Behind the Colorado school bonds: Integrating furniture into learning

NOTE: This is part of a series of posts on upcoming bond measures on the Nov. 2 ballot. You can read the rest of the series here.

School bond measures are up for a vote on November 2 in districts in Northern Colorado, Colorado Springs and throughout the Front Range and Mountain communities. Passage will allow for much-needed maintenance and renovations and will help create 21st-century classrooms and learning spaces the next generation of Coloradans need and deserve.

That includes reinvesting in everything a student uses during the school day, including the furniture.

Like many parts of the learning experience, furniture in K-12 schools has evolved since many of us were students. As we’ve become smarter about what impacts learning for young students, expectations for the physical make-up of the classroom have adapted to meet newly identified needs. While students still spend most of their day in a classroom, they no longer sit in traditional desks for teacher-led instruction. Now, students participate in collaborative learning, student-led discovery and exploratory exercises, requiring more out of their classroom. Rows of small, rigid desks have given way to flexible study spaces complete with bean bags, couches, active-motion and soft seating and tables designed for group learning.

When bond measures are passed and the planning begins, the factors most impacting student learning are often the first to be discussed in new projects. Furniture integration is a critical part of any new build or redesign of learning spaces, and Colorado school districts must find opportunities to reinvigorate spaces to next-generation learning requirements. 

Robyn Gonzalez, part of our Interiors team in our Castle Rock, says furniture integration is vital to renovation projects. “New layouts and furniture can introduce new options to meet needs and increase function in a space, without having to completely rebuild a space or make major changes to the structure,” she says. Read Robyn’s full blog on the topic here.

Furniture promoting good health

Most desks and chairs we grew up with were established to keep students still and in one place. Nothing more. But we’ve learned we need to have furniture allowing students to move.

Classroom furniture must be adaptable to different learning styles and offer students a choice in their learning environment, especially students who are kinesthetic or tactile learners – those who learn best by actively doing and moving, engaging and exploring the world around them. Colorado State researchers note that kinesthetic learners can’t sit still for long, enjoy role playing and need to take breaks when studying. Beyond that, all students need to move around regularly as their bodies are growing and need to move and stretch often. For younger students, wobbly stools and other malleable furniture provides health benefits by promoting motion.

By proactively integrating furniture into a school’s learning ecosystem, we can develop happier, healthier students, benefitting both them and the community as a whole.

Collaborative furniture for collaborative learning

Remember the days of trying to move bulky desks around for group projects? The screeching alone still haunts some of us.

Different projects require different types of furniture. Whether facilitating group learning in pods or working with computers, smart screens and the like, the furniture needs to accommodate classroom activities and technology. That could mean horseshoe tables or desks outfitted with outlets and charging stations to embed computers or televisions, for example.

To promote reading, soft chairs and couches work better than a hard desk. There’s a reason why your favorite bookstore has soft seating – when you’re not focused on your seat, you’re more focused on the book.

Developing future-ready skills

Furniture plays a key role in skills readiness. As noted in the previous post about bond projects in Colorado, the overall layout and design of a classroom must work to promote optimal learning outcomes. When you ask current employers what they look for in candidates, more and more are prioritizing “soft skills” (adaptation, critical thinking, problem solving and working collaboratively) in addition to technical competencies. 

Classroom and furniture design helps facilitate that learning process. By maximizing learning spaces enabling collaborative team projects and increased communication, access to whiteboards, power for technology and more, we allow students to build soft, or interpersonal skills from day one.

November 2, 2021 brings the next opportunity to give Colorado students renewed investment in their learning. Learn more about the upcoming vote here. And to learn how Hollis + Miller helps school districts invest bond funds to elevate learning in your school district, contact our team today.

Greg Porter is a Partner at Hollis + Miller Architects, an integrated architecture firm that designs the future of learning environments, including charter, public and private K-12 and higher education. Share your thoughts on FacebookLinkedIn or on Twitter @HollisandMiller.

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