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Flexible Furniture: Enhancing the Teaching and Learning Environment

Florida School Business Magazine | February 2008

Florida School Business Magazine Enhancing the Teaching and Learning Environment, Optimizing Space and Efficiencies 
By: Mark Waldecker 

As school administrators and facility planners make decisions about furniture for an expansion, renovation or new construction, one word summarizes a guiding principle in helping ensure that the project supports academic achievement for every student: flexibility.  

Budget challenges, smaller class sizes, teacher shortages, student performance assessments, and techology-driven instruction methods represent several of the many issues facings school districts. The right type of furniture can positively impact each of these issues.  

Rows to Circles and Back Again 
In traditional classroom settings, students sat in rigid rows of desks and chairs intended to stay in the same place throughout the day. This has changed in recent years with recognition that students have different learning modalities and educators prefer various teaching methods. Classrooms must be easily adaptable to this new learning environment. 

Designing classrooms with more functional flexibility means that a teacher can easily vary instructional methods to accommodate different learning styles and course topics simply by utilizing reconfigurable furniture. For example, teachers can arrange seating into rows for test taking, circles for group discussions, semicircles for lectures and presentations, or several smaller groupings for collaborative team projects. 

Movable furniture further creates a positive learning environment by allowing teachers and students to move closer together. For instance, desks can be rotated so students sitting near the back of the room can easily relocate to the front. Positioning students nearer to teachers helps them maintain attention and interest.  

Better Hearing and Comfort 
Reconfiguring furniture also helps improve the auditory experience by ensuring that the same students don't' always sit in the back of the room. According to the Technical Committee on Architecture of the Acoustical Society of America, many U.S. classrooms have a speech intelligibility rating of 75 percent or less. This means listeners with normal hearing can understand only 75 percent of the words from a list.  

Noises from mechanical systems, other students, adjacent rooms, and outdoors can contribute to a difficult auditory environment. As noise levels increase, students and teachers must speak more loudly to be heard. Desks and chairs with rollers, which make little or no sound when moved, can make a big difference in reducing ambient noise in the classroom. 

Along with the ability to hear what teachers and peers say, students must feel comfortable in their seating. Flexible furniture, with adjustable height and depth that conforms to each student's size, helps ensure that all students experience a comfortable environment for learning. Anthropometric data shows that the heights of children in fifth and sixth grade can range anywhere from four to six feet tall. Childhood obesity levels continue to rise, providing another reason that a standard size seat/desk doesn't fit all. 

Enhancing Efficiently, Controlling Costs 
Along with academic benefits, flexible furniture provides a number of practical advantages such as optimizing space, improving efficiency, and controlling expenses. Lightweight, durable and portable furniture can be easily rearranged to change the layout and use of a room throughout the day.  

Seating on casters protects flooring by smoothly gliding across the floor, essentially eliminating surface damage caused by traditional desks and chairs. Flexible furniture's ease of mobility also helps lower personnel costs by reducing the time custodial staff spend cleaning a classroom. In addition, the lightweight design can minimize back injury - and potential worker's compensation costs.  

Moveable furniture combined with furniture that accommodates technology allows a single room to serve multi purposes throughout the day. Training and lecture tables, for example, can be outfitted with mechanisms that store laptop or desktop computers beneath the table surface. This means a traditional classroom quickly and easily transforms into a computer lab and back again. 

Moveable Walls Make the Grade 
Another flexible solution - architectural walls - helps schools to maximize limited space and budgets. With just four to five basic parts, architectural walls can be easily installed, removed and reinstalled. This makes it easy to reduce the size of classrooms based on educators' desires to lower the teacher-pupil ratio. 

Subdividing classrooms with architectural walls also is an effective way to increase the number of rooms without significant renovation or construction costs as student population increases. The flexibility of moveable walls makes this a viable option for schools where the number of students varies from year to year or so to create an environment that accommodates a curriculum design. 

Other benefits of moveable walls include a variety of design options, improved sound control over conventional drywall, and support for green design and LEED initiatives. Using moveable walls enhances reusability, construction waste management, low- emitting materials and daylight emphasis.  

Today's educators, administrators and facility planners have more to consider than ever before when making decisions that will help students achieve their fullest potential. Furniture solutions that maximize flexibility for teachers and students serve as the foundation for creating an optimal educational environment.  

Mark Waldecker is K-12 Dealer Development Manager for KI, a manufacturer of furniture and wall system solution. Contact Mark at mark.waldecker@ki.com

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