Education, K-12

Flexible Furniture Flops

So, we all know that “flexible seating” is a trend in classrooms these days.  The idea is to create an environment that allows more comfort and more choice for students.  Some people interpret “flexible” to mean different things.  It’s funny to me (though not mysterious), for example, to see a flexible seating classroom where all of the students have assigned seats.  The chairs vary from beanbags to armchairs, but the students and the chairs stay in the same place.  Then there are the flexible seating classrooms where everything is on wheels: tables, dry-erase boards, chairs, and book-shelves.  These allow for multiple configurations during the day so students can work in groups, be placed in rows for state assessments, or create their own small islands for independent study.

After seeing some examples of flexible classrooms at Harvard, Stanford, and Trinity Universities, I knew that I wanted to give it a try in my classroom.  I slowly started accumulating different furniture pieces, and placing them in my room.  I was trying to be frugal by looking at Goodwill, Craigslist, and various other secondhand sources.  But I realized that it would take me 20 years to find what I had envisioned and decided to start making my own purchases.

I knew I wanted the furniture to be easy-to-clean (preferably vinyl), within a certain color scheme, affordable, and safe for the students.  I also wanted most of it to be “movable.”  My biggest challenge is that I teach gifted students from K-5, and the classes vary in size from 4-19.  Trying to find a setup that would work for various ages of maturity as well as small and large groups slightly overwhelmed me.

I started with the black storage ottomans that you see in the picture below.  I purchased the cubes and the benches from Big Lots, and they have been one of my best investments.  I can keep headphones, robots, and all kinds of things inside them.  They are comfortable and easy to clean.  And, they fold almost flat when I need to put them away.


Our librarian donated a tall table to me when she got new furniture.  This worked well with the barstools (on the back wall) I bought from Wayfair.  The table is also good for students who prefer not to sit while they work.


The “rugs” are actually plastic outdoor rugs that I bought from Cost Plus (sorry, but I don’t see them on their website any longer).  The little black tables came from Walmart, coffee table and end table ($10!)

The awesome picnic chairs in the lower right corner of the picture above were on sale when I bought them from Amazon.  I also got the video rockers (left on the edge of the above picture) on sale ($20 each at the time) from Amazon.

The next picture shows some inflatable ottomans with their mandala covers (removable so I can wash them) that I got at 5 Below.

I really, really wanted a futon/sofa.  I spent a year looking for a used one that fit my mental picture.  I finally decided I was done with searching, and bought this one instead on Amazon.  It was a great deal, considering I didn’t have to move it and the only thing I had to do when it came out of the box was screw on the legs.  You can see it below, next to the foosball coffee table.


Oh yeah, did I mention the foosball table?  So that was not planned.  We had the table at our old house, and had no place for it in our new one.  So, there you go.  Instant distraction/behavior management tool/physics lesson – depending on how you look at it.

Now, one thing I pride myself on when it comes to this blog is telling the truth.  So, I’m going to tell you right now, in case you didn’t already deduce this from the title of this post, that reality struck as soon as students started moving through this learning oasis I had created.  Oh yes, the students oohed and aahed when they walked in for the first time (after a 10 minute discussion about behavior expectations).  They love the room, and breathe relaxed sighs whenever they enter.  But they are kids.

Students rocked themselves out of the video chairs, the foosball table got mysteriously broken, a picnic chair zipper ripped, the pneumatic bar stools shot up so high that my students couldn’t put their legs under the table, and the inflatable ottomans almost became the weapons in a pillow fight.

Pretty much every post that I have read about flexible seating has said that behavior improved in the classrooms where it was implemented.  What was I doing wrong?!!!!

Feeling defeated after the students left one day, I picked up the ripped picnic chair.  It looked irreparable, but I started fumbling with the zipper.  Then I started paying attention and realized that I might be able to fix it.  Ten minutes later, the chair looked brand new.

Next I confronted the foosball table.  We had indoor recess the day before, so I had let the students play.  No one could understand how a rod got broken…  Emboldened by my picnic chair success, I set about working on getting the rod back in place.  Fifteen minutes later, done!

I sat down on an inflatable ottoman and pondered matters.  My students love the room, and they love the freedom of seating choice.  But, I needed to be more explicit about the responsibilities that comes with those freedoms.

And so, armed with a better plan, I welcomed the next class into the room and quickly moved students who made poor choices about using the furniture to traditional chairs and tables.  After two students got moved, things began to settle down.  As we transitioned to different activities and students changed places throughout the day, I noticed less attention being paid to the seating and more attention directed to the learning.  At the end of the day, when it was time for clean up, everything was returned to its original spot.

Photo Sep 26, 10 05 29 AM.jpg

As the novelty wears off, the students are making better choices.  They know they will all get a chance to sit in every spot, as long as they show they can handle the responsibility.  In future weeks, they will hopefully be helping to decorate this place that belongs to all of us.  We are going to work together to flip our furniture flops into forgotten footnotes of a fabulous year!

Photo Sep 26, 10 05 34 AM.jpgPhoto Sep 26, 10 05 57 AM.jpgPhoto Sep 26, 10 18 18 AM.jpg


Education, K-12, Motivation

Step Right Up to the Genius Bar!

Remember this?

The kind-of-before pic of my classroom Genius Bar
The kind-of-before pic of my classroom Genius Bar

It turned out like this.

Click on the picture so you can see a slightly bigger, though still kind of unfocused, view!

This is our class Genius Bar, inspired by the classroom make-over mentioned in this post.

I apologize for the blurriness of parts of the picture.  The lighting in my classroom is not the best – plus I’m a horrible photographer!

close-up of the Quote of the Day frame I am using - with a quote from Kid President
close-up of the Quote of the Week frame I am using – with a quote from Kid President
I put chalkboard paint on top, and the students will have a question they can respond to with the neon chalkboard markers each week.
I put chalkboard paint on top, and the students will have a question they can respond to with the neon chalkboard markers each week.
I found this picture, and made it my desktop pic on the laptop to reinforce my theme.
I found this picture here, and made it my desktop pic on the laptop to reinforce my theme.

How do I plan for the kids to utilize the Genius Bar?  I will be “gamifying” our classroom, and the students will get privileges at each of the levels.  One privilege will be to access the reference materials, including the computer (and I will probably add an iPad) whenever needed – as we do not, unfortunately, have a 1 to 1 classroom.  They will also be able to use the neon chalk markers to respond to a weekly question.  Another level will allow them to access the “fun” books and games.  And, yet another level will allow them to check out the books and games for home use.  (I’ll share the “Level Up” poster as soon as I finalize it.)

And what’s a Genius Bar without the advice of a Genius?  I am thinking of using the info from the “What are My S.K.I.L.L.Z.” sheet, and letting kids sign up to get advice from one of our resident geniuses on a topic.

I’m still working on other parts of the room (school has started, but I test for the first few weeks, so I have a bit of time before classes begin.) And, if you recall, I mentioned that I got permission to use the classroom next to me.  I’m going to have the kids help me create a Maker Studio.

Do you have any other suggestions for our Genius Bar?

(Update:  I just saw this post from Erin Klein on her own classroom transformation that you might find interesting.  Her pictures are much better than mine!)

Education, K-12, Teaching Tools, Universal Design for Learning

Rows of Desks are SO Yesterday

Remember the post I did on adding a Genius Bar to your classroom?  Well, I decided that I must do exactly that.  So, I have been working on re-purposing an old bookshelf to become the countertop of my Genius Bar.  Have I mentioned that I am not very good at DIY projects?  First of all, I often forget to do a “Before” picture, so I only have a “During” one.  Secondly, it’s possible I killed more than one brain cell while I spray-painted this monstrosity – and that’s slightly ironic considering the fact that I am calling it a “Genius Bar.”   However, I cannot wait until the students see the finished product.  Maybe they will be so excited that they won’t notice my diminished capacity…

My Genius Bar in progress!
My Genius Bar in progress!

I am doing my best to re-design my classroom this year to support the type of learning that I plan to facilitate during the next nine months – lots of collaboration and creation.  I just got some great news – I will be able to use the empty classroom next to me, as well!  I am brimming with ideas.  Unfortunately, I am not not brimming with finances for this endeavor.  I am going to see how much I can re-purpose to create my “Learning Studio,” and then work on getting financing for the rest – perhaps through Donors Choose.  I will keep you posted on my progress.

Speaking of Donors Choose, check out the #RemakeClass Photo Sweepstakes sponsored by Edutopia, in which you can possibly win a gift card from Donors Choose!  If you’re like me, and don’t think you can get it together by the August 25th deadline, you might still want to visit the site to take a look at all of the fabulous photos for some inspiration.  If you are interested in entering the contest, here is a link to the F.A.Q.’s. (Also, here is a link to Edutopia’s weekly giveaways, which also includes a Donors Choose gift card this week for $500!)

For more inspiration, here are a couple of other articles that have great ideas for classroom makeovers:  “How to Make Your Classroom a Thinking Space” by Suzie Boss, and “My Top 10 Learning Spaces – A Universal Design in a Gifted Classroom” by Zoe Branigan-Pipe.

Behavior, Education, K-12, Motivation, Teaching Tools, Universal Design for Learning, Videos, Websites

How About Adding a Genius Bar to Your Classroom?


Ever since my former principal, John Hinds, recommended a book to our staff, Spaces and Places, by Debbie Diller, I have looked at my classroom with a brand new set of eyes.  I’ve tried to break out of the traditional mold, and to create an environment that promotes engagement, collaboration, and curiosity.  I still haven’t attained the ideal classroom, but I like to think that I improve each year.

This isn’t about themes or decorating.  This is about placement of furniture and learning tools.  It’s about visualizing the kind of learning that you would like to see happening, and then designing a space that facilitates that.

My ideal classroom would have mobile furniture, like the one I described here.  But, in the absence of that, there are still things that I can do to project the aura of a synergetic learning enviroment.  For example, this recent series of videos posted by Edutopia showing the transformation of a middle school teacher’s classroom gave me the idea of adding a “Genius Bar” to my room.   (I suppose, if one is worried about the implications of the word, “bar”,  “Genius Counter” might be a good substitute.)  In the video, it is one wall with a long dry erase board over a counter and two computers at either end.  What a fabulous idea!  This would help me with my efforts to encourage the students to consult each other to help with problem solving, rather than to immediately refer to me.

Most of us do not have the resources to design a classroom from the ground up, but this is a great time of year to consider getting rid of, or re-purposing, what we don’t need and finding the best placement for what have.  I know many teachers who have surrendered their teacher desks and/or filing cabinets because these pieces of furniture no longer serve a helpful function in the learner-centered, 21st-century classroom.

Instead of walking into your classroom and mechanically dragging desks into rows this year, consider what physical changes you can make to galvanize your students to become the kind of learners you have always imagined.

Since most of us don’t have a design team to consult, I highly recommend Spaces and Places as a more economical alternative.  Also, Classroom Architect is an online tool that you may find useful as you plan the structure of your classroom.

Behavior, Education, Independent Study, K-12, Motivation, Teaching Tools, Videos

Differentiated Furniture!

One of our 1st grade teachers, Mrs. Cunningham, is piloting an unusual classroom at Fox Run Elementary this year.  Much of the furniture is on wheels – including tables (instead of desks) and dry erase boards.  She has just posted an awesome video on her blog showing the amazing ways this has transformed her room.  From the beginning of the day – when the students walk in and immediately begin rolling the tables around to suit their morning routine – to their center activities, the students in Mrs. Cunningham’s video show the versatility such a classroom allows.  Two tables easily make a computer pod, a dry erase board becomes a station, students who have demonstrated responsibility roll their tables out into the hallway to work, and anyone who learns best by standing or sitting on the floor is welcome to abandon his or her chair.  You will also note that students who are commenting at the end of the video are using the microphones that go with her classroom amplification system – yet another powerful tool.

Our principal, John Hinds, saw a classroom similar to this at a university, and realized its potential.  Coupled with a teacher who works tirelessly to provide a differentiated learning environment for her students, this classroom is an ideal example of student-centered learning at its best.  Kudos for Mr. Hinds for having the vision (and providing the funding), and to Mrs. Cunningham and her students for being the trailblazers for our campus – and hopefully for many more elementary school classrooms in the near future!

If you are unable to view the embedded video below, please click here.  Also, I am sure Mrs. Cunningham’s class would love it if you visited their blog and left a comment here.

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