by Tina Manzer
Just as a one-size-fits-all approach to learning doesn’t suit today’s classrooms, schools increasingly need to become flexible spaces to accommodate multiple learning styles. It enables students to perform their best.
That’s the message of Hertz Furniture, a company that provides concepts and products for schools across the U.S.
“It’s about creating multiuse spaces that boost creativity and cater to unique learning needs,” said David Mocton, president of the Ramsey, New Jersey-based company. “It’s also about preparing students for real-life environments including college and the business world.
“The next generation is no longer being trained to work in factories, so why do American classrooms still mirror a 19th-century factory-model setup characterized by rows of desks and chairs?” asked Mocton, who advocates adaptable and moveable seating, bold-colored desks, and collaborative furniture that integrates technology. “It’s time for schools to recognize the profound impact of the physical learning environment on a child’s education.”
He cited a recent study by researchers at Iowa State University. It revealed how classroom design – using mobile chairs for instance, to facilitate communication and collaboration – directly impacts student engagement.
According to Gabriel Schwartz, Hertz Furniture’s vice president of sales for California, moveable seating, collaborative design, and integrated technology are just part of the story of today’s school furniture. He’s spotted five trends that, when incorporated together, are helping schools make learning more effective.
Recognizing that some students learn better when given their own space – a spot that’s free from distraction and where they can feel comfortable – schools are creating more relaxed and homey environments using study pods. These self-contained booths are padded in soft vinyl and include a comfy desk and chair along with arm and leg rests. The idea is to give students a unique area in which to focus, de-stress, and enjoy downtime, away from the interference of others.
After decades of being told to sit still, today’s students are being encouraged to move. New research shows that movement stimulates the brain and helps improve learning. Wobble chairs and rocker stools with their slightly rounded bottoms help fidgety students gently sway back and forth, even when they’re sitting in one place.
Bounce chairs that hold anti-burst exercise balls cater to high-energy students. Flexible seating options, including adjustable heights, enable the chairs to move with the students as they go from one work area to another.
Schwartz notes that more and more schools are moving away from dull color schemes towards desks with bright orange, red, lime green or blue tops.
High schools are leaning toward gray design elements with bold color highlights in an effort to emulate a more mature, college-like atmosphere. “Students get a sense that their classroom is a special space – the furniture looks different and the colors are unique,” Schwartz said. “They begin to feel that they’re no longer in a regular classroom, and that creates a sense of excitement and anticipation.”
Schools are moving toward flexible classroom configurations that allow groups to sit around tables together; often in front of a large, wall-mounted television screen.
Contoured wave-like desks are another modern choice. They support group work because they easily join together in unlimited ways to suit any need. Because collaborative furniture is easily moved into different configurations, it allows students to separate when individual work is required and then rejoin later for group work.
The more technology shows up in the classroom, the more furniture is being designed to support it. Trending high-tech furniture for schools includes computer desks and study pods that come with data ports and built-in electrical outlets. According to Schwartz, the next wave of school desks will include embedded tablets and screens.
Among the first to benefit from the mix of these trending furniture options are students at San Bernardino, California-based Entrepreneur High School – a state-of-the-art charter school by REAL Journey Academies. It recently opened its doors in a newly-renovated former K-Mart store.
Designed and installed by Hertz Furniture, the cutting-edge campus furniture includes individual study zones, collaborative spaces, flexible seating, high-tech furniture and brightly colored furnishings. Other highlights are a presentation auditorium modeled after the popular TV show “Shark Tank,” and a versatile cafeteria outfitted with restaurant-style booths, café tables and rectangular eating tables – to meet individual dining preferences.
“The entire curriculum is based on entrepreneurship and teaching students how to design and run a business, so we wanted to create an environment that stimulates the brain and promotes collaboration,” said REAL Journey Academies Founder Alex Lucero, noting that nothing about the school is traditional, with every space designed to be multi-use and multi-functional. “We fully expect to see some brilliant business ideas coming from the students as a result.”
“It’s a no-brainer,” Schwartz emphasized. “If we can make school a fun, relaxing place to hang out in a way that caters to everyone’s varied needs, kids will want to spend time there and ultimately, they will be better prepared for the future.”