Hello everyone and welcome to John Myers excerpts from Reopening and Reimagining Educational Facilities Amid COVID-19. Today’s blog reflects content from John Myers that was partially based  on a new handbook launched recently on reopening schools (see the full webinar link at the end of this blog).  Haskell Education was one of the generous sponsors of the Reopening and Reimagining Educational Facilities eBook and the webinar this blog with developed from.

Robert Nieminen, is the chief content director of Buildings and Interiors and Sources is was the moderator for this event.

About John Myers

John Myers has worked with corporate and education clients for the better part of 30 years, helping them improve and impact their physical environments through the thoughtful application of progressive design and furnishings. For the past 12 years, John has focused his passion for solution-based design on the education market with a deep investment on how agile furniture and student centered design can impact learning outcomes. John is also a part of the design development team at Haskell education, a leading designer and manufacturer of furniture solutions focused solely on the education market.

Robert Nieminen: So what can we do to existing classrooms to be sufficiently modified, to promote physical distancing? Like, is it a matter of rearranging classroom furniture, introducing panels? John, what do you see as being some ways that we can sort of modify classrooms right now, to promote some of the physical distancing? Sure.

John Myers: It’s a challenging conversation in the schools that we’ve been working with and talking to and as you start to analyze how many students can actually fit in a classroom when you employ six foot distancing. And depending on the traditional classroom size varies across the country, that number can be anywhere from 10 to 16 students, which is obviously a lot less than the normal class size. So the first thing is, we start thinking about just the class density and how class density can be impacted. And then that becomes an issue, do you have flexible furniture that allows you to move the furniture, to put students six feet apart, to be able to have them at a six foot distance, be able to still participate in the classroom experience? If you think about the classroom experience. You know, we’ve worked hard over the last 10 years to move from a lecture style of education to a more collaborative style of education. What happens to that in a classroom where now you might have physical barriers around the students for putting plexiglass around students’ desks and pushing them six feet apart? Does that create a scenario where all collaboration goes away or are we allowing that furniture to come together with those barriers? Or are we thinking about the use of face shields so that we can get students possibly during certain points of the class period closer together?

But one of the things that we really have to make sure we don’t lose in this experience is the idea of movement. Movement is so critical already in class experiences and as kids have been in the traditional classroom now moving from lecture to group work to maybe make her work or do work. If we remove all of that from the class experience and push them to a static seat that creates some real challenges because students just are not used to learning that way. And we have to create environments, even in a physical distance experience where collaboration and possibly even making and doing might still become key elements of the classroom space. We’ve been really looking at face shields as part of that solution, and how can face shields possibly create the ability for a little bit closer engagement between students and the teacher as well?

And teachers need flexible furniture. They need to have their own teacher stations that they can control that they can clean. We’re seeing a lot of strategies around students not leaving the classroom during the day, but teachers moving from classroom to classroom. So the physicality of their teacher station being able to be mobile and be able to move and be able to transfer from classroom to classroom can be really strategic in doing this as well.

And we’re also seeing schools taking their gyms and their cafeterias and creating larger spaces as well, dividing those up, putting flexible classroom furniture in those spaces. So now that you have the ability for kids to even be able to stand up and move more, if you’ve got a larger physical area where we can now promote that movement inside those areas. That creates some challenges then around the sharing of content and information. So larger mobile projection screens or monitors become a critical part of that strategy. All which require money, of course, but those are some of the things that we’ve been looking at from an application of product and classroom design.

I think we’re going to see an increase in antimicrobial laminate materials. I think people will become more educated about bleach cleanable fabrics in coated fabrics versus woven fabrics. And we’re going to become more heightened aware of these material choices. I think it’s been easy. I think we’ve thought about them in the past. And I think it’s been really easy to say, okay. I think that’s pretty, I’m going to pick that. I think that’s gone. I think we’re going to, in terms of learning environments, we’re really going to vet cleaning the cleanability of material choices and how easily can they be clean, whether it’s a hard surface or an upholstered surface and where those upholstered or fabric surfaces are going to be in learning environments. We’ve seen an uptick over the last four or five years of soft seating in learning environments. I don’t think that’s going to go away, but I think we’re going to be really hyper careful about the material choices that we make for those and become more aware of that.

Robert Nieminen: I mean, we’ve seen so much crossover in recent years of different markets sort of blurring the lines. I think we’ll be seeing some of those healthcare standards for cleanability and durability that have been going on for years coming into the education markets and hospitality and corporate markets as well because the need is so important for that durability and cleanability as you guys mentioned. So a lot of the things we’ve been talking about so far have kind of dealt with some of the more practical things that schools can do right now. I’m kind of curious to see, wonder, what does the design of the typical classroom like, does it need to be completely re-imagined like do we need to sort of rethink the way that the whole scheme of, of schools and classrooms are put together, is that something that you guys have been thinking about? Like John, I know you guys deal with the furniture end of things. Are you seeing a whole different paradigm in terms of the way that the classroom is sort of organized or put together?

John Myers: Well, certainly. We hope class sizes will return to normal at some point. But even when that happens if you think about the way a lot of schools are structured today, and like the maker movement, for example, it becomes something that’s really a strong part of a lot of curriculums. But what we see a lot of school students do is they have to leave their classroom and go to a maker space or leave their classroom and go to an art class or an art space. So there may be opportunities to flip that paradigm and create that experience in the classroom. So instead of moving kids throughout, maybe the school, as much as we have, because even when COVID goes away, there’s still going to be influenza and other things that we’re dealing with. So the possibility of not only is it valuable from a pedagogy perspective to maybe bring this doing into the classroom as part of the learning experience, but also might be a very healthy way to do it as well.

So then instead of making kids walk through the school to get to different areas, that’s healthy to get up and move. But that might be one change that we begin to see. And we’ve been talking to some architects and designers about how they’ve already lost their maker spaces in the current schools they’re designing because they’re trying to create and use those spaces for more classroom spaces. So I think that’s going to be a really interesting design challenge that we’re going to face as part of rethinking schools, but also simple little things, just the movement. If we’re keeping kids potentially in a learning environment for longer periods, they have to have the ability to move, whether it’s fidgeting, changing their posture, moving in and out of groups. So I think flexible furniture has been a very big part of what we’ve done and what part of ED spaces has been promoting. I think we’re going to see that even more.

But probably the number one thing we’re going to see is the disappearance of shared desks. We’ve had a lot of shared tables. And Jim, I’m curious if you’re hearing about this, but I really think that individual seating or individual desks and tables that are individual desks and chairs will become the absolute norm and learning environments as we move forward. So that we’re prepared in the future if that physical distance he needs to come back into play again, it’s there. And then in that unit, whatever it is, is fully self-contained. I’ve got my book bag up off the floor, and have a place for my water bottle, because I don’t know what we’ve been hearing a lot that drinking fountains are being shut down. So water bottle filling stations are happening. So it’s kind of the self-contained unit where there’s a lot of control now given over to that.

Robert Nieminen: So one of the other questions that came in was about how our schools are addressing shared and maker materials. So obviously there’s more maker spaces, I guess that involves students sharing some of the tools and materials that are there. Have you guys seen any ways that schools are addressing that element of it?

John Myers: Well, maybe I could take that for a second. When you think about a maker experience in the power of kids, working together and collaborating together and the idea of losing any of that, even for a moment is really a challenge. But at the same time, there are some thoughts around the idea that the making, that using your hands building can still be done maybe through pre-packaged individual maker experiences. So those can be maybe delivered to the kids at their desks.

And also each kid can have their own storage container. I think we’re going to see a lot less shared materials and more individual materials. So creating solutions where each child in the classroom can have their own space to store their stuff. If they’re working on a project that they need to pick up the next day, they’ve got places to put that in to do that. There’s some great companies out there that make pre-packaged maker experiences. So those could be purchased and delivered to the kids individually inside the classroom. And again, I talked about, bringing the maker experience or the art experience to the classroom versus having the kids go there.

So I think there’s some strategies that could be deployed that could keep this really critical part of learning still part of our curriculum now and going into the future on a return to a more close knit collaborative experience as well.

We’ve been spending a lot of time looking into the efficacy of facials and there’s just not even a lot of study staff done around those. There’s a few and they’re promising, but I think there’s an awful lot of research that needs to happen yet around so many different elements in this. And when you think of even just putting plexiglass shields up around a desk and does that have the ability to reduce transmission? What happens when a student stands up? Where they leave their desk or they pop around the side of their desk? And so we’re really at the beginning stages of understanding number one, the ways to reduce transmission in the classroom. And there’s a lot of smart people looking at it, but I don’t think we have the science. It’s just not vetted yet. It’s so new, but we need to keep pressing forward with as many studies as we can get to understand what can make the difference. But there’s a lot. There’s just so much out there. It takes a lot of vetting to understand what’s credible and what’s hope.

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