To Foam Cube or Not to Foam Cube?

Readers of this blog will remember that students in my Design Lab class redesigned the classroom, created a prototype and budget, and presented their concept to my school district’s grant-giving foundation.  They did such an outstanding job they earned a $2500 grant.  Part of the redesign was to set aside money to test out

dschool foam cubes

Part of the redesign was to set aside money to get our hands on some of the famous “ Sugar Cubes.”  (Ok, this was my own stiff demand.  If I wasn’t going to be able to go to the on my own, I’d try to bring
the’s environment to me.)

So the image at the top represents a set of 4 foam cubes, ordered from .  (They were the cheapest I could find, but I didn’t look as much at the local level as I should have.  Very happy with their customer service, however.)Luckily, they were able to special order the cubes from a supplier closer to my location (near Philadelphia, PA) and save us a bunch of $$ on shipping.  Nevertheless, those four cubes represent a considerable chunk of change.  And for those of you as spatially challenged as I am–16″ x 16″ is actually a large piece of real estate.  I’m not going to announce how much these were for several reasons, none the least of which is to protect myself from ridicule.  However, the functionality and potential in these cubes is as advertised.  I’ve already seen students picking them up and imagining how they might put them to uses other than for seating.  (No…not for throwing at each other.)

As our classroom evolves and begins to more closely match the vision we had in October of 2016, I’ll continue to post.  And if anyone knows how I can procure solidly built project tables that would accommodate the use of 26″ stools or standard plastic chairs and seat 4 people at each table, please let me know.

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.

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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.