A Firm Fit

Furniture selection involves careful consideration of its use and functionality, as well as how it fits with current teaching methodologies.

Flexibility and mobility are key considerations when specifying classroom furniture for elementary, middle and high school facilities.

For example, at today's elementary and middle schools, current teaching methods are best supported with flexible groupings-instruction is presented to the entire classroom, then the students break down into smaller groups for further study. Desks and chairs must be mobile to complement this teaching style.

It's elementary In elementary schools, student chairs should be lightweight for easy movement. A wire rack under the seat of the chair is preferred for limited storage. Polypropylene seats and backs on chairs provide a durable, washable surface. The student desk should have a flat top, allowing furniture to be multifunctioning. This permits desks to be clustered together to create a large worktable, or arranged in a circle, oval or U-shape for smaller group study and other uses.

Consider storage areas in desks with compartments to keep such things as pencils, pens and calculators separated from papers. As organizational skills are presented in the 4th and 5th grades, incorporating storage locations within the desk is beneficial. Another idea for student desks is a lap pad that could be pulled out from the desk and moved with the student for group activities.

Keep in mind that students like change. Furniture that is multifunctioning and mobile allows the classroom to be kinetic. It enables teachers to use a variety of teaching methods and presentation techniques.

Designing for change At all grades, built-in casework limits reconfiguration of the classroom. Therefore, built-ins should be minimal and designed for optimal functionality. Current instructional methodology uses oversized two- and three-dimensional visuals; therefore, size storage units accordingly. Large, pull-out flat file drawers are essential.

A centralized storage area for the teaching team often is the most efficient option. Carts with shelves and casters facilitate the transfer of items from the centralized storage area to the classroom. Some may be designed to function as mobile student-study desks.

The wall track for dry marker boards and tackable panels has been particularly useful in the classroom. A multitrack or double-track system takes it a step further, allowing stacking and movement of the marker boards and tackable panels when wall space is limited. Because of new approaches in teaching, tackable wall surfaces or bulletin boards are effective instructional tools. Wall panels that can be moved easily, along with a dry marker board, to different locations in the room for group study give the teacher and students different options.

At the elementary level, the trend is moving away from a teacher's desk. A podium with locked storage on casters allows the teacher to move with the students. If a teacher requests a work area, consider incorporating it as a mobile counter.

In the middle school, a teacher's desk still is preferred. Teachers need a work surface large enough to accommodate a computer. Classroom television monitors often are contained in movable carts. Each teacher should have an ergonomically designed upholstered armchair with casters.

File cabinets are a necessity for teachers at all levels. It is best to standardize with one file size and color, with a four-drawer file cabinet being the typical selection. A teacher may have one to three file cabinets in the classroom for resource folders for different learning units in lieu of textbooks. Make sure drawers are on full extension glides.

Being flexible Flexibility and mobility are essential in areas other than the classroom. Current trends reflect increased community use of school facilities. Common areas, cafeterias and gymnasiums must have furniture that allows multiple configurations and a variety of uses.

Stackable chairs and a portable stage should be provided in the common area. In the cafeteria, round folding tables are easier to supervise, promote socialization and are ideal for community events. Product durability is especially important for these areas.

Selecting items that are durable and easy to maintain is essential, as pride in the appearance of a school helps create a desire in students and staff to maintain the facility. Pride in the appearance of the school also has a positive effect on student and staff performance. Furniture should be viewed as an important component in the interior-design process. The type of furniture selected and its location communicate a feeling of belonging and security that many students need.

>From a purchasing perspective, quality, price and service are important considerations. In addition, consider:

-Standardizing the products being purchased, such as selecting the same stacking chair for all areas, with the variable being an attached or separate desk.

-Selecting fabric on seating used in the administration offices, as teacher chairs and in the teachers' lounge. Student seating is rarely upholstered. An exception would be lounge seating in the media center where creating a softer, more comfortable feel and acoustical absorption are desired. This is important to encourage student use of the facility.

-Ensuring quality and aesthetic appearance are the basis of value when selecting furniture. The appearance of a school does have an effect on student learning. Establishing a standards program for seating, files, desks and tables promotes an appearance of organization and uniformity, and prevents school furniture from appearing messy.

Another important consideration is color. Light- to medium-tone colors do not show fingerprints as easily as darker colors. Clean, simple designs are preferable, as they do not date themselves.

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