Remember how I asked Penny, the great mentor teacher, to find me some examples of interesting, organic uses of design in the classroom? She told me, "I know we always want to go and see a model of what we are doing.. but what if there wasn't one out there.. what if you were going to be the model.. would that change things for you?"
I actually thought it would be exciting to be breaking new ground, forging new molds, exploring new horizons... All that great and self-important stuff.
Even though I wanted to be the root of my own innovation, I kept an eye out for models or literature about classroom design. Unfortunately, most of what I found really had to do with school design (like http://www.imagineschooldesign.org/) which I can't afford yet, or integrating technology (like http://www.edfacilities.org/rl/classroom_design.cfm) which is not really my interest right now because I want something a little more organic. However, I did scour every one of the 150-odd sites on the edfacilities.org site mentioned and did come across one site that was a little comforting and a little disappointing.
Like Wearing the Same Dress as the Hostess, It Can Be Nice to See That Someone Has the Same Tastes as You, But Still Disconcerting for All Involved
I found this company called Isis in the UK that makes some interesting educational furniture. One piece is called the StepSeat. (Shown below from http://www.isisconcepts.co.uk/educational_solutions/seats/stepseat.html)
No, I don't think they lifted the idea from me (especially as they seemed to have it first). And no, I didn't lift it from them (because I really lifted it from the Museum of Anthropology). Chalk it up to Coldplay having a song that sounds remarkably like a Joe Satriani song from five years ago. Sometimes the same inspiration hits people from different places at different times. (See the Popeil PastaMaker and the Canon PaperShredder, Lady Gaga and Madonna, etc.). So I was comforted to see that someone else thought it was a good idea, but disappointed that I am not the innovator I thought I was.
Sometimes Cheap and Shoddy Is Better Than Expensive and Well-Made
There are, however, big design differences between Isis's design and mine. Let me tell you all the ways that my design is far superior to Isis's (and leave the huge design flaws of mine to your imagination).
Mine is versatile. I can tip mine over on its side to create different kinds of workspaces. The top deck and the bottom deck of mine are separate so that they can be used for different applications. My design can be used as multilevel tables. The StepSeat is basically one piece and can be used as a seat or as a really wide ladder for getting those cans of soup from the top shelf (en masse).
Mine is easily moved. Its weight makes it easy to lift and the bottom supports act like skis so that they can be slid all around the classroom.
Mine has enough room on the bottom deck so that the front people don't have to sit on the top people's stinky feet.
Though mine does not have any (built in) storage, the open design has several advantages: low weight, students like to read and lie down under the risers, and students are able to sit in many directions (not just facing forward). (See the photo below where students are sitting in two directions in three planes). I would not give these capabilities up to put in storage. I can also see my kids running head first into the StepSeat's storage doors during an earthquake drill.
I could afford my risers. Even the ones that were not made from recycled wood probably only cost me $20, (not including the experience of making them, which is priceless). I doubt I could afford the Isis.
I can take my risers apart again. If I decide to use less risers or move them, I can unscrew the tops from the supports. The StepSeat looks like it is staying that way for a while. I can also fit the parts in my Mazda 3 (which is how I transported them from my home).
Mine looks more organic. The StepSeat looks like a piece of nice furniture.
Convinced? Probably not, but I'll sleep better tonight knowing I tried.