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At Natural Pod, we know the design and furnishing of learning spaces influences education outcomes. Recently, Fast Company published a great article outlining some of their own findings on this important topic.

Students spend an average of 11,700 hours of their lives in classrooms from kindergarten to senior year of high school and another 400 hours in classrooms in college. But emerging research shows that many of these spaces are physically inadequate for learning.

The article is supported with evidence from the recently reviewed journal research Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences – Designing Classrooms to Maximize Student Achievement

Improving student achievement is vital for our nation’s competitiveness. Scientific research shows how the physical classroom environment influences student achievement. Two findings are key: First, the building’s structural facilities profoundly influence learning. Inadequate lighting, noise, low air quality, and deficient heating in the classroom are significantly related to worse student achievement. Over half of U.S. schools have inadequate structural facilities, and students of color and lower income students are more likely to attend schools with inadequate structural facilities. Second, scientific studies reveal the unexpected importance of a classroom’s symbolic features, such as objects and wall décor, in influencing student learning and achievement in that environment. Symbols inform students whether they are valued learners and belong within the classroom, with far-reaching consequences for students’ educational choices and achievement. We outline policy implications of the scientific findings—noting relevant policy audiences—and specify critical features of classroom design that can improve student achievement, especially for the most vulnerable students. – Designing Classrooms to Maximize Student Achievement

Fast Company’s article breaks down the understanding of learning spaces into understanding Physical Classroom and Symbolic Classroom elements.

While it’s not clear whether high-tech gadgets in the classroom actually improve education, having adequate basic facilities has been shown to be completely crucial. Decent conditions–such as lighting, noise, temperature, and air quality–are often sorely lacking in an unfortunate number of U.S. public schools. Unsurprisingly, bad conditions persist more often in schools with more low-income and minority students. ~ Fast Company – Physical Classroom

This term is a researchers’ shorthand for everything that makes up the psychological feel of the classroom, including posters, art, and other decor, as well as other kinds of objects found within. These symbols are far from trivial, and can have a bit influence a student’s aspirations and performance. ~ Fast Company – The Symbolic Classroom

On seating design, their guidance is clear and mirrors our own understanding of creating great learning outcomes:

The optimal layout of work spaces in office environments is endlessly debated, but the same is oddly not true for classrooms. Like in offices, the layout should fit the task at hand–some collaborative classrooms will function better with desks in clusters, others in more lecture style rows. The research, however, does show there can be gender differences in preferences. One study of more than 900 college students reported women felt more at ease in more social, collaborative arrangements. “The overall message is that the environment has to fit what’s appropriate for that classroom,” ~ Fast Company – Seating Design

Click here to read the full Designing Classrooms to Maximize Student Achievement research report and here for the Fast Company – ‘5 Ways Classroom Design Can Improve What We Learn And Who Learns It.’ article.