A recent article on slate.com pointed out an interesting fact. Ever since we have had schools and classrooms, our classrooms have basically been the same. Whether it was a one-room schoolhouse, or the sprawling high schools campuses of today, classrooms all generally follow the idea of placing students in rows of desks facing a teacher at the front of the room. Some small variants on this model are seen here and there, but no really radical changes have occurred.

This is odd. Especially in the last 20 years, revolutions in technology have given teachers far more materials at their disposal. Computers, the Internet and multimedia technology change everything. And yet classrooms have not had a revolution in design that reflects our new technology.

The slate article, which can be found here, mentions that there have been attempts to redesign classrooms in the past. In the 70s, “open classrooms” were the rage, though they made little sense. Walls were removed between classrooms so that there weren’t individual classes but instead one large class. If you read the slate article you will see that educators had little idea of what to do with this new design.

The article also points out that some schools which utilize experiential learning already have different classroom forms. Montessori schools have classrooms without desks. Little tables and rugs replace their function. Other schools have one large circular table in place of individual desks, and students can gather round for seminars.

Schools themselves have changed. They are made with an eye toward being more environmentally friendly. And skylights and windows are more the norm because educators value letting the sun in.

But despite some changes and some experimentation here and there, the basic form of the classroom is unchanged. A shift in thinking in the nation’s schools has not occurred. A student from the 19th century would be able to walk into most modern classrooms and recognize them for what they are, the slate article supposes.

The purpose of the article at slate.com is more than just speculation. It is actually trying to get people involved in coming up with designs for new classrooms, specifically fifth-grade classrooms. Go to the link for the article and you can submit your ideas for how classrooms should function and be shaped today.

Poor education is the big fear of parents and educators everywhere. If we are to ensure that as we deal with larger populations and more diverse student bodies we remain able to educate everybody well, then we must be thinking about ways to change the education environment. It’s time for a 21st Century school that serves our 21st Century students.