Tomorrow’s Classroom

Practicing for the Future Workplace in Today’s Classroom

The social workplace of the future

The educational experience for many students is more often about the daily task of learning content, mixed in with socializing and connecting with fellow students. What if it turns out the social aspect of the educational experience is what best prepares students for a successful future in the workplace? Many of today’s employers are seeking candidates with social abilities, such as knowing how to communicate verbally with people inside and outside the organization. “Employers are willing to teach new hires all the content they need to know (about a company), but what they can’t teach employees to do is how to think, communicate, collaborate, and how to initiate,” says education expert Tony Wagner. These characteristics are now basic expectations of new hires because work in almost every industry is collaborative. Gary Miciunas, Principal at NELSON, a global architecture, design, engineering, and consulting services firm explains, “The workplace will be a destination where coworkers want to be, not must be, in order to do their best work. It will celebrate work as a social process by providing better tools and technologies for collaboration, sharing ideas and exchanging information, both in-person and virtually.” If the future workplace will be less about hierarchy and more about common ownership and expected collaboration, then what can we do in today’s educational spaces that helps students build these social skills as part of the future workforce?

Infographic credit: NELSON

Engaging the space

A simple way to start, is by thinking about the physical classroom environment and ways in which students themselves can engage the space in which they are part of. Engaging the space means letting the students collaboratively determine how to make the space adapt to their needs versus the students having to adapt to a static environment. Peter Lippman, author of Evidence-Based Design of Elementary and Secondary Schools, explains that learners influence their social and physical learning environments, which in turn influence the behavior of the learners. Whether they know it or not, they are designers. Students no matter what age, will gladly give you suggestions for how to use the physical space as long as you give them a voice. By letting them have a say in how to design the space, you can provide opportunities for students to engage in active and social learning strategies. In doing so, it’s vital to set expectations for positive behaviors as to how they go about setting up the space. An engaging math or science lesson is having students draw the classroom and furniture to scale after taking measurements, then drawing scaled floor plans with their ideas for reconfigurations. I’ve seen this lesson done successfully with almost every grade level and various spaces.

Source Imaged Adapted From: Peter C. Lippmann, A Responsive Approach to Creating Learning Environments

Prompting for the behavior you expect to see

Last fall, I watched a group of 5th graders rearrange their classroom in preparation for Back to School night. The teacher gave a simple prompt, “We need to arrange the chairs in rows. When you move the tables, be sure the casters are unlocked. And don’t bump the 3-D printer! We need to do this in less than 5 minutes. Go.” Immediately they got to work by talking amongst themselves, organizing, asking each other for help, and doing some quick problem solving. Once they had the chairs in rows, they revised the set-up several times until they had a solution. The first step to a successful reconfiguration was the teacher giving a prompt that included expectations, but left the process and the end result completely up to the students. Letting go of the end result and allowing students to engage the space can be a jumpstart for collaboration, problem solving, and experimentation. Aren’t these the same abilities we want them to have in the workplace?

Really? You want me to allow students to rearrange desks, tables, and chairs?!

When we allow students to take more ownership of the physical space, it subconsciously sends a signal to students that they are trusted as individuals to take responsibility. Isn’t part of teaching and the educational experience to grow responsible citizens of the future workforce? When we trust and allow them to reconfigure the space to fit their needs, we also build their sense of responsibility to create collaborative opportunities for working together. So often as teachers we instinctively want to arrange our rooms to be conducive to the management of bodies. No doubt, letting students arrange desks or tables and chairs can leave us feeling unsettled about how their arrangements will be conducive to learning the day’s lesson. Part of that means letting go of control over the physical environment and again trusting that our students will figure out what works best for them while at the same time setting high expectations when we offer opportunities for more responsibility. Isn’t school an ideal place to let them experiment and test their ideas! After all, they have to responsibly figure out what works best for the collaboration that’s needed in the social workplaces they will be a part of.

High expectations and student ownership of behavior

Allowing students to reconfigure the classroom can inform and teach us how our students learn best. Establishing norms and high expectations for behavior (and self-evaluation of behavior) is an important step in the redesign process. My suggestion is to keep the ‘classroom/behavior rules’ simple. Rather than creating and posting a list of rules, I created a poster that asked 3 simple questions about their behavior. These are 3 easy ways for students to self-evaluate their own behavior because 99% of the time, they know if what they’re doing or saying is safe and respectful. And really, these questions apply to 99% of every situation at school. No matter if they’re moving furniture to rearrange the classroom, or walking in the hallway, or eating in the cafeteria, they know when they’re answer isn’t a ‘yes.’

Student success = Workplace success

The K-12 furniture market is quickly expanding and producing innovative furniture like never before. Combination units have actually been referred to as modern-day torture chambers for students because there are so many more ergonomic and flexible seating options for students. The workplace has also evolved to include furniture that is comfortable and agile because employers understand the need to create physical conditions for employees to thrive. When employees have access to spaces and furniture that intuitively reconfigures, they are more likely to collaborate at their own free will, which it turns out is brilliant for innovation! We are, after all, humans who need social interaction and face-to-face time for people to thrive. As educators, we may not always have access to reconfigurable furniture, but we do have designers on our rosters, who will enter the workplace, expected to know how to communicate, collaborate, and initiate. When we let students engage with their educational spaces, we support them by building the social skills which are necessary to be successful as part of the future workforce.

Watch the video: The Office of the Future by HP

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Color Theory & Education

Since color is part of many sciences - for example, physics, color theory, and art - it can be introduced in many ways. Physicists, psychologists and and artists all have different approaches and thoughts about color although the artist is closer to the psychologist than he might think. Here is the introduction of color from the viewpoint of psychologist Ulrich Beer.

Seldom, surely, is the psychological part of an appearance in nature so great as it is in the case of color. No one can encounter it and stay neutral. We are immediately, instinctively, and emotionally moved. We have sympathy or antipathy, pleasure or disapproval within us as soon as we perceive colors. (Beer 1992, p.11)

If we are emotionally connected by color why are our schools dreary and depressing? As adults we do not wish to work in sterile boring environments, so we can hardly expect our children to thrive under unfavorable conditions. School administrators and designers are faced with the demands of taxpaying communities who demand cost reduction all while increasing proficiency, quality and the refuge of the schools in their communities. Often times, professional architect or design council is rarely sought, for budget reasons which leads the administration, teachers and maintenance workers to make decisions regarding classroom arrangement and color, or lack thereof.

When designing a space for school age children, we should ask ourselves, “What do children need?” They need opportunity and safety -- prospect and refuge, within their environment. They need to feel understood, nurtured and they need to be in an environment where they feel cared for as individuals.

More times than not, schools do not have the budget to add color to their schools but what if this investment paid off in test scores? Both the Frieling Color Tests and the Wohlfarth Study support this notion that color greatly affects students and learning.

Frieling Color Tests

Heinrich Frieling of the Institute of Color Psychology test 10,000 children from all corners of the world. His research indicates which colors might be best suited for multiple age ranges in the school atmosphere. Here are some of the highlighted findings and inferences:

Frieling Color Tests

Wohlfarth Study - Effects of Color and Light on the Development of Elementary School Pupils

This particular study investigated the psychodynamically designed color environment on mental performance, scholastic performance, and physiological reactions of elementary school students from September 1982 to June 1933. Four elementary schools were included in this research.

Wohlfarth Study

Some of the results of the study were as follows:

  1. Blood pressure tests, taken over almost a year, showed that the “least stressed” students were in the school that received the light and color changes
  2. Psychodynamically chosen colors were shown to significantly reduce the average reported incidents of destructive behavior, aggression, and habitual disruptiveness
  3. Light and color showed the largest percentage improvement of the four schools in regard to academic performance and I.Q. test scores - the control school showed the lowest.

Works Cited

Mahnke, Frank H. Color, Environment, & Human Response. N.p.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 1996. 180-86. Print.

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Instinctual Learning Environments: Prospect and Refuge for All Students

As you are about to read this post, consider the physical space around you at this very moment. (I’m assuming you aren’t standing in a dark alley and that you feel safe in your chosen environment.) Now consider the physical space around our students as they go into classrooms, schools, and out onto playgrounds. Through visual and auditory cues, students subconsciously determine whether a space will be ‘safe’ for them. In fact, as humans, our ability to quickly and accurately distinguish a safe environment from one that is dangerous is actually an evolutionary advantage according to Darwin’s habitat theory. And when we “like” the place that is optimal for ancient human survival, we are more likely to thrive.

What is prospect-refuge theory?

Originally proposed in 1975 by English geographer Jay Appleton, prospect-refuge theory states that humans have desires for opportunity and safety -- prospect and refuge, within their environment. Put another way, regardless of culture or experience, this universal human instinct stems from a subconscious awareness of our surroundings.  It’s hard-wired in our brains, and we are programmed to respond whether we realize it or not. However, it’s important to understand that ‘prospect’ and ‘refuge’ do not constitute a dichotomy nor should they be considered as opposites. Prospect is to do with perceiving and obtaining information, particularly visual information, while refuge refers to hiding, seeking protection or sheltering.

Image credit: L. Langfitt. My niece finds refuge in Ikea’s PS LÖMSK swivel chair.

Examples of Prospect and Refuge

Why does every kid love a great tree house? There is something extraordinary about having your own space, high up in a tree, where nooks and crannies are made from tree branches.  It’s a place to hide, offering shelter from the sun and rain, and also an opportunity to see  what’s going on below. A tree house combines all things children love: outdoors, trees, climbing, fun, imaginative play and a great sense of well-being. Tree houses are the ideal prospect and refuge location.

image credit:

Hide and Seek: The School Version.  Do you have students who love to sit in the back corner of the room and ‘hide’ behind a book. In the library, have you ever noticed kids that try and seek out a small nook or place where they can ‘see without being seen’? It’s as if they are looking for that hiding place without an actual hiding place to physically be in. (Add photo caption: An easy way to make ‘nooks’ for students in the library.)


Image credit: Author’s own photo. Grant Beacon Middle School, Denver Public Schools.

And what about the students that feel bullied or picked on who are seeking protection and refuge at school? For some, the instinct to find a hiding place is all too real. These students are looking for any place to get away from the stress of a variety of situations. Next time you find that student in a 'hiding' place, remember it's part of our human instinct to seek out places of refuge for our own self preservation.

Can the theory be substantiated in educational environments?

“To really be engaged, I need to have an interactive environment where I feel connected to others but can find a place to get away and think, too. I need easy access to all of the tools I might want to use for learning. I need to be able to adjust the space to be more comfortable and to fit the activities we are doing,” said Colin, a former student at New Technology High School, Napa, CA. Peter Lippman, author of Evidence-Based Design of Elementary and Secondary Schools, considers prospect and refuge as two sides of the same coin in terms of learning environments. Prospects are places with an unobstructed view, where students can see other groups of students. Refuges are learning zones of concealment for students to separate from a group, become fully engaged in their task and at the same time feel protected within their learning zone. Lippman notes that prospect and refuge is one of several guidelines to be evaluated in its appropriateness for creating a place that supports the learner, the learning environment, and the things to be learned. Interior glazing along glass walls for example, or corner areas that help define specific activity settings are helpful for students to retreat to pursue independent or small group activities. Stairwells, hallways or windows that allow learners to look down on the first floor to preview activities of others offers prospect. Understanding the basis of prospect and refuge theory can help us recognize those instinctual needs from a student perspective, while also helping us to see space opportunities throughout our schools that can be used or created for meeting those needs.

We want to hear from you! Tell us about opportunities you’ve created for prospect and refuge in your learning environments.

Works Cited

Pearlman, B. "Designing New Learning Environments to Support 21st Century Skills Bob Pearlman." 21st Century Skills Rethinking How Students Learn. N.p.: Solution Tree, 2010. N. pag. Print.

"An Introduction to Prospect and Refuge." Refuge& N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.

"Barbara Butler-TreeHouses-Tree Houses." Barbara Butler-TreeHouses-Tree Houses. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.

1435938, Umi Number:, Copyright 2006 By, Priti Ramanujam, and All Rights Reserved. (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.

Lippman, Peter C. Evidence-based Design of Elementary and Secondary Schools. Hoboken, NJ: J. Wiley, 2010. Print.


I could not comenmt over on that post. So I will comenmt here. :-)That post hit home for me as well. Even though I homeschool it is a thought that I needed to hear. I too find myself not praising the kids near enough. I am going to make sure I start changing my focus from what is not "as I wish", but what they are doing well. Thank you for this post. I needed to hear/read this right now.

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Create More Space: Lose the Teacher Desk

Teachers who are closer to their learning environments are making a bigger impact on student achievement than those teachers who routinely assign work to the students and then retreat to their desks. Teacher desks take up space and may create barriers. An easy way to open space and flow is to ditch the desk, but HOW do you do it? Where is all of that stuff supposed to go?! Trading in your teacher station isn’t for everyone. Ask yourself these questions to see if you’re ready to make the change!

If you can’t part ways with your sidekick, keep these things in mind:

  1. Be sure that you can monitor students in all areas of the classroom.  It should be positioned so that you can monitor all your students.  If some students must be outside of your line of site, be sure that they are your compliant and focused pupils.Can you see behind that bookshelf?  Can you see all activity within that coat/storage closet?

  2. Your desk influences the movement of “traffic” within your room.  Pupils will be coming to your desk to speak to you or obtain materials/supplies.  Do those access paths create distraction to on-task students?  Might moving students bump into those who are sitting?  Does it cause congestion during certain times of the day (entry into the classroom, gathering book bags and coats at the end of the day?

  3. If it will store instructional materials, place it near the whole-class instructional area. Consider traffic patterns near it, and the influence of it on traffic…especially if students are allowed access to items/materials or turn in papers there

If you’re ready to swap out your big, bulky, stationary desk and replace it with a smaller solution, good for you! We are sure that you and your students will appreciate the extra space. By removing that teachers station, you’re also breaking down that barrier between you and your students and you’re making the space feel more like their own rather than them being in your classroom.

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Classroom Refresh: Student Voice & Choice

Those who work in a space have the greatest incentive in which to maximize its use and improve its atmosphere. That means that ALL those who work in it (faculty and students) not only need to be able to express suggestions for the design, but also should feel a degree of responsibility for ownership in its decor and maintenance.

The students are the primary users and should be the center of your refresh project. Giving them the ability to shape their space increases student investment and ownership. Here are a few ways to get your students involved:

  1. Have a round table discussion with your students and ask them specific questions about the current classroom configuration. You might achieve this by drawing out your classroom on a whiteboard and asking students to write one to two words on a sticky note about how that particular zone makes them feel.

  2. Incorporate social media by creating a pinterest board of images that students are attracted to. These pins might include favorite colors, comfortable furniture, spaces that stand out, etc.

  3. Give them the freedom to personalize their own spaces. Allow them to choose colors, pillows, posters, themes, etc.

  4. Give your students the opportunity to create their own set of rituals and routines for each space.

  5. Talk to your students about their unique learning styles, impression of the existing space and the principles of the classroom. Allowing them the opportunity to be open about the space that they’re accustomed to learning in allows you to gain critical insights and understanding for their individual learning experiences which will, in return, allow you to create a space that really speaks to them.

 If you have redesigned your room, did you get your kids involved? If so, how?

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Classroom Refresh: Factors that Affect the Design

Whether you are looking to reorganize a learning corner or redesign the entire space, here are a few guidelines that may help you organize the process. First use bullet points, narrative and drawings to describe your space.


(Image Source:

  1. General shape & dimensions of the space

  2. Wall/Ceiling Color - Colors best suited for classrooms reduce agitation, apprehension and promote a sense of well-being. In brief, colors that reduce tension and anxiety produce a home-like atmosphere, in contrast to an "institutional" one.

  3. Unchangeables - walls, doors, windows, electrical outlets, built-in cabinets, wash basins

  4. Ceiling: Height, type, oddities

  5. Floor - carpet, laminate, area rugs

  6. Light - Effects of indoor lighting light don't arise solely from light that enters the eyes, but also from light that strikes the skin. Mahnke (1996) provides a balanced view of literature and supports the consensus established through the serious studies: the fluorescent bulb commonly used in the institutional fluorescent lighting may be less than optimal for learning and for health. Consider replacing recessed lights with pendant fixtures that provide direct down and indirect up illumination.

  7. Windows - The vast majority of faculty prefer classrooms with windows and there are many benefits of classroom with natural light. If there aren’t any noisy distractions, those windows should be open whenever possible (weather permitting). While most of the time, teachers and students prefer that the natural light shine through, there are times where the rooms need to be darkened. Please consider blinds or window covers for safety reasons and to block light and assure that glare from windows does not appear on computer/device screens, TV’s, or projection screen(s)

  8. Furniture - Are you redesigning with existing furniture or are you purchasing new? Consider a corner with lounge seating for students to enjoy.

  9. Mounted fixtures (whiteboards, projectors, AV equipment, computers, cables & cords, etc.)  - Do you have the ability to relocate them?

If you have refreshed your own space, we’d love to know what worked and didn’t work for you! Please comment below with ideas and suggestions.

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Classroom Refresh for Optimal Learning

An optimal learning environment is beneficial to building a cohesive group in which learners can communicate with each other, and to encourage interactions among all the students and the instructor. If you're thinking of tackling your own classroom redesign project, good for you! We have been helping teachers and designers restructure learning spaces for many decades, and we have seen this process work for projects of all sizes.

Here is what we have concluded over many years of working with students and teachers:

  1. Teachers want flexibility to instruct. They need to be able to migrate around the room without furniture limiting their mobility.

  2. When comfortable and engaged, students really do want to learn.

  3. Students love collaborating with their peers. Whether they’re working on a video presentation or science project, they enjoy working with each other.

  4. They need a space to gather as a whole but not necessarily in rows of chairs and desks.

  5. Teachers and students both want a place to reflect. Whether this be self-meditation, designated quiet time or planning the next day, a dedicated space is want they want.

  6. Students enjoy learning from their peers so having a space for them to share their ideas, projects, findings, videos, slideshows and lab experiments is imperative.  

Over the next few days, we will list a set of parameters that should be considered while still in the planning phase and how you can achieve the ultimate classroom redesign.



This is amazing.

Thanks, Melissa! We hope you found this post to be useful.

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Keep Them Coming Back: Learning Spaces with Student Appeal

Have you ever asked yourself, ”Would I want to spend time as a student in my own classroom?” Perhaps this is the simplest question we can ask when considering all the ‘stuff’ that goes into the physical and psychological elements of a classroom. We may all have varying ideas of what a classroom should look, feel, and sound like depending on our teaching style, previous experiences, or perhaps our principal’s expectations. However, one thing remains constant for all students: the subconscious messages they receive upon entering the classroom by visually scanning the space.

What if you overheard your students say, “Let’s see if we can work in Mrs. Smith’s classroom, I like it in there.”  That comment may not seem very descriptive, but it tells you everything you need to know about how a classroom (and everything in it) affects their psyche. Consider all the messages just the furniture and its physical arrangements are sending to your students. Are there clearly defined rows or are there groups of tables?  Are there informal soft seating areas, or are there only lab stools, for example. Ideally, the furniture should depend on (and also be appropriate for) the subject and grade level being taught. Many teachers though, have no option or choice in furniture and end up feeling stuck with what they’ve got. And then there’s the lack of funding for classrooms. That’s a topic for another post!

Does this sound familiar? The countdown until the first day has started. If we’re lucky, we get a few hours to somewhat clean, organize, and set up our classrooms before Day 1. Often, this is done in a hurry because we have meetings and a million other things to prep for during the countdown. Then school starts, life gets hectic, the year goes on, and before we know it, it’s spring semester and we’re finally getting things organized to be put away for the summer. It’s so easy to ‘set it and forget it’ during those countdown hours.

While there are many pieces to consider in setting up a classroom at the beginning of the year, these are my 6 tips to ensure that  your students “like it in there” all year long.

1. Get to know your Facility Manager or Head Custodian - Probably THE best person to know on your campus, other than your boss and the person who maintains all the technology equipment. Make an effort to sincerely get to know (and thank) them and you might just get that table fixed or replaced over Christmas break. You know the one, the table (or chair) they all complain about.

2. Keep it small and simple - No one expects you to be like a Macy’s visual merchandiser on 6th Avenue with your walls and bulletin boards, but you can stimulate conversation and interest with small, subtle changes. For example, do you really need to hang ALL your posters or can you set a reminder for when it’s time to swap out the wall decor for an upcoming unit? Or have you ever tried hanging a world map upside down to start a discussion on how the continents look from a different perspective?

3. Check school policies - When making those small changes, be sure the items on your walls, ceilings, and floors, along with furniture arrangements are compliant with school policies, not to mention fire codes. Check first before you Duct Tape that cord down to the floor or take some table legs off. (By the way, have you ever considered varying the heights of your work surfaces? Yet another topic to post later!)

4. Allow access to resources - Consider where, when and how students will create or use classroom resources during lessons...with accountability! Do they all know where to find what they need and how to put it back where they found it? Designing lessons with resource relevance and accessibility can greatly enhance student learning.

5. Give students voice and choice - Whether they know it or not, they are designers. Your students will gladly give you suggestions as long as you give them a voice. What if you let them arrange the furniture depending on their needs during the lesson and your expectations for how to go about it? By engaging the space, this can be a jumpstart for collaboration, problem solving, and experimentation. Make sure they have a plan first!

6. Keep it fresh...literally. - Remember from Tip #1, it’s the relationship you build with your Facility Manager that can help achieve a clean-looking and smelling room. But keeping it fresh both literally and visually with small change-ups, will keep your kids coming back because they like it in there, especially if they’ve had any say in the design. After all, getting them in the door can sometimes be the most challenging part.

Tell us what you’ve done in your classroom space to help keep kids ‘coming back’! 


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A Lesson In Time

The Emerson School dates to 1895 and is one of the first public schools built in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The classic building is already rich in history, but a recent discovery of some hidden chalkboards offers a rare view into the classrooms of one hundred years ago.

The project began as a summer renovation to the school as part of the MAPS for Kids program, a $700 million overhaul planned to modernize and upgrade the city’s public school system. A portion of this renovation called for the replacement of the vintage green chalkboards hanging in four of the classrooms in the 120 year-old school. To be installed were new interactive smart boards. When contractors began work on four classrooms of Emerson High School, they knew their remodel would improve education — but they never expected it would impact local history. The classic building is already rich in history, but a recent discovery of some hidden chalkboards offers a rare view into the classrooms of one hundred years ago. When the contractors removed the chalkboards, they discovered something incredibly rare: perfectly preserved blackboards containing the writings of students and teachers from 1917.

On one blackboard a calendar shows an abandoned transition from November to December in 1917. On another board some notes follow a treble clef, indicating a curriculum that included music. Of interest to the school’s teachers was the fact each of the four classrooms contained illustrations of pilgrims and corresponding lessons about Thanksgiving. To them this suggested a potential aligned/cross-curriculum teaching style in 1917.

What is cross-curriculum? Cross-curricular teaching involves a conscious effort to apply knowledge, principles, and/or values to more than one academic discipline simultaneously. The disciplines may be related through a central theme, issue, problem, process, topic, or experience (Jacobs, 1989). The organizational structure of interdisciplinary/cross-curricular teaching is called a theme, thematic unit, or unit, which is a framework with goals/outcomes that specify what students are expected to learn as a result of the experiences and lessons that are a part of the unit.

There seem to be two levels of integration that schools go through: The first is integration of the language arts (listening, speaking, reading, writing, thinking) (Fogarty, 1991; Pappas, Kiefer, & Levstik, 1990); the second involves a much broader kind of integration, one in which a theme begins to encompass all curricular areas.

Interdisciplinary/cross-curricular teaching is often seen as a way to address some of the recurring problems in education, such as fragmentation and isolated skill instruction. It is seen as a way to support goals such as transfer of learning, teaching students to think and reason, and providing a curriculum more relevant to students (Marzano, 1991; Perkins, 1991).

Protected and totally undisturbed, the century-old writings and drawings looked like they were made just yesterday. The images and writing depicted on the boards include a list of hygiene tasks, an unusual mathematics lesson, music, and several references to pilgrims, probably correlating with the time of year the boards were last used around December.

The multiplication wheel is perhaps the most striking evidence of teaching methods in generations past, techniques perhaps lost in the passage of time. When discovered, nobody at Emerson could comprehend just how it was intended to work (this post provides a detailed explanation).

Oklahoma City school officials aren’t just shocked by what is written, but how it is written. To Kishore (Emerson Principal), the cursive handwriting stands out on the hidden chalkboards most. “We have kids that come that prefer to print because they don’t know how to do cursive.” Penmanship like this is clearly a lost art. This board reads, “I give my head, my heart, and my life to my God and One nation indivisible with justice for all.”

And though the boards’ style and subject matter might be unfamiliar to younger folks, they certainly resonate with older generations. Principal Kishore told The Oklahoman what it was like to show her 85-year-old mother the boards: “She just stood there and cried. She said it was exactly like her classroom was when she was going to school.”

The Oklahoma City Public School District is working to preserve the previously hidden chalkboards. In an era when education budgets have been slashed and resources spread thin, it is not uncommon to see remaining education materials demolished or discarded. Hopefully, the spirit of these teachers and their students will be enjoyed for many years to come.

photos courtesy Oklahoma City Public School District &

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[RE]Think Tolles Initiative

Tolles Career & Technical Center embarked on an initiative in 2014 called [RE]Think Tolles.


Facing a deficit in technology integration and innovative learning practices, Tolles Career & Technical Center embarked on an initiative in 2014 called [RE]Think Tolles. While this superintendent-led initiative focused on several areas, technology and innovation took center stage, as we attempted to “catch up” with area schools that had already begun to adopt technology and redesign spaces to meet students where they were at.

Space and design is an important element of student learning, and we have begun to invest in reinventing spaces within our school to better serve students. The [RE]Think Tolles initiative started with three spaces that debuted this past 2014-2015 school year:

The Learning Resource Center, a space that provides tutoring, bilingual services, testing, and more, was moved into a larger space (formerly a teacher’s lounge). The space is brighter and provides various collaborative environments, including a central “lounge” space with comfortable couches and chairs for students.

The Grand Hallway was literally just a large, unused hallway with white walls. There was nothing “grand” about it. With open collaboration in mind, we redesigned this space to match our new brand, “Lift All Students”, and invested in moveable couches and coffee tables that could be reconfigured by students and teachers for various learning tactics. The space is filled with three 65” Smart TVs and equipped with AppleTVs, so that teachers and students can easily utilize iPads or Macbooks in the space. It has become a resource for classes to utilize for more kinesthetic learning, group work, and project-based learning.

The Launch Lab was going to be a room left empty by the move of the aforementioned Learning Resource Center. Instead, it became central to our focus on technology integration and push for innovative teaching and learning. The Launch Lab is our “incubator”, where teachers can bring their classes to test new technology and various types of non-traditional furniture. Our technology integration specialist worked with teachers to create lessons and projects for students that embrace content creation, global learning, personalized projects, and more. Concepts tested included flipping classrooms, blended learning, iPad 1-to-1 projects (our district will launch a 1-to-1 this coming school year), various mobile apps, and more. The main purpose of The Launch Lab is to encourage teachers to take more risks and to attempt new practices that can then be “pushed” out into their classrooms.

The result of this investment in technology integration, pushing innovative practices, and space redesign led to our first-ever Launch Grants, which offered teachers the chance to submit in-house grant proposals on their own innovation practices. This past spring 19 grant proposals were submitted, judged by four outside experts, and five grants were awarded funds that will reinvent classrooms and other spaces within the school for the 2015-2016 school year. An empty meeting room and outdated computer lab will be combined to become a large writing lab, utilized for cross-curricular projects and to enhance writing skills across career-technical programs in a forward-thinking, comfortable space. Two social studies instructors will transform their classrooms into a mobile learning space to practice project-based learning doing away with traditional sit-down desks and opting for standing, flexible pneumatic tables. Two English classrooms will become comfortable, collaborative blended learning and digital portfolio spaces, respectively. A special education classroom will integrate more collaborative seating options and technology to better assist students’ learning styles.

What started as an initiative to “rethink” our school, has become a movement of redesign, collaboration, innovation, and flat-out risk-taking. We know that environment matters, technology integration is crucial, but taking risks for how students learn today is at the heart of our initiative. So far, so good.

Guest post written by Shane Haggerty - Director of Marketing & Technology at Tolles Career & Technical Center.

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B.Y.O.D. - What is it and why should we embrace it?

Aside from the obvious financial/budgetary benefits, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies also foster real and lasting pedagogical benefits that can revolutionize learning in our schools. In fact, recent studies and anecdotal evidence are pointing toward increased student engagement (and parent approval) when the kids are allowed to use their own devices for learning.Bring Your Own Device

Why should we embrace the B.Y.O.D. movement?

  • DIGITAL BOOKS: E-books provide an alternative to print books and are a perfect teaching tool for audio learners. Students can listen to books, songs and speeches. Students will have access to all the e-learning tools even while away from school.
  • FAMILIAR EXPERIENCE: Today's learners are digital natives. They have grown up in the digital era and have been using smart phones and tablets for years. Provide a learning environment that they can excel in. They learn and live with technology so why not leverage this power?
  • EDUCATIONAL APPS: There are thousands of wonderful educational apps that help foster learning. 21st century education requires a set of digital skills that traditional instruction alone cannot provide. Encouraging learning through educational apps makes learning fun while increasing engagement and motivation which is essential for learning outcomes.
  • NEW TECHNOLOGY: Students will learn to use new technologies and develop skills that they will use later as they pursue further education or join the work force.
  • MULTI-MODAL LEARNING: Having technology scattered in many different forms throughout the classroom is beneficial for both students and educators. Blended learning techniques that utilize devices that students are already familiar with will help encourage and motivate and prosper self-learning techniques. This might include e-books, videos, educational apps, online research, photography, word processing, etc.

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design matters

Thoughtfully designed classrooms that include flexible configurations, visual stimulation, and natural light are shown to increase both student performance and teacher retention. Expert construction means furniture that lasts, better student performance, higher teacher retention, and fewer replacements costs. Good design is smart investment.

In a pilot study by the University of Salford and architects, Nightingale Associates, it was found that the classroom environment can affect a child’s academic progress over a year by as much as 25%. The aim of this study was to explore if there is any evidence for demonstrable impacts of school building design on the learning rates of pupils in primary matters

Hypotheses as to positive impacts on learning were developed for 10 design parameters within a neuroscience framework of three design principles. These were tested using data collected on 751 pupils from 34 varied classrooms in seven different schools in the UK. The multi-level model developed explained 51% of the variability in the learning improvements of the pupils, over the course of a year. However, within this a high level of explanation (73%) was identified at the “class” level, linked entirely to six built environment design parameters, namely: color, choice, connection, complexity, flexibility and light.

The model was used to predict the impact of the six design parameters on pupil’s learning progression. Comparing the “worst” and “best” classrooms in the sample, these factors alone were found to have an impact that equates to the typical progress of a pupil over one year. It was also possible to estimate the proportionate impact of these built environment factors on learning progression, in the context of all influences together. This scaled at a 25% contribution on average.

This clear evidence of the significant impact of the built environment on pupils’ learning progression highlights the importance of this aspect for policy makers, designers and users. The wide range of factors involved in this holistic approach still leaves a significant design challenge.

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education as usual won’t do

The I Am The Future’s Child essay (Beare, 2012) and the many iterations of the video, Did You Know? (Fisch & McLeod, 2007), speak urgently to adults, calling them to acknowledge that the world and the experience of most people in the world have changed drastically.  A growing number of researchers (Gardner, 2007; Jacobs, 2010) are asking educators to look closely at the way people are interconnected through the Internet, ponder the exponential rate of information-creation, consider looming planetary crises, and admit that we are raising children to work as adults in jobs that have not yet been conceived of, to solve problems that we do not yet know exist. Many people are coming to realize that the current system of schooling does not adequately prepare our children to be successful in a rapidly changing, globally interdependent world (Brown, 2009).  The world is changing and school structures are fundamentally based on outdated systems. Leaders and theorists have been evaluating these transformations and offering ways to reconstruct learning so that all young people are well educated for the 21st century. Stewart (2010) examined five global trends that are “transforming the context for future generations” (p. 98). He highlighted economic trends (international marketplace), science and technology trends (digitization of production and international teams), demographic trends (immigration and emerging economies), trends in security and citizenship (borderless issues), and trends in education (global talent pool), suggesting, “education as usual won’t do”. 

21st century learning

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what is the living classroom?

The living classroom is a concept that works on the dynamic nature of learning, which is evolving continuously and develops every day. This theory is based on the idea that a classroom has multiple functions and the activities in the space keep changing based on the style of instruction and the participants. Transforming the classroom from the 19th century mechanical/industrial age to the 21st century, organic living classroom age is an important part of reinventing today’s school systems.

six zone - living classroom

The living classroom provides room for all types of learning. Each student learns a little differently, and the Living Classroom makes a place for everyone. A single desk or table is the right size for individual study, for partner projects, or for one-on-one tutoring sessions. When the team or project grows, desks and tables come together.

six zone - living classroom

There are many elements to consider as you plan for the next school year. Reviewing critical pieces like standards, curriculum, instructional activities, and testing, is standard but it is also important to consider the classroom space and how to arrange desks, set up bulletin boards, and organize materials. You can bring these seemingly disconnected components together in a system of six learning zones. The instruct, learn, collaborate, gather, reflect and share zones will help establish routines, save time, and maintain organization from the first through the last days of school.

six zone - living classroom

Zone 1: The instruction zone serves as a little oasis away from home, but it also helps you manage all of your professional responsibilities. This zone can be used as a private space to host one-on-one conferences with your students.

Zone 2: The learning zone houses the worksheets, resources, games, and tech tools for the subjects you teach. It's important to also display how subjects interconnect, because too many students have a difficult time relating subject matter to other disciplines. Tools and resources should be moved from closets, storage bins, or cabinets and placed in this zone. Provide anchor charts with key ideas and strategies, flashcards, study notes, key people in the field, timelines, and a variety of print materials. Upgrade your word wall by adding visuals and real objects. Organize vocabulary alphabetically or by concept or story -- the key is to provide context for each term. Define the zone with a header and comfortable seating.

Zone 3: A collaborative zone serves multiple purposes. Students are reminded that we are all working toward common goals. It provides time to discuss what was learned, make connections, pose questions, present other perspectives, and engage in reflection. These discussions are an opportunity for you to evaluate progress, clarify information, address misconceptions, and take notes to plan ahead. At the start of the year you will lead the discussions, but students should be guided until they can open, facilitate, and close the meetings. It is helpful to define the zone and include the meeting time in your schedule. You can use an area rug to anchor the space and give several students a place to sit. Other students can remain standing or bring in their chairs.

Zone 4: The gather zone houses all those items that spark imagination. These include arts and crafts materials, recorders, cameras, music makers, games, puzzles, and fun books and magazines. Share samples of different projects so that students have a jumping off point. You can harness all of this creativity by giving the students a central concept to explore. Have them draw what they see, list observations, and write down their questions.

Zone 5: Reflect. Sharing the classroom space with 20 or more other kids isn't always easy. Some students naturally prefer to work alone, while others simply need a quiet zone to catch up on work, study, read, write, take a test, or reflect. Some lounge seating or a spare table and chairs in a corner of your room can be used to define the zone. If possible, provide some earphones to help filter out classroom noise. If needed, study carrels to block visual distractions.

Zone 6: A sharing zone serves multiple purposes. Students are reminded that we are all working toward common goals. It provides time to discuss what was learned, make connections, pose questions, present other perspectives, and engage in reflection. These discussions are an opportunity for you to evaluate progress, clarify information, address misconceptions, and take notes to plan ahead. At the start of the year you will lead the discussions, but students should be guided until they can open, facilitate, and close the meetings. It is helpful to define the zone and include the meeting time in your schedule.

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history of technological change in the classroom

In the 1800s, schools were set up to serve students within a five-mile radius. These one-room schoolhouses were set up to teach children grades K-8. Several things were fairly consistent among one-room schoolhouses. There was always a large, slate blackboard at the front of the room. There was always a stove in the center of the room. And, the schoolhouses were always hot when the weather was hot and cold when the weather was cold! Students trekked through rain and snow to get to school. Cancelations and/or school delays were nonexistent. Times have changed and so have our classrooms. Our schools are no longer one room and children aren’t expected to walk 5 miles through a snowstorm. Our classrooms today are, in some cases, larger than that one-room schoolhouse. Our classrooms have evolved. They are integrated with technology and flexible seating arrangements. Today's classrooms are getting smarter, more connected, flexible and adaptive to a range of learning styles, teaching strategies and technologies.

history of technological change in the classroom

In this revolution, we see that students are dealing with more complex thinking and receiving education from many different sources, both in the classroom and outside of the classroom. We will take a more in-depth look at the needs of future learning spaces by highlighting aspects like natural elements, flexibility, mobility and creativity of the classroom while keeping the 21st century classroom design needs in mind. A learning space has multiple functions and the activities in the space keep changing all the time based on the style of instruction and the participants. We are working towards proposing a way to integrate organic living with today’s modern technology along with flexible, collaborative classrooms. The overall goal is to educate the A&D community how to design a learning environment that supports a variety of pedagogical approaches and learning experiences with natural elements in mind. These elements include: physical environment, sight, sound, movement and emotions.

is your classroom technology ready?

Speed of change – technology / quick adaptation

1970 – Apple

1980 – Space ship

1990 – Launch of World Wide Web (www)

2000 – mp3 player/iPod

2010 – 3D movies

2011- Strong growth of APPS for mobile devices/ Google maps

2012 - Nano technology growth allowing devices to get smaller and smaller

2013 - Advanced Robotics/drones

2014 - Wearables and Google Glass

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3 waves of revolution

The agricultural era was the first unity of human kind wherein groups of people occupied land together and grew food and through simple barters, started society. Interdependence and feeling that they belonged together slowly led to rulers, laws and growth of villages and then kingdoms. The entire system was dependent on the seasons and the changes in the rain, wind, sun patterns caused huge feasts or famines. Good and bad luck were seen as acts of gods and led to a strong emergence of religious beliefs.

The industrial age started in the early 1800’s with the advent of manufacturing mass scale product in place of handmade small quantity items. This led to the production efficiencies that allowed previously unaffordable items to become main stream and the common person could afford to purchase these items. The increase in jobs and urban growth with people moving out of villages and causing a population explosion in the new industrial cities. The wealth of nations was dependent on the strength of their manufacturing industries which were real goods. One of the greatest inventions was the Assembly line introduced by Henry Ford that revolutionized the manufacturing industry forever.

agricultural, industrial and digital

The digital era is the next major period of revolution where global hubs are created and people are not joined by physically being located together; but they can collaborate while being in different parts of the globe. Corporations have become global and employ people in countries all around the world; suddenly losing citizenship or reason for wealth creation in the base country. New thinking is about major shifts in thinking rather than trying to improve a process for efficiency. Customers are demanding innovation and multifaceted devices rather than best built, traditional design or single function old products.

The world as we have learned throughout this process has evolved from an industrial society to a Digital one and we must change the learning experience to cater to the new environment. A digital world needs classrooms that allow technology integration and pushes conventional wisdom to the next level.

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Hello and Welcome!

The 2010’s bring with them never ever seen growth in technology that is changing our lives every day and rendering our world into a connected eco-system; where country borders, race, religion and language can no longer separate us. Challenges do surround this rapid change however because the last 150 years have been dominated by the industrial era which brought about a focus on linear processes and thinking. The driving force of the industrial era was efficiency and the continuous improvement of existing processes and methods is what rendered one company more competitive than another.

Thinking finally shapes culture and society and the industrial age shaped the way the world operated and functioned. It was a sea of sameness and linearity where each system was outdoing others with better speed and hence cost. The world economies were being affected by nations who were more efficient and organized than others and provided the same goods and services at lower costs.

And then….something strange happened in 2007 and the world rapidly moved towards wanting highly differentiated products and services that were mostly unique and tough to copy and outdo. Companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Samsung started offering innovation and unheard of products and services; which changed the way consumers looked at their lives. Social media connected us, technology changed every device that we used in a multitude of ways, search engines helped put information at our fingertips and finally wireless networks brought us towards a continuously connected world. A world that was not driven by linearity but by what’s NEXT! We are bombarded with data and images and facts continuously and the constant movement around us has become what we have begun to accept as the new normal. And more so, this is the only world our kids know…

21st century learning

A world in flux, and we still educate our children with an industrial mind-set that is not appealing and lacks stimulating environments with outdated teaching techniques. This has led to many disillusioned children and parents who stopped believing in the institution of public education. Children are unable to focus on the unidirectional lectures from educators and drop-out rates kept increasing. But, when a crisis occurs, good things come out of it. The new classroom design and flipped classroom curriculum has begun to emerge everywhere to prepare our children for the world they live in.

Artcobell has joined the digital revolution and embarked on a journey to provide the best learning environments for our future generations. We have helped the last five generations through changing norms and are once again ready to live up to the new world. We bring to you IDEAS on how to create fun environments and spaces using multiple shape learning surfaces along with access to technology and multi faceted learning spaces.

Stay tuned! We have lots of 21st century learning to discuss.

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