Can an Idyllic Classroom Make a Difference in Learning?

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Modular and movable furniture, video screens, communal work spaces, big windows allowing lots of light, and plenty of access to the outdoors. Those are the components that make up the winning entry to Slate's Classroom of the Future contest. It's called the Fifth Grade Exploration Studio, designed by NAC Architecture in Seattle, and it beat out more than 350 other contestants.

"The Fifth-Grade Exploration Studio did a superlative job of capturing both the spirit of the challenge and the everyday rhythms of class—inside and out," wrote Linda Perlstein, who organized the project for Slate.

Here's the gist:

Their classroom embodies the word connection. Students are connected to the earth, to the Internet, to one another, to their teacher—who can see them from anywhere in the room, even though it's a busy space.

Adjustable furniture, a messy art area, video screens large and small, communal areas for classes to share, carefully placed mirrors that allow for eye contact when a student and teacher sit at a computer together.

Dividers that create a trapezoid to reduce reflected sound are inexpensive and effective. A lot of what makes this interior design intriguing is the furniture and layout, which is mostly a matter of good planning. There's no reason buildings can't be designed with shared space between classrooms, one big part of why this winning entry is cool.

The blog SchoolDesignMatters, which created the design, goes into further detail.


The setting sounds idyllic -- I'd love for my daughter's public school to be designed this way. But, as the comments on Slate and other blogs suggest, will classroom design fix the bigger problems?

One commenter writes:

"You can build the most beautiful, interactive, intereting classrooms, but if the children aren't interested in learning, you won't have anything."

Another writes:

"This classroom model does not address some of the biggest problems facing teachers today, namely communication."

Another chimes in:

"As a ten-year-old, I found learning -- indoors, from a teacher and a textbook -- far more engaging than the outdoors."

Everyone's got an opinion on the matter, and it begs the question: does the ideal, fully equipped luxury classroom make a difference in how much students learn?