ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Energize Learning with Fresh Design

ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show

Post written by Jasmine Sanborn, a senior digital and visual journalism student at Loyola University Chicago. She hopes to follow her passions for conservation and comics and someday join the ranks at National Geographic or Marvel Comics.

Elizabeth Hebert's 2013 ASCD Annual Conference session, "Inspired to Learn: How School and Classroom Design Can Energize and Support Learning," explored the role design plays in our daily lives. School buildings and their design are obvious but often overlooked aspects of the learning environment, said Hebert.

Hebert argued that updated and developmentally focused design spaces not only support but also inspire student learning and help cultivate creativity in children.

Inspiration is everywhere, noted Hebert. "[We] narrow ourselves to classrooms, but we need to look at other spaces, too." One such place to look, she suggested, is the business world, which continually updates office design. Companies such as Ideo, Facebook, Google, and Apple have created standards for innovative design within a 21st century workspace.

Researchers looked into what a school might feature if it were modeled after an Apple store. They envisioned a "Genius Bar," a baking studio, a tutoring cafe, a health and nutrition center, and a school for problem solving.

"Can you imagine a 'Genius Bar' where parents could go to ask their questions?" joked Hebert.

Whether you're building a brand-new school, adding an extension, refurbishing a particular space, or just trying to overhaul your own personal classroom, you'll go through the same process: discovering goals, doing inclusive research, determining what or whom you're looking to inform, figuring out your time considerations, and deciding how you will evaluate your process and its outcomes.

To get started, Hebert suggested heightening awareness, understanding current trends, learning multiple perspectives, observing other class spaces to garner ideas, and accessing research and knowledgeable professionals.

She noted that it's important to constantly reflect and look back at these considerations. "It's seldom that we go back and see what the idea we originally had was and how well it's working," she said.

You don't have to completely revamp everything to make a difference, she added. Hebert suggested little things that can be a big help, such as creating a welcoming spirit in the parking lot and entryways, changing the paint or lighting, conveying a feeling of calm by getting organized and reducing clutter, and anticipating needs through the use of clear signage.

Although design can play an important role in the classroom, Hebert reminded participants that it really all comes down to teaching. "We manage somehow in less than ideal spaces," said Hebert. "A good teacher can teach in a barn; we know that."

Visit the Classroom Architect at for resources you can use to design your ideal classroom.

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