November 27, 2021

Finding a good fit

Flexible classroom seating gives students control

Photos by Catherine Wilde/contributing photographer

Students in a French class at Cortland Senior High School try out flexible seating Friday morning in a new demonstration classroom. From left, are Séamus Gailor, a junior, Liza Antonova, a sophomore and Samantha Engst-Mansilla, also a sophomore.

Adrianna Murphy and Rachel Kline perfected the design for their Renaissance- era castle Friday — Murphy drafted ideas on a personal whiteboard and Kline worked next to her at her laptop.

Murphy likes drafting the ideas for the stone castle with a wall around it on a whiteboard; she can easily erase them. Kline said it makes the teamwork easier.

The students were sitting at a rectangular table on wheels, one of many stations that allow for student collaboration in a demonstration classroom at Cortland Senior High School. The classroom was up and running for the spring semester, said Principal Joe Mack, when state bullet aid allowed for the purchase of the equipment.

More is coming, like a large monitor where images can be projected and chromebooks.

The classroom offers furniture not available in other rooms — tables and chairs are all on wheels, a comfy sofa sits in one corner, students use personal whiteboards, and springy buoy seats allow for fidgety students to both sit and move around.

French teacher Kelly Chapman was finishing up her first week in the room and will spend the next two weeks there, too.

She couldn’t be more excited.

“I like it all,” Chapman said of the classroom seating options. “All of this would be an ideal arrangement for my classroom.”

In a week, Chapman has noticed greater student engagement and enthusiasm, as they work in small groups and feel less like they are in a traditional classroom.

Chapman, who has taken all the desks out of her classroom and encourages flexible seating as it is, was so excited to use the furniture she was the first teacher to sign up for it.

Giving the students the flexibility to collaborate in groups of their choosing is at the crux of what student-centered learning should be, she said. It gives them the power to choose their own learning style and lets them learn with minimal direction.

Mack said the district wants classes to rotate in and out of the room, using it for at least five days and up to three weeks. Then teachers and students will take a survey online, telling the district which work stations worked best and why.

At the end of the year, the district will compile the data and select which furniture to buy as part of a future capital project, said district Director of Curriculum and Instruction Jeff Craig.

Some students already know what they’ll say.

Séamus Gailor sat on top of a buoy seat, an adjustable and flexible stool that he moved to the edge of a table, where his teammates Liza Antonova and Samantha Engst-Mansilla were working.

“I think it allows a good amount of flexibility when we want to sit in different areas,” Gailor said. “Some work better and like to move freely while other people do like the idea of anchored seating.”

Gailor likes to move around and he liked the buoy he was sitting on.

“It’s easier to balance on it than I initially thought it would be,” he said.

Tenth-grader Jackie Luther, sitting alone at a seat with an attached desk, said it was a comfortable design. She liked how the seat could push out from the desk, although she wished the desk were a bit bigger.

Luther was sitting alone Friday because her partner wasn’t there, but she has found it easier to collaborate in the space.

“When she is here, we chill and it’s a more focused environment,” she said.

“It’s just us in here and our work and we can talk to each other and it feels like more of an actual workspace for us.”