Architecture & Design, Higher Education, and Manufacturing

Furniture maker offers grants for 'active-learning' classrooms

January 1, 2015
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Furniture maker offers grants for 'active-learning' classrooms
The Verb Classroom "active learning" design focuses on the importance of movement in learning. Courtesy Steelcase

An office furniture maker is offering up to 15 grants for classrooms across the country interested in becoming an “active-learning center.”

Steelcase in Grand Rapids is offering educators and educational institutions grants valued at between $35,000 and $50,000.

The grant will cover the furniture, integrated technology, design, installation and post-occupancy evaluation for one of three classroom types designed for 28-32 students.

Eligible classrooms must be in the U.S. or Canada, serving grades six through 12, or within a college.

Steelcase said it seeks partners that are “looking to implement and expand active-learning initiatives by leveraging physical classroom space.”

Classroom designs

Grant applicants can apply for one of three classroom designs.

Steelcase’s Verb Classroom focuses on the importance of movement in learning.

Verb is an integrated system of classroom furniture designed to support a variety of learning and teaching styles, allowing for fluid transitions between modes.

According to Steelcase, “When students can move about easily, they are more interactive, collaborative, comfortable and engaged in class.”

Steelcase’s Node Classroom offers a multi-modal environment, allowing for quick furniture re-arrangement options.

Node allows students to transition between lecture to team mode without interruption.

Steelcase’s Blended Classroom layout is focused on the importance of choice. It can change between lecture mode to independent or teamwork, presentation and discussion.

“Instructors and students need choice and control to choose the best space for the activity at hand,” Steelcase said.

Studying the design

As part of receiving a grant, educators agree to a partnership with Steelcase that will allow the furniture maker to study the results of its classroom designs.

“Our interest centers on advancing our understanding of the impact of active learning on pedagogy, technology and the built space, acting in one holistic ecosystem,” Steelcase explained.

Steelcase will evaluate, measure and disseminate findings related to the active-learning centers. The company will visit each active-learning center twice during the grant cycle, and grant recipients will be required to submit annual reports.

Active learning in practice

Steelcase shared a case study of Clintondale High School, a suburban Detroit school, titled “Flipping the Classroom,” which describes how the learning environment can support students and teachers.

Clintondale was a failing school where students rarely made it to graduation day. After a dire assessment by an education consultant, the school decided to undergo drastic changes to its teaching style and its classroom environment.

Less than three years later, with minimal expenditure and creative approaches to learning and the places where it occurs, Steelcase said there’s renewed hope at Clintondale.

Student failure rates have plummeted and grades and statewide test scores are up.

In addition to making lectures available online for anytime access and using classroom time for hands-on learning, Clintondale worked with Steelcase education professionals to explore how space can support a more active-learning approach. Through the partnership, Clintondale converted a classroom into an active-learning space.

Steelcase removed traditional heavy metal student desks, replacing them with lightweight Verb tables with lockable casters and mobile Node student chairs with flexible, swivel seats, which allowed Clintondale students to shift between discussion, group work, working with another student or the teacher, test mode or any other setup.

Steelcase also added a three-person lounge, ottomans and individual and small group tables for brainstorming and sharing to the classroom. There’s also a stool-height table and chairs for team collaboration or individual work.

“Active learning is where students construct meaning by making their own discoveries,” said Aileen Strickland, design researcher, Steelcase. “They don’t just sit back and listen to a teacher lecture all the time. They’re more engaged in learning, frequently working in groups and interacting with peers. When students can move around, relationships are more dynamic, so furniture and space that supports a more active approach can help teachers and students adapt to these new methods.

“It takes time for a school to adopt active learning. It’s a gradual process, and it requires some training for both teachers and students. It involves not only learning new pedagogies, but also how space impacts learning, and how different pedagogies are best supported with different spaces and furniture.”

Grant dates

Steelcase is accepting active-learning center grant applications through Feb. 27. Grant recipients will be notified on April 15.

Between July and August, the installation of active-learning centers will occur, and in September, Steelcase will provide training to grant recipients.  

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