The picture of the traditional classroom is burned into our memories. The familiar rows of desks, one desk behind the other, promoted uniformity. Students sat in chairs with square desks, or they had one piece wonders with chair and desk connected. It was a one-size-fits-all world. There was no choice or flexibility.
Flash forward fifty years. The world has changed. Students have changed. Seating has changed. The learning environment is finally getting the respect it deserves. Today’s seating alternatives are exciting. They encourage learning by responding to the needs of students and teachers in the classroom.
Enter ergonomics. Ergonomics is an applied science that refers to designing items that directly interact with people in ways that allow them to function efficiently, comfortably, and safely. Sitting in the same position, without the freedom to “squirm,” causes discomfort. Contemporary furniture is designed to be responsive to the body’s need to move in a controlled, safe space. It allows people to adjust posture, so they don’t become uncomfortable because they can’t move. In fact, today’s desks can be raised to allow students to stand while working. This kind of flexibility provides students with every opportunity to move and passively exercise
A student’s body is unique. Not only that, a child’s body can change dramatically during the course of a school year. Chairs and desks that can be adjusted for height provide the student with the best opportunity to be comfortable when there is a need to remain seated for extended periods of time.
Another way seating has changed is in its ability to respond to the needs of the learner within the classroom. Traditional seating was cumbersome. If a teacher wanted to have students work in small groups, desks had to be dragged across the floor. It wasn’t a simple task, and it interfered with the spontaneity that encourages learning. Today’s desks can have wheels that permit them to move when necessary while allowing them to be locked together to provide stability.
When desks and chairs are separate, tables can be designed to contribute to a flexible learning environment. Rectangular desks can be large enough to accommodate a number of students. An incomplete circle can allow a teacher working inside the circle to interact with several students at a time on a one-to-one basis.
All of the available tables and chairs give teachers the opportunity to design a unique learning environment that will respond to the varying needs of the modern classroom and the personal preference of each teacher. A teacher can design the classroom to support his or her individual teaching style.
A creative teacher can add the finishing touches by incorporating special spaces. Floor mats and rugs can let students work on the floor. Bean bags, stools, two-seaters, and couches can be used to create imaginative learning areas. Welcome to today’s classroom where the sky’s the limit.