The BHive as a Flexible Learning Environment

Understanding Our Current Classroom Environment

The clunkiness of our desks has been a general challenge for the entire 18 years that I've been in the classroom, but idea that we could (and should) do something about it didn't occur to me until just a few months ago.

The spark that eventually grew into this blaze of a project was a thought that, admittedly, was one of a slightly frustrated tone: Why do I have to start each class telling the same four or five kids to sit down? It wasn't the first time I'd mentally grumbled that to myself, but what finally clicked on this one particular time in February was that their standing was annoying to me for no particular reason all. I took a moment to digest that, and then I considered the sum total of those standing-at-the-start-of-class observations: maybe the students didn't sit down, but they did put the supplies needed for my class on their desks and the everything else under their seats, and they did (usually) get started on their warm-up or wait quietly for instructions if there wasn't one.

And then they would be the ones giving little groans when they were told (yet again) to sit down, cramming themselves into sitting positions when standing was obviously what was more naturally comfortable for them.

So, who really had the better reason to feel frustrated?

I spent a couple of weeks using the kids as guinea pigs (unbeknownst to them) in a series of experiments in changing up the room arrangement in small ways that allowed the standers to keep standing, and I also paid closer attention to the kids who seemed to prefer staying seated. After considering what I already knew about my learners' diverse needs and silently observing the impact of the classroom's physical space on students' behavior and achievement, I made these critical connections:

  • The standers were also generally the ones who I have to keep an eye on for unnecessary chattiness or other minor off-task behaviors. They were more focused and had to be redirected much less on days when they were allowed to stand through the duration class.
  • If the sitters wanted more isolation, I allowed them to pull their desks out of their group if they had the space to do so, and they also felt more productive.
  • Because I teach 6th, 7th, and 8th Grades, my students range in height from 4'9" to 6'2". Both my shortest and my tallest students prefer standing.
  • Due to space constraints, the best arrangement for our 28 desks is four groups of 4 and two groups of 6. Rearranging into singles or any other grouping number is difficult because they have to navigate around the 6 necessary, but almost immovable storage bins that house each groups' books, workbooks, and art supplies.
  • Though I have students group differently a 3-4 times a week, this isn't nearly as often as I'd like. I'd have more instructional range if the kids could move that much in any given class period.
  • In knowing my learners, I already knew that I had several students who are twice-exceptional. That is, in addition to their Giftedness, they have a second (or even a third) neurodiversity and/or are differently-abled along health or physical lines. I took the time to do the math, and I was somewhat astounded to find that nearly a third are twice-exceptional, with the top neurodiveristy being either ADD or ADHD.
  • My school system is shifting to personalized learning (PL), and we've spent the past year learning about PL in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). We've watched lots of training videos about PL classrooms, and while the physical environment has never been the focus of those videos, I couldn't help but notice that in every one of those rooms, the furniture was flexible. The desks, tables, and chairs conformed to the students' needs instead of students conforming to counterproductive seating.

It was clear that something needed to change.

How We Hope to Transform Our Space

I spent some time researching educational furniture options that might suit our needs, and I was amazed at what was available: chairs specifically engineered to leverage the advantages of fidgeting, adjustable-height desks in different shapes that facilitated flexible grouping, effective, space-saving storage solutions, and even teacher desks designed to be on the move instead of restricted to one corner. 

Two companies emerged as front runners for having the most of our needs boxes checked.  I narrowed down as far as the company level, but I left it up to the students to come to many of the same conclusions I did about our needs, and they also had the task of determining which furniture lines each company offered seemed like good fits for us. 

KI's Ruckus Collection

KI's Ruckus Collection is a new kid on the block, but it is already winning awards for its ingenious considerations for how kids and teachers really move about their classroom spaces. The wheeled Ruckus chairs would give students (and Mrs. B) 360º of seating versatility. The desks are lightweight but sturdy and are designed to slide easily from one arrangement to the next. The Ruckus teacher's desk is on wheels so that it can move just as easily as the students' desks. Finally, the Ruckus storage cubbies and cabinets (also on casters) would make storing all of our resources a breeze.

Smith System's Interchange line features desks with unique top shapes that allows for versatile arrangements of groups. Given our class size and the number desks needed, the smaller rectangular desks (which are still a bit bigger than our current desks) would probably work best for us. What would really amp up our classroom is the ability to add adjustable leg extenders and casters to the Interchange desks. Paired with the Flavors™ Adjustable Stools, students would have the option of sitting or standing to work. The Cascade storage system would help control the clutter, and with the option to have dry erase boards on the back of them, they'd pull double-duty as workspaces. Each of the teacher's desk options include casters and various arrangements of storage drawers that integrate with the Cascade storage systems and the students' desks!