School districts are discovering that better classroom design equals better learning opportunities for students. Ithaca City School District is leading the way in redesigning classrooms to align with pedagogical practices and a better understanding of the physical limitations of the traditional classroom.
“Contemporary learning spaces” (CLS), such as Dewitt Middle School’s model classroom designed by Derek and Laura Cabrera, include new types of furniture, collaboration-fostering classroom spatial configuration, and hands-on approaches to teaching abstract concepts. ICSD’s Lee Ginenthal, with 38 years of experience in special education, teaches district teachers to utilize the tools of the CLS. Ginenthal explained why the old model of education “just doesn’t cut it anymore” and why he’s been getting calls from educators nation-wide about ICSD’s approach to classroom innovation.
Nearly every surface in the model classroom is writeable, including the walls and the desks. “Our mission is to engage students in their own learning, that moment when the student realizes they are their own teacher and the teacher of others,” said Ginenthal. “In this classroom there isn’t the big teacher desk where the authority sits or a front of the room where the teacher stands.
The teacher doesn’t decorate this classroom. When the work on the wall is the kid’s thinking, they then become the teachers. They are sharing their thinking and leading each other in that way.”
The model classroom replaces traditional chairs with round-bottomed “buoy” chairs that build core strength, enable students to move, and reduce the physical strain of sitting in the same position for too long.
“It’s not good for kids to sit too long, and it’s a distraction,” said Ginenthal. “When you’re sitting in something like a buoy chair your whole core has to be activated. For kids who have trouble sitting still it allows them some movement without being a distraction. Some folks will say ‘How do you sit in this all day long, period after period?’ But the idea is we shouldn’t have kids sitting all day long. I have this expression: the brain can only take in what the behind can endure. We weren’t built to sit all day.”
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