Whose Classroom is this?

Through observation, interviews, and photos students develop empathy for the users of a classroom b4 designing it and writing a grant.

Photo of Garreth Heidt
2 2

Written by

As part of the inaugural/proof of concept year of the design lab in my school, students in the design lab will be observing, empathizing with users, researching classroom design, and finally designing the layout and furnishings of the design-lab to meet the needs not only of the design-lab students but also all the English classes I must teach.   Differing needs will call for them to recognize the needs for flexibility, mobility, and also to design for different types of learners and teaching strategies.  

Students will conduct interviews with English students, teachers, custodians, administration, and other users.  They will develop their own questions, take photos, and build low-fi prototypes to help them write a grant to local foundations for money to fund their vision.

Doing this will help them inquire as to "Why is this classroom the way it is"--purposefully unfinished in some areas, rigidly structured in other areas, and somewhat cluttered--and empower them to build answers to the question "How can we make it better?"  Two questions all designers ask themselves.  But these are also two questions that go straight to the civic heart of education, and two questions without which little, if any change, is ever made.

However, these are also two questions that students are rarely empowered to ask, let alone answer, in any real-world project.

After completing this redesign, students will move on to a larger challenge:  redesigning the library of the main campus's middle school.  

[Optional] Synthesize a little! What's one take away or insight to leave people with?

This is our classroom; it is not a shrine to me, my likes, my interests, etc. It is ours, and WE will learn here together.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Donna Teuber

Hi Garreth, I love that your students are redesigning the classroom to meet the needs of the school community! I would love to find out if the interview process has made the students more empathetic to the needs of students and more capable of using their voices when they see a need for change. The Hacktivity guide has some great activities. I wonder what insights for this challenge could be gained by shadowing one of your students for a day. 

Photo of Garreth Heidt

Hey Donna,
Thanks for the input.  I tried, last year, to get permission to shadow a student, but my principal felt it would be a bit of an imposition on the other teachers in that I'd be looked at as some kind of critical eyes.  I explained the "Shadow a Student" challenge championed by IDEO and the d.school, but it was a no go.  

So I trusted my students.  I supplied them with tips and techniques on empathetic observations, some of which I pulled from the Hactivities guide, and told them to do some observations in other classes.  We're listing those finding on our huge chalk board, along with the key points and impacts we pulled from readings in a white papers by Steelcase and Knoll furniture.  Not that we're shooting for tens of thousands of dollars in high-end furniture, but we're trying to find out what key elements their educational research teams have honed in on as being important for student engagement, etc.  

Tomorrow they're going to break into teams and develop interview questions, again using some of the Hacktivity information but also information pulled from the Henry Ford Museum School, IDEO, and Mary Cantwell's deepDT model.   Their level of engagement and the feeling of purpose they have is really palpable.  It's unlike anything I've felt in a long time.