Classroom Redesign: Optimizing Learning for the 21st Century

My students are often surprised and excited to learn that I once walked the halls of our middle school as a student. In fact, I had learning experiences in many of the same classrooms as they do, sitting in what looks to be the same chairs and at the same desks. Although reminiscing offers some nostalgia, it is troubling to think that the school has not changed much over the course of two decades. Sure, there is a nicely designed, open-spaced media center that was built years after I graduated, but students only spend a fraction of their time there. This begs the question — why do the majority of the classrooms look the same as they did when I was a student? Does it cost too much money to implement changes that optimize learning spaces for students? Are there steps that we as educators can take to create more welcoming, creative and student-centered spaces? Of course, money is certainly a factor, but after assessing my current classroom, I cannot let it stop me from implementing some incremental remodeling. After all, it is only fair that I offer my students a space that supports learning theories I believe in.

To better understand the scope of traditional classrooms, we must revert to the 18th and 19th centuries, when the Industrial Revolution took place. As Sir Ken Robinson, creativity mogul, so perfectly and simply states, “It’s the factory model” (OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture, & Bruce Mau Design, 2010, p. 56). If our goal is to prepare students for a future filled with uncertainty, undoubtedly looking unlike anything we could imagine, it is troubling to come to the realization that most of our classrooms continue to exemplify conformity; teachers and students maintain strict roles and risk-taking is often met with discipline rather than praise. In the most viewed Ted Talk of all time, Sir Ken Robinson states, “Many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not because the thing they were ever good at wasn’t valued or was actually stigmatized” (2006). Consequently, before we begin remodeling the layout and design of our classrooms, it is important for us to reassess what we are doing within their walls.

In an article exploring what schools can learn from industry-leading innovators, Steve Turckes and Melanie Kahl pose the question, “What would it mean for schools to have a culture centered on design thinking and interdisciplinary projects instead of siloed subjects?” (2011). In an ideal situation, this would certainly require a macro-strategy by school districts as a whole; however we can still implement changes within our own classrooms that embody this sentiment. That said, below is my vision for redesigning my middle school classroom.

My Current Classroom

My Redesigned Classroom Model

By looking at the current photos, you will notice the walls are lined with desks and, when working on their computers, students sit, staring at the wall — not the most inspiring view. Besides the fact that the desks are positioned in a way that does not support collaboration, they are completely outdated; they include a fixed keyboard tray for old desktop computers. Therefore, my first and most pressing redesign measure would be to replace the desks with four, six-foot, height-adjustable tables, as displayed in the 3D models above. My students have boundless energy, so providing them with stools where they can choose to sit or stand will provide them with flexibility to work more efficiently (notice the positioning of the tables — diagonal to allow for better flow and less conventionality). Additionally, there are three desks in the middle of the classroom, and I would leave all but one as a teacher workstation. If I could not find unused tables at the school, these updates would cost approximately $2,500.

One wall of my classroom is currently lined with a chalkboard, while the other has a cork board — neither of which are used effectively. Instead, I would replace both with dry erase boards, allowing students to use them for planning, brainstorming or however else it helps them free their creative spirits. I would also line the tops of the tables with dry erase boards to foster further creativity and ease of brainstorming and collaborating at any time. Magnetic, dry-erase boards for the side walls would cost approximately $400.

The current projector I use is one that most likely existed when I was a middle school student, yet there is a new projector that was installed a couple of years ago, on the front wall of the classroom. Unfortunately, even though it was installed, it was never properly initialized, which has led to me to continue using the older model. I would rid the old projector and take the necessary steps to set up the new one.

Although it is not as pressing, I would love to have two lounge areas available to students, with four single arm chair couches and four round ottomans, costing approximately $600. Luckily, my classroom has plenty of natural light and built-in shelving available for storage.

Reassessing my classroom space has inspired me to begin making my vision a reality. It begins with a conversation with key stakeholders (i.e., my building administrators and supervisor), but it is time my classroom reflects the teaching methods I believe strongly in. While the cost of equipment is a factor, the cost of continuing to model our learning spaces from the 18th century is far more prohibitive.

Have you considered redesigning your own classroom? Feel free to comment below — I would love to hear your thoughts, opinions or concerns!


Kahl, M. (2011, November 22). What Schools Can Learn from Google, IDEO, and Pixar. Retrieved from

OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture, & Bruce Mau Design. (2010). The third teacher: 79 ways you can use design to transform teaching & learning. Retrieved from

Robinson, K. (2006, February). Do schools kill creativity? Retrieved from