A classroom with futons, standing desks and a coffee table rather than rows of seats will be featured this fall in the Mohawk Area School District.
School board members this week learned about “flexible seating” from junior high math teacher Heather Chisholm.
Although unconventional, Chisholm said in her research this type of “coffee shop setting” is more in tune with how students live.
“At home they don’t sit in rows,” she said. “They sit at a dining room table, on a couch or on their beds when they study and do homework. Student desks in rows do not foster open communication and collaboration.”
She said she has attended training on use of the flexible seating system at neighborhood school districts to see how others do it and noted that the college prep English course in Ellwood City is using this arrangement.
To prepare for the redecoration, Chisholm repainted her classroom at the close of the just-ending school year.
“I just couldn’t look at white walls any more,” she said. She chose a warm beige that she believes is more calming.
She said she will keep one or two student desks for those students who prefer that, but in place of the rest will be standing desks that allow students the option of sitting or standing and moving, two futons for those who prefer a couch, a large table like a dining room table to foster collaborative ventures.
“The shop class is building us two narrow tables,” she said. Other, more home like furnishings might also be installed.
The district’s administration is welcoming the change.
“As one of the board members said, ‘We have to meet the students where they are, where they are coming from,’ “ said superintendent Michael Leitera. “This is not your father’s or grandfather’s classroom.”
“There has been a lot of research on how students learn, what works and what does not,” said Dr. Lorree Houk, assistant to the superintendent. “They find that with student input, when they own it, when they are involved in the redesign, they are more accepting, and more apt to learn.”
“I put together a design (for the classroom) agonizing over the placement of each piece of furniture,” she said. “Then I asked my eighth graders what they thought. They suggested a different design and theirs was better.”
Houk said the more relaxed atmosphere is a result of Google office layouts where it was determined that employees are more creative in a homelike, relaxed atmosphere than a traditional office setting.
“They’re more relaxed, more creative, open to collaboration and working things out together. That’s what we hope to create, a personalized learning atmosphere.”
Houk said Chisholm’s math class will be the first to convert to flexible seating.
“But we’re on track to carry this on to other classrooms,” she said, noting that the tech classrooms offer a more flexible setting than traditional classrooms and the district’s STEAM classrooms offer a different atmosphere with tools in bins and accessible to students.
Houk noted that she has budgeted for the new furnishings and the room will be ready for the first day of school on Aug. 22.