EdSpaces: Bold Ideas

Academia Furniture
by Tina Manzer

The best of school equipment and furniture was on display in October at the annual EDspaces trade show in Milwaukee. Furniture manufacturers, along with dealers and distributors in our industry, joined architects and stakeholders from schools, colleges, and universities to share ideas on the future of school spaces.

Attendee registration was up 16 percent over the prior year; a total of 168 exhibitors displayed their products in 603 booths. At the show’s conclusion, many donated their seating, desks, USB-embedded furniture, etc. to schools in Milwaukee.

“For 24 years, EDspaces exhibitors have contributed truckloads of innovative classroom furniture and equipment to local communities,” says Jim McGarry, EDmarket president and CEO. “In 2019, it was a particularly large donation thanks to the major growth of the event in the last four years. Plenary sessions were conducted in EDspaces’ six designer classrooms to give attendees the opportunity to experience modern pedagogical approaches to school planning, design, and products first-hand. Each classroom was developed to accommodate a wide variety of presentations to demonstrate how learning areas work for students of different ages.”

Here are few of the themes we spotted in the exhibit hall and classrooms.

  Today’s school furniture is chunky and rugged and, at the same time, colorfully and tactilely appealing. Its designers are obviously taking cues from the patterns and motifs in fashion and home décor to create beauty and function.

  An ottoman is all-purpose. Put a bunch of them together to meet as a group or lounge as an individual. Put your feet on it. Sit on the floor and lean against it. Use it as a table in the middle of a classroom story time or lesson.

  Custom-printing on laminate, Formica, and vinyl help schools create an identity with often striking results.   

  Casters are the key to collaboration, and everything from cabinets and tables to chairs and ottomans are on them.

  Biophilic design is on the rise. “Incorporating natural elements inside the four walls of your classroom can effortlessly transport children into a world of beauty,” says the book Inspiring Spaces for Young Children. “Not only does nature provide an infinite supply of sensory experiences that can be integrated into all learning domains, it conveys a sense of calmness and tranquility for both children and adults.”

  Seating has got to move – whether it’s from point A to point B, or when it’s planted in place. Classroom “chairs” have become great places upon which to focus with movement: wiggling, rocking back and forth, swiveling, etc. 

  Need to plug in from your all-purpose ottoman? That’s easy, thanks to outlets in the middle of the floor, on the ceiling, and in the modular seating configured nearby.

Thoughts on the future

The keynote was delivered by Tony Wagner, Senior Research Fellow at the Learning Policy Institute in California. He’s the author of Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for The Innovation Era, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, and The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills.

His theme – that students should be taught to be innovative and creative to become “most likely to succeed” – was a good accompaniment to the STEAM-centered, collaboration-inducing classroom furniture on display.

“EDspaces,” says Jim McGarry “is where innovations are unveiled and collaborations form, bringing together education’s creative change agents who plan, design and manage innovative learning environments.”

During his keynote, Wagner discussed the need for the U.S. education system to evolve from a “knowledge economy” to an “innovation era.” Forty-three percent of today’s college graduates are underemployed, he said, and 92 percent of employers say that college students don’t have the skills that matter most.

Wagner advocates teaching those skills to spark innovation. “Content still matters, but skills matter more,” he said. “There is no competitive advantage knowing more than the person next to you. It’s what you do with that knowledge that counts.”

To enter the innovation era, teachers need to become more like coaches and mentors. Among his recommendations was getting them to step outside their classrooms to see what real-world skills are needed.

And students must be taught that it’s okay to fail. “Innovation demands it,” Wagner said. “Fail fast, fail first and fail often.”

He concluded, “With well-designed pedagogy, we can empower kids with critical skills and help them turn passions into decisive life advantages. The role of education is no longer to teach content, but to help our children learn – in a world that rewards the innovative and punishes the formulaic.”

In 2020, EDspaces will be held November 11-13 in Charlotte. Visit ed-spaces.com for more information.

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