A Mercy student shifts uncomfortably in her hard, straight-backed chair, distracted from the lesson while trying to get comfortable, unable to focus and pay attention. Desks and chairs are an obvious classroom necessity, but this doesn’t necessarily mean all classroom furniture has to be a traditional, cookie-cutter design.
In fact, Mercy has added new furniture to two classrooms: one in a north hall math classroom, and one in a south hall social studies classroom. This new furniture includes swivel chairs with long tables, higher chairs with a raised long table, couches along the wall with movable desk platforms, and completely mobile chairs with a small, connected desk. These new furniture pieces have completely changed the classroom dynamic, encouraging student communication, and offering a new classroom layout that is both comfortable and inviting.
These mobile classrooms were made possible with grant money and Mercy Associate Principal Mr. Larry Baker’s idea for a change of setting in the classroom.
“Administration is advocating ‘active learning’ as a way for students to remember learning beyond a test,” Mr. Baker said. “The new furniture is mobile and allows for easy reconfiguration that accommodates collaboration and other experiences besides the traditional teacher-at-front of class student desks-in-rows configuration.”
The introduction of these newly furnished classrooms is currently a trial period, as Mercy’s primary focus is to collect data from students about the change. Mercy is participating in a survey with Steelcase, a furniture company based in Grand Rapids. Steelcase aims to, as its website states, “creat[e] great experiences by offering a range of architecture, furniture and technology products and services designed to help people reach their full potential.”
The new furniture will certainly do so, as students are already expressing their positive feedback about the change. Junior Mady Heatherington sits in a swivel chair at a long desk-table in her Algebra II class, and feels the classroom’s furniture is increasing her ability to participate in group discussions.
“I like [the classroom] better than before because you have a 360-degree view of the entire room, and it’s easier to collaborate with other students because the seats spin,” she said. “[It makes] working with others easier.”
A study done by Steelcase on the impact of adding mobile classroom furniture resulted in students responding that their collaboration, focus, active involvement, stimulation, and opportunity to engage increased. Research strongly suggests that updating classroom furniture to be geared toward mobile classrooms has a positive impact on the learning and in-class engagement of students. (https://www.steelcase.com/research/articles/how-classroom-design-affects-student-engagement)
Mercy math teacher Mr. Roy Asher and social studies teacher Ms. Lisa Robinet who work in the newly furnished classrooms agree that student engagement during class has increased, and that they would like to see more classrooms get the new furniture.
“I think it allows the students to work collaboratively better than just being in rows, and it should be more student-centered anyway instead of teacher-centered,” Ms. Robinet said. “It gives the students a choice of where they want to sit, how they want to sit. . . It gives them a sense of ownership, I guess, of where they want to sit.. . I like [the furniture] because it gives [them] that flexibility.”