Classroom furniture is coldly utilitarian at best – it gets the job done, but you wouldn’t consider decorating your home with it.
But how realistically can it be improved?
This was the challenge posed to last year’s eighth grade class at The School at Columbia University, an independent school in New York City. Rinat Aruh, co-founder of design firm aruliden, joined forces with Don Buckley, The School’s director of innovation, to incorporate a full redesign of desks, chairs and lockers across the eighth grade curriculum. Though the stated end goal was to create classroom furniture that better fits the needs of today’s students, the “big idea” was to teach the process of design thinking.
“To really feel design you need to integrate it as a process, because it’s not so much about the end product,” said Aruh. “We really want to engage the students throughout the thinking and the problem solving and the ideation process. Basically the process that we go through every day.”
The program, called “Tools at Schools,” is an example of what Buckley calls “Education 3.0." In this imagining, Education 1.0 is the traditional model, where a teacher stands at the front of the class and teaches at the students. In Education 2.0, the teacher and students hold a conversation together. In Education 3.0, the outside world (a design firm, perhaps) is brought into the classroom.
“If we’re serious about putting kids out into the 21st century workplace, this is the stuff they need,” Buckley said.
So, The School’s eighth grade class went through the design process – beginning with research, identifying problems, finding solutions, creating models, and ending with real prototypes produced by furniture design company Bernhardt Design. The kids unveiled these prototypes at the 2011 International Contemporary Furniture Fair.
“It was really beneficial, it was transformative to the kids,” said Buckley. “Just to hear them talk about the products that they were interested in making.”
The end result: A chair that moves to accommodate the academic fidget factor, a desk with a dry-erase surface and customizable features depending on what class you are in, and a locker with ample space, shelves, and a mail slot for love letters.
Aruh, Buckley and The School’s art teacher Kimberly Lane are now working on ways to scale the project so that it can be recreated in other schools. The prototypes were recently on exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. We met Aruh, Buckley and some of the student designers there for a walk through their design process. Check out the end result in the videos below and hear more about the project above.
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