Furniture Expo Sets Stage for 21st Century Learning Spaces

Sitting down at flexible tables with swivel chairs and tablet compartments, students, teachers and parents moved quickly from one piece of furniture to the next to see which ones were the most comfortable and collaborative.

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More than 70 people tested out furniture on display Tuesday at Houston ISD’s first furniture expo showcasing 21st century learning environments. The event allowed Project Advisory Teams (PATs) to explore different learning spaces and provide feedback to help guide the design for the new schools being built and renovated under the district’s 2012 bond program.

“Visually, everything looks nice,” said Agnes E. Perry, principal of DeBakey High School for Health Professions. “You really have to sit on everything to imagine how a student can use it.”

At the expo, exhibitors created 19 different learning centers throughout a 22,000-square-foot furniture display that included colorful furniture, common shelving, a media center and lounge booths with USB and electrical outlets.

Each learning area on display offered a new way to enhance learning. PAT members were able to sit at mobile work stations with round tables that area ideal for group learning but can be re-created into individual work areas. They also tested out a media scape, or a collaborative space where content can be shared on a large dual monitor from a tablet, laptop or smartphone.

“The idea behind our media scape is for students and teachers to easily walk up, connect and share digital content because so many of us are visual learners,” said Paige Barnett of Steelcase, a furniture company that was an exhibitor. “It’s so much faster for them to show a picture versus describing it.”

Another technology tool on display that impressed attendees was a 22-foot technology wall. Exhibitors showed students and teachers how the tool could be used for assignments and to watch live video feeds, including Google hangout sessions.

“I like that (the technology wall) is a multi-purpose tool that many people can use at the same time to share ideas,” said Milby High School student Sandra Miranda. “You don’t have to worry about a lot of cords in the way either.”

HISD is hoping to move beyond the traditional classroom, with its four walls, white board, and fixed desks and chairs, as it rebuilds and renovates schools with flexible and innovative learning areas.

“The traditional classroom is one of the worst possible places for learning,” said education researcher Dr. Dieter Breithecker while speaking at the expo on the importance of movement and spontaneous spaces in schools. “These rooms need to be flexible because movement impacts engagement. If the body is in a slump and sitting for more than five hours, there will be a mental slump.”

“We are giving the Project Advisory Teams an opportunity to help us identify the best furniture to purchase to complete their vision for their future school,” said HISD General Manager for Facilities Planning Sue Robertson.

Overall, nearly 150 people visited the furniture expo during the two days it was open.