Siler City, NC – For a lot of us, the classrooms we learned in as children look a lot like the classrooms our children or grandchildren learn in today. That’s changing though, and Chatham County Schools’ Geraldine Kirk has created innovative Career and Technical Education classroom spaces to showcase how classrooms can better meet the needs for the students of today and tomorrow.
The innovative focus is centered on flexible classroom learning environments where safety comes first. This means easily moveable, but durable, tables and chairs to allow the classroom to best meet the needs of whatever the teachers and students are doing. “I want students to feel ownership in the classroom and this furniture is one way to help build that with students” said Kirk. Instead of traditional classroom desks with attached chairs, Kirk installed a variety of tables that are different heights and shapes to make creative and engaging classrooms.
“I know some students have a hard time sitting still in chairs during class, so we found Hokki (pronounced Hookie) stools. These unique stools allow students to wobble, but unlike using Yoga balls, these won’t suddenly shoot out from under a student if the student is off balance” explained Kirk.
During a visit to the Silk Hope showcase classroom, indeed all of the Hokki stools were immediately grabbed by students who enthusiastically endorsed them over chairs.In the newly remodeled Health Sciences lab at Jordan-Matthews High School, Senior Lucas Hargrove said, “These desks and chairs are more comfortable than what’s in our other classrooms. It makes it easy to do group work and change where we’re working quickly.” Hargrove went on to say that he’d like to see similar seating options in all the classrooms.
Teachers are also enthusiastic supporters of the transition to flexible classroom environments. At the Chatham Center for Innovation’s SAGE Academy teacher Kathrina Nellis observed that student behavior immediately improved when students realized they could configure the room how they were most comfortable. “The entire mood and engagement level of the classroom changed with the new furniture. I let them configure the classroom however they want it. These desks and seating options mean that no matter what we’re doing there’s a way that the students can move them to make their work space fit the project” reflected Nellis.
It’s not just the furniture that Kirk has addressed though, it’s also the paint on the walls. Each of the classrooms that Kirk redesigned feature an accent wall or bright colored furniture in alternating colors. It brings light and life to classrooms that sometimes can feel institutional when they’re just painted off-white. “The colorful geometric decals on the wall at Silk Hope give the room a focal point and let the students know that this is a room where they are being encouraged to be creative” said Kirk of the computer lab at Silk Hope.
Chatham County School’s theme this year has been “Destination Innovation” and teachers have through January 30 to apply for Innovative Teaching Grants from the district to help kickstart projects like this in their classroom. Flexible learning options, like the ones that Kirk designed, are just one way that Chatham County Schools is looking for innovative ways to support students today and into the future.