No desks? No chairs? No problem
The traditional setup of school classrooms—straight rows of desks with accompanying chairs—doesn't do much to foster creativity or collaboration. Many experts have proposed redesigning classroom furniture, but a Swedish school system has taken things a step further. Vittra, a free-school organization that educates about 7,900 children at 26 campuses across Sweden, is seeking to ensure learning takes place everywhere on campus by eliminating classrooms altogether.
Vittra’s schools, which are designed by architecture firm Rosan Bosch, seem more like a creative space you'd find at Google or Pixar than a school. Its first classroom-free school, Telefonplan, opened outside Stockholm in 2012, and the untraditional design has spread to its other campuses. Last week, Vittra held an “open lesson” at the school, which enabled curious parents, teachers, and education policy makers to come in and see what math instruction looks like in a desk-free setting. “The aim is both to improve teaching and sharing of best practices,” according to a post on the school’s blog.
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]It should feel important and fun to learn.[/quote]
What visitors are eager to see is how students interact with what Rosan Bosch describes as “challenging custom-made furnishings, learning zones, and room for the individual student to facilitate differentiated teaching.” The architects even added creative features, like a giant iceberg that doubles as a cinema. Students can work independently on their laptops while lounging on one of the "sitting islands" in the photo above. If they need to collaborate with their peers on a project, they can take advantage of spaces like "the village"—a tiny house for group work—or the more open "organic conversation furniture" pictured below.
The design is intended to stimulate children's curiosity and creativity and offer them opportunities for both collaborative and independent time—which supports Vittra’s education philosophy. Nurturing happy and curious children is the school’s main goal. “It should feel important and fun to learn,” education director Iréne Blom writes on Vittra’s website. “Our teaching is based on a holistic view of our children and students' development with clear goals in knowledge, learning, and personal development. By finding the motivation of each child and student, we can both encourage and make demands.” Vittra doesn't award traditional grades, either—students are taught in groups according to level—so maximizing diverse teaching and learning situations is a priority.
Some research indicates that open classrooms such as this aren’t effective for some students—not all kids can concentrate due to the noise levels. But the open nature of the Telefonplan campus and the unusual furniture arrangements give a signal boost to the idea that children play and learn on the basis of their needs, curiosity, and inclination. That's not only true for kids in Sweden, so let's hope educators remember this, whether or not they teach in a desk-free setting.