21st Century Early Education Classroom | Smith System | School FurnitureIf you were asked to describe any of your school classrooms growing up, I’d imagine most of you would paint the same picture: a chalkboard at the front with the teacher’s desk and neat rows of desks and chairs facing forward. In many schools today, this is still the norm. But with new learning initiatives such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and new research on how kids learn best, the image of the 21st century classroom is a vastly different and constantly evolving picture.

SHAPING 21st CENTURY LEARNERS BY CREATING 21st CENTURY CLASSROOMS

Most experts in the field of education have differing definitions of 21st century learning, but most agree that it involves developing competencies in collaboration, communication, digital literacy, critical thinking and problem solving. Levine Academy, a conservative Jewish private Pre-K through 8 school in Dallas, decided to embrace these tenets and embarked upon an ambitious 3-month redesign of the school. “We were faced with a very old style of teaching,” says Mark Stolovitsky, the head of the school. “Desks were in rows. There was no space.” To facilitate 21st century learning, creating 21st century classrooms was essential – classrooms that have desks and furniture that support collaboration and space for movement.

21st Century Classroom configuration | Smith System

A Levine Academy Classroom with Interchange Diamond Desks Configured in Three Different Ways. Used in conjunction with Cascade Mega-Towers.

“For 21st century learning, it’s important to be able to teach to a variety of levels,” says Marci Frenkel, the Co-Chair for the Building Committee who oversaw the entire construction at Levine. Now “we can break up the students into [groups of] 2s, 4s, 5s and move desks around…so the teacher can move around. It’s no longer teaching to the front of the classroom on a chalkboard, it’s now an interactive model for teaching.” The desks, which are Smith System’s Interchange Diamond Desks, facilitate collaboration and talking amongst students. “They should be talking,” says Levine’s K-8 Principal Kathleen Swafford. “If the teacher is doing all the talking that means the teacher is the star and the teacher shouldn’t be the star. The children should be the ones doing most of the talking…that’s how kids learn.”

USING FURNITURE TO ENHANCE THE IDEAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

The Diamond Desks have played a key role in Levine’s push towards creating an ideal 21st century learning environment. Teachers can arrange the desks into a variety of configurations and desks are arranged and rearranged throughout the school day. Desks can be placed in pods of 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, with students facing each other. The teacher continuously moves around the classroom as opposed to remaining only at the front. “Once you go from frontal teaching type to collaboration, the whole nature of learning is different…these desks are brilliant in how they can be moved around into a variety of configurations that meet the needs of our students,” says Stolovitsky. “We’re creating independent learners,” adds Swafford.

To allow reconfiguration to happen multiple times a day, the desks and chairs needed to be easily moveable, easy to put together and lightweight. Smith System’s Diamond Desks and Flavors chairs fit the bill and also offered Levine color variety to support their vision of what the 21st century classroom looks like. “We definitely wanted to move away from the primary colors that are associated with [the old way] of learning. We wanted to bring the outside in, and use natural colors,” says Frenkel. Smith System offered “great, soothing calm colors.” The school chose soft oranges and blues and warm maple tones for the furniture.

Although teachers were a bit resistant to the changes at first, it is clear upon visiting Levine Academy that the new desks and chairs are being utilized fully and embraced whole-heartedly. The learning environment Levine has designed is vibrant and continuously evolving, thanks in great part to the student collaboration that the new desks and chairs help to create. “It’s really quite amazing how the desks work,” says Stolovitsky. The new furniture and re-design have helped to “create an energy around the school that we haven’t had for a long time…it’s pervasive throughout the school, from the youngest to the oldest,” remarks Frenkel.

Learn more about the Smith System products specified in The Levine Academy:

• Interchange Diamond Desks
• Interchange 3-2-1 Tables
• Flavors Stack Chairs
• Flavors Adjustable Chairs
• Cascade Mega-Towers
• Cascade Mini-Cabinets