Critical Thinking In The 21st Century Classroom Furniture

Getting the most out of your classroom space.

It’s reassuring and not very surprising to know that the driving force behind the 21st Century Classroom isn’t a passing fad, a change of fashion or boredom with the status quo. Rather, the prime mover behind the composition and layout of a 21st Century Classroom is none other than 21st Century Learning, characterized by collaborative learning.

Collaborative learning has been discussed and studied by academicians since the early 20th Century. Its many strengths are well documented. That it’s only now taking hold in classrooms may have more to do with the fact that it demands a 180˚ change in the orientation of the teaching/learning roles, and less to do with its effectiveness, which has been repeatedly demonstrated. Study after study has shown that it is a far superior way for students to learn non-foundational knowledge – a higher level of knowledge that’s acquired by applying critical thinking and logic, not simply recalling facts. To oversimplify, the two core concepts of collaborative learning are:

• Student-centered learning, that empowers the students and makes them active participants in the learning process

• Based on solving open-ended problems or creating some sort of a “product” which could be anything from a report, a poster or a video

The educational benefits of collaborative learning extend beyond academics. Collaborative learning also fosters growth in maturity and confidence on the parts of the learners. It does that by presenting emotional and social challenges to the student. The student doesn’t simply perform a task needed to complete the group project. Rather,  s/he will have to explain and defend her/his position and thinking in relation to her/his work to the other students in the group.

Download our 21st Century Classroom PDF Guide: “Getting the most out of your classroom space.”

The guide includes our “top 5 components” to consider when planning a 21st Century classroom.

With the adoption of 21st Century Learning initiatives nationwide, administrators at Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) realized it was high time to implement forward-thinking learning facilities in their district. In 2013, work began on an innovative K-8 project that would be called the George I. Sanchez Collaborative Community School.

Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate!

APS’ architectural and administrative teams reviewed 21st Century Learning facilities and related methods, and one aspect in particular captured their attention: collaborative learning.

We found that collaboration helps students to develop critical thinking and leadership skills through project-based learning, in addition to supporting social development. We decided to build the George I. Sanchez School as a collaborative learning environment with an emphasis on mobility and flexibility. — Melissa Grant, Facilities Specialist, Albuquerque Public Schools

District staff worked side-by-side with long-time partner School Specialty and its Projects by Design (PbD) group, which has 20+ years of experience furnishing educational facilities. The PbD team sourced a variety of soft seating options, mobile, furniture, and other modern solutions designed specifically to facilitate collaborative learning activities in a multitude of unique learning environments throughout the school. The team also applied their deep understanding of 21st Century Learning principles to offer expert insights on the best layout for the new institution.

Partnering with Albuquerque Public Schools has been rewarding based on our shared vision for a forward-thinking facility. Beginning with the needs assessment, to the actual furniture and equipment installation, our teams worked closely to deliver the right solutions for the District’s unique requirements. —Scott Evans, F&E Project Specialist, School Specialty/PbD

Supporting Diversity in Learning…Bridging Traditional with Modern

21st Century Learning supports a broad spectrum of educational experiences, requiring diverse environments. To this end, George I. Sanchez was designed with traditional classrooms, collaborative breakout areas, and spaces for children to socialize and express themselves, with an emphasis on technology integration.

The school’s flexible design includes various “breakout areas”. Classrooms are structured so that they flow into these open spaces, where teachers can send students out in groups for collaborative projects. Spaces allow students to problem-solve and hold discussions in comfortable environments favorable to both group interaction and individual study.

The school relied on PbD to select furniture solutions (from a variety of vendors, including mediatechnologies®) which are adaptable and could be easily configured to breakout areas.  To enable mobility and creativity, the school chose a number of furniture pieces with casters, which allow for easy movement.


Learning Everywhere!

An inviting architecture and comfortable design, conducive for learning, was especially important. Spaces feature soft seating (e.g. oversized ottomans) which students can easily maneuver for activities. The open and bright cafeteria layout emulates a mall food court, featuring serpentine booths, high tables and bistro seats.

Another welcoming aspect is the marker board paint on walls, which essentially transforms them into dry erase boards. Students can create artwork and exchange ideas on these multipurpose walls. Similarly, many of the mobile tables and desks have built-in marker boards, allowing students to make notes directly onto the furniture.

We were impressed with the modern furnishings from Projects by Design. Students are able to utilize the breakout areas to the fullest extent. The PbD team applied their extensive knowledge of 21st Century Learning to provide us with the right furnishings and layouts that would be most beneficial to our students and teachers. —Melissa Grant, Facilities Specialist, Albuquerque Public Schools

Technology integration is also key to 21st Century Learning, so it was important for the school to give students who use laptops and tablets the benefits of mobility and accessibility to the infinite resources of the Internet. Much of the furniture has built-in USB ports, power outlets, and monitors, allowing students to “plug in” to learning anywhere.

A Community Impacted

In just its first year of operation, George I. Sanchez has seen tremendous reception, with students being drawn to the facility. Given the outstanding response, school administrators are planning additional collaborative learning facilities in the Albuquerque Public Schools system. The District plans to partner again with the SSI and PbD teams to bring the benefits of collaboration to new groups of students.

Learn More

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To contact us, please call 800-305-0174 or email Or, visit and fill out the form to tell us about your project.



Filed Under: FurnitureTagged With: case study, P21 Skills for Today, Projects By Design

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