Redesigning Classrooms with Design Thinking

Redesign of a 3rd Grade Classroom

Click the image above, in order to view a more “visual” experience of the process.

During the 2017-2018 school year I had the opportunity to redesign a third grade classroom as part of our Innovation Team’s, Inspiring Spaces initiative. As a general rule of thumb for our department, I followed the Design Thinking process to guide the way.

The Discovery process began by making multiple classroom visits to observe the learning taking place and witness how the teacher and students were using the physical space. Pictures were taken, video was recorded, observations were written down- all of this data was gathered and stored. To gain empathy for the students and teacher, interviews were conducted regarding how they felt the functionality of the classroom worked. What was going well? What could be improved? Did they feel inspired? A visual listening activity was also played out, where students placed different colored post-it notes on a variety of different styles of classrooms. Essentially, they were “voting” for what they liked and didn’t like. An unpacking of those results was then discussed, seeking to understand what and why they preferred certain classroom features over others.

It was then time to sit down with the teacher and look at all the evidence that had been collected. Deriving from all the images, interviews, and visual listening feedback, we narrowed down the field to focus on seven drivers for the space. These drivers would provide the focus for moving forward with redesigning the classroom. They set the tone and would always need to be considered through the process. Those drivers were: choice, student ownership, ambience, agility, multi-use, wonder, and social.

We then began to brainstorm different items. What furniture or installations were possibilities that would match the drivers. No ideas were bad ideas. We were looking for a large quantity of prospects that could then be narrowed down and mixed and matched to complete the room.

Next came the creation of different layouts for the classroom. With specific pieces of furniture selected, where would they go? How can the layout of the installations best support the learning that would take place? Multiple sketches were developed and a final prototype was decided on. We met with local providers who assisted with some of the furniture, custom installations and a mural to cover a wall.  Orders were then placed and the waiting game began.

Once furniture was delivered, it was time to evaluate and see how it functioned. During this process, we circled back into the prototyping phase as certain items performed better than others and some items took longer to arrive. Improvisations took place and there was a period of flexibility for the teacher and students. Students did need some time to get accustomed to learning in a “different” style space. The teacher needed to exercise a different type of behavior management than before, as students actually needed some instructions and expectations for how the furniture was to be used. It is mid-March and we’ve been in school since mid- August. Students are now in a groove, learning is taking place and we continue to make sure our drivers are being met with whichever layout the classroom happens to be in.

The Design Thinking process has without a doubt driven the alteration of this classroom and continues to do so, as we continue to cycle back and forth between prototyping and testing.


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