, and got donations from the community.
Not everyone is as ready as I was to fully explore in this type of classroom. For teachers who aren’t fully comfortable with going completely deskless, you could try a few things. Switch your desks out for tables (Lukka, 2015). You could also keep the desks and convert one area of your room into a comfy place for students, complete with beanbags, pillows, or teddy bears – you name it! As long as it’s comfy and inviting for your students. Any combination of these ways are a great transition into a deskless learning environment.
One last quote from innovator George Curous. When redesigning our classrooms, we must think, “would I want to be a learner in my own classroom” ( Couros, 2015). Always keep this in mind as you redesign your classroom, lessons or anything involving other learners.
Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset: Empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting.
Evans, T. (2016, July 28). Design Thinking and the Deskless Classroom. Retrieved August 4, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/design-thinking-and-deskless-classroom-tracy-evans
Hakkarainen, J. (2015.). DESKLESS CLASSROOM. Retrieved August 4, 2016, from http://martela.com/deskless-classroom
Lukka, R. (2015). DESKLESS LEARNING ENVIRONMENT HAS A GREAT ATMOSPHERE. Retrieved August 4, 2016, from http://martela.com/news-articles-and-press-releases/deskless-learning-environment-has-great-atmosphere
West-Puckett, S. (2013, September 13). ReMaking Education: Designing Classroom Makerspaces for Transformative Learning. Retrieved August 5, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/classroom-makerspaces-transformative-learning-stephanie-west-puckett