How to Design Think a Classroom, Part 2: “If you never ask, you’ll never know.”


img_1990-1In the first post on this activity, I mentioned I’d suggested students start with observations of how their peers in other classes acted while seated in other classrooms.  Those results led to discussions about fidgeting, shifting, sloppiness, and a host of other activities that seemed inimical to the kind of focused attention assumed of students.  These observations were designed to get students thinking about how their normal postures and attitudes in a space can be, indeed are, constructed by the design of the room and its furniture.

Qualitative Data Analysis:  Observations Guide Actions

After conducting empathy interviews with English students, fellow d-lab students, and  me, the teacher, the class pooled their observations (different students focused on what the interviewee was saying or doing and they made inferences about the interviewee’s thoughts or feelings) and listed this information on the large blackboard. (Thanks to Moss Pike and The Teacher’s Guild for a post from a few years ago where I first saw a blackboard like this.)


We had already scripted a quick How Might We…statement: “How might we design a space that biases learners towards thinking and doing.”  But after these interviews and reflection upon more research, we revised it.  However, it became too clunky and verbose, so most of the students worked under the assumptions of the original HMW statement, always keeping in mind the four key goals of the project:  Flexibility, Adjustability, Expression, and Access.

Collaboration, Ideation, Prototypes

Students then broke into four different groups, ideated, pooled ideas and set to building initial prototypes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After presenting these prototypes to the rest of the class, we synthesized the best ideas.  A group of volunteers then set out to create a second prototype, another group worked on a quick branding activity and came up with a logo and slogan for the class (see below).  A third group worked on developing a spreadsheet to itemize costs and quantities and a final group assisted me in developing a grant proposal for our district’s foundation.  After a week of work, the groups were finished and we sent our proposal off to the foundation.

Design Success

The difference between the redesign and the current room are substantial but are based upon an understanding of the distinct needs of the different students who populate the room and the manner in which we learn in the classes.  The photos below show the room as it currently exists.

And the room as redesigned by the students?  Well, the final prototype (above next to our logo) will have to do.  We’ve a lot of shopping, painting, and building to do before we’ll be able to issue “before and after” pictures, but the ideas we have are below.

Instead of individual, immovable desks, some research and inspirational searching led the students to devise standing tables with whiteboard/showerboard false tops recessed into the table’s real top–a sheet of finished plywood.  These whiteboard tops increase the writeable surfaces in the classroom and can easily be raised to vertical for presentations. All tables will be on casters to allow for easy movement and rearrangement for Design classes or English classes (I teach both).   Easily stackable stools also increase the flexibility and adjustability of the room.  Removal of the television and VCR and a series of bookshelves create a cave space for secluded work and for more introspective students. Foam Cubes, a’la the, will help create quick, campfire breakout spaces for team ideation or small group discussions.  An accent wall of color (to be determined) will highlight the blackboard wall.

In all, the costs run approximately $3200.  Before the Perkiomen Valley School District Foundation voted on our grant, our team presented to the district superintendent, assistant superintendent, and school principal.  The next day we learned that the foundation had approved our grant proposal and awarded us $2500 of what the $3200 we sought.  This, of course, is $2500 more than we would have had if we’d never engaged in this design project, proving once again the veracity of the old saw, “If you never ask, you’ll never know.”

(Student Blog Reflections on this project can be found at:  AKAEnlightenment, Adventures of a Teenage Dreamer, Lost in thought

The room is not done by any means, but the lessons learned here have continued as the d-lab students have moved on to assist in the transformation of one of our middle school libraries.  Stay tuned for a report on that project.

1 thought on “How to Design Think a Classroom, Part 2: “If you never ask, you’ll never know.”

  1. Garreth–

    Hadn’t caught up with your classroom in awhile, so refreshing to see what you’ve been up to! I was also delighted to see this particular post–my graphic design 2 class just went through the exact same process this past year: redesigning a non-functioning space, branding it, presenting it to administrators, receiving grants, and finally changing the space. A most satisfying–and joyful–experience for everyone involved. Can’t wait to see what you have planned for the coming school year! Would be totally fun to do a virtual collab….


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s