You’ve read up on the theory, and you have had discussions with your colleagues and school administration. You are fired up and ready to go. If you are building or renovating your school or classroom, and have money to spend, there are a lot of cool educational furniture websites, and architectural houses like Steelcase who can help you. But what if you have a traditional classroom, and/or limited budget and the only thing you have lots of is a desire to redesign your space?

Don’t worry! You have a secret weapon!

The imagination and creativity of your students!

Even Prep students will have ideas and suggestions as to what they would like to see in their learning space (in fact, the younger the students are, the more inventive they will probably be) – and as the students get older, the more input they provide, the more ownership they will feel. You and your students spend an awful lot of time in the classroom; why not make it a comfortable, welcoming, enjoyable place to be, that really suits the way you and your students learn and want to work.

The process will take some time, but one way to structure it and to gain maximum learning and innovation from the experience might be to use design thinking as a process to get there.

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Hacking the Classroom

There are whole units of work developed around re-designing your classroom; this blog post tries to capture the essence of these, and to send you off to these places so that you can find what is best for you.

The first step, no matter what age-group, is to truly ‘be’ in the classroom. In just five minutes, map your emotions and experiences in the classroom across a whole day. The fact that it is only meant to be a very short exercise reflects that your response should be based on your instinct; your gut feelings – which are often the truest indicators of your emotions before you spend time really thinking and applying what is expected to your responses.

Use a proforma like the one here to map your experience:

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Now you have a baseline, start to re-design one part of the classroom, or break into groups, and have each group focus on different parts. Spend time talking about the different types of learning spaces that are needed in a classroom (using the campfire, watering hole, cave and life metaphors) and use these as a guide.

Create empathy and define the problems you want to solve by using observation and interviews.

Have students photograph the classroom from a variety of different angles and perspectives. Capture how students sit on their chairs, and whether they are comfortable if they gather in groups on the floor. Use video to capture how students move about the room, and how they access different resources. Consider using simple timelapse video apps  to get an accurate picture. Have students map the classroom and also measure the movement within the classroom. Where is the flow? Where are the traffic jams? Use data gathering techniques to build a story. When is the classroom too loud? Too hot? Is there a time of day when the sun makes the room glarey, or do reflections or shadows impact? It can be a real learning experience for students to research in this way; not just from books or the internet, but of real experiences; and to experience collecting  different types of data.

Also encourage students to interview other students. When do they enjoy learning? How do they learn best? Can they always see the board or the teacher? Do they need more time alone? More time talking in small groups? All of this data can inform a fantastic learning opportunity, as well as provide a solid basis for a classroom re-design plan. Better yet, if the Principal or other key decision-makers need convincing, nothing is better than an impressive presentation of hard facts to do it!

Now, based on the data collected, begin to ideate; brainstorm ways that the classroom might be improved!

Week 03 IDEO from Design Thinking for Educators on Vimeo.

There are heaps of great strategies available online to help inspire this fun part of the process, where anything is accepted as a possibility! One of the key ways to ideate is to begin with a carefully constructed “How might we?” question, and then once ideas have been generated, have students identify an idea they like, and build on it using the “I like….because….and…” model. Then, rather than having other students jump in with “yes, but…”, encourage them to continue the discussion with “yes, and…”, which builds on the original idea and encourages even more thinking!

Yes and...

Once you have identified some great ideas for furniture, decor and layout, spend time prototyping the new designs. Use butchers’ paper to draw maps, create furniture out of play dough, or build full size floor plans out of cardboard. Then in small groups, complete an activity such as the one below, which encourages constructive feedback on the prototypes, so that they can be iterated and improved upon!

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The design thinking process is one way to include students in the design of their classroom. It does take time, and time is not always available. Another thing that is not always available is money. So I have curated a board full of ideas on how to redesign your classroom without necessarily buying new furniture. Simple DIY ideas that might inspire you (or your students). If you are really desperate to change up your classroom, maybe consider surveying your parent or community group for those who have skills or contacts in DIY; you might be surprised!! Another idea for high school could be to work together with Shop or Design students to come up with creative new furniture, shelving etc. Sometimes making the room more appealing is just a matter of printing some bright posters to make the walls more colourful…