Cutting-edge classroom sets stage for 21st century learning

Aug. 29, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by Interstate Office Products.

Students coming back to class at Sioux Falls Christian are finding new classrooms that reflect a more modern approach to learning.

Designed and furnished by Interstate Office Products, the classrooms promote active learning – with flexible layouts and furniture to promote educating in a variety of settings.

“We have been doing this in higher education, and now it’s starting to reach the K-12 level,” said Teena Hogan, IOP’s account manager and interior designer for the project.

“It’s really the learning style that most schools are trying to move toward, and this environment supports that.”

Sioux Falls Christian was an early adopter of the approach.

A previous new addition included four classrooms and a collaborative space with a fireplace and coffee shop-style seating.

“We started studying various schools, and one aspect that was notable was their collaborative-learning and more active-learning settings,” said Pam Tiefenthaler, the school’s chief education officer.

“When we added on to an area of the building, we started with two classrooms. And we feel like it’s been a really good change for our kids, getting them more engaged.”

The latest addition takes that sort of learning to a new level. The four classrooms designed by IOP are set up in a tiered style instead of traditional rows of desks and chairs.

The front of the room includes more soft seating.

“These lounge pieces offer a more casual posture but have the durability to withstand use from many students over multiple years,” Hogan said.

Mobile tables and chairs are set behind that, with whiteboards on the ends to create space for students to collaborate.

Those boards also can be used to divide students for privacy or during testing.

The back of the room includes pub-style higher tables and stools.

“It gives you mobility, so kids can work in small groups and learn from each other, and the teacher is there to guide them instead of preaching,” Hogan said. “They’re literally encouraged to be active by getting up and moving to different seating areas.”

All the furniture is provided by Steelcase, which has used a broad spectrum of research to develop its products to promote active classrooms.

“This furniture is truly best-in-class,” Hogan said. “The research that supports it is extremely credible, and it’s leading to impressive outcomes for students of all ages nationwide.”

The new Sioux Falls Christian rooms also can be divided by folding doors to create larger or smaller class sizes.

“We’re able to keep students better engaged because they now have a better selection of seating based on how they might learn best,” Tiefenthaler said.

The new addition also includes several smaller conference rooms arranged around the common space.

“We found there are a lot of times when kids need quieter space, a small space, but away from traffic and noise, and we’re always having conferences throughout the day and need room to do that,” Tiefenthaler said.

The school’s early experience with active-learning environments has produced positive outcomes, she added.

“It just seems like a really good environment for students, and the engagement definitely goes up. We are treating them more like adults. It’s more like a college setting,” she said.

“When we look at test scores, they are on the rise. Whether it’s due to that or by how much, we don’t know, but our test scores are looking great, so we felt like it was something we wanted to continue.”

The layout also helps prepare students for their future, added Abby Tufvesson of IOP, who assisted Hogan with the project.

“It gives them a good taste of what’s ahead in college, with the collaborative work areas and the cafe, an environment similar to what they could be working in as they continue on with their education and go into the workplace.”

It all helps with professional development, Tiefenthaler agreed.

“And some of the things, like a fireplace, which you might think would be a little elaborate, as we dug in, we found it was not terribly expensive, and it was a touch we could add without a huge cost,” she said. “It’s important to keep tuition reasonable, so everything we build is paid for before we build. It’s raised ahead of time.”

Working with IOP on the new addition has been easy and helpful, she added.

“They are so good. They allow me the flexibility to do what we want but also offer suggestions along the way,” Tiefenthaler said. “We don’t feel like we’re being dictated to, but we have advice given to us, and it’s been fun.”

As both a designer and a Sioux Falls Christian parent, Hogan said she appreciates the investment.

“For me, it’s awesome. For my boys to be able to move around the classroom during the day, it keeps them more focused because they don’t have to sit still all day,” she said. “It gives them the right atmosphere to learn.”

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Cutting-edge classroom sets stage for 21st century learning

Students coming back to class at Sioux Falls Christian are finding new classrooms that reflect a more modern approach to learning.

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