Classroom desks and tables - everything you need to know.

“Tables”, derived from the Latin tabula, meaning board or flat piece, are time immemorial – there has always been a requirement for a practical flat surface on which to place food and other items. Early examples from Ancient Egyptian and Chinese civilisations show that tables were vital to their way of life.

(Long read)


Thousands of years on, the need for a flat convenient surface in a classroom is equally as important. Tables support fine motor skills such as writing or drawing and are a solid basis for learning tools and technology. Despite the global move towards a greater variety of furniture in learning environments, the simple table will always be with us.

 

Download our top table solutions and tips for your classroom here

  
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Talking school tables: How to provide flexibility and student choice in the classroom.


Tables and chairs form the base of a classroom. They define the number of possible student work areas and are the ideal starting point for classroom planning.
  • How many students are there?
  • What is the school's vision for teaching and learning?
  • What are the school's legal and health and safety obligations?
Tables provide the basis for translating this information into practical day-to-day learning solutions. In this article, we look at the various considerations to be taken into account when planning your learning spaces, along with the affordances and benefits of different table solutions and configurations, and how they can support your teaching and learning. 

One size doesn’t fit all: The importance of correctly sized, age-appropriate furniture.


A school's first responsibility to its students is to provide a safe and healthy learning environment. When Furnware first developed the ergonomic Bodyfurn student chair back in the early 2,000’s, there were inconsistent standards applied to school furniture heights, resulting in mismatched furniture.

96% of secondary students are seated at incorrectly sized furniture, which is why we developed the Bodyfurn system

The implications of these mismatches were explored further by Massey University ergonomist Professor Stephen Legg. It was discovered that muscular-skeletal health issues, such as back problems were directly attributable to poorly fitted furniture. These findings led to the development of a height chart and corresponding colour system. Twenty years on, these principles have been written into the newly published Australia and New Zealand Educational Furniture standards 4610.1 - with new standards regularly being introduced, it’s a great win for students.
 

Implementing a responsive classroom: How tables can assist schools in the current global pandemic and beyond.


It is easier to make flexible furniture less flexible than it is to make inflexible furniture more flexible. That is the advantage of specialist furniture - regardless of pedagogy, age group, task or levels of COVID community transmission, flexible table systems can be configured to suit accordingly.

Flexible table systems can be pulled apart for safe social distancing and reconfigured together when safety permits.

When planning social separation levels, whether the school is operating at full capacity or 50:50, table furniture can be used to create a zonal system, to separate teams and sub-teams and make cleaning furniture much easier. Setting up the classroom appropriately can help prevent infection spread without placing extra workload on teachers. Levels of student agency can be dialled up or down according to COVID risk through the use of furniture, particularly tables.


How does this translate to classroom layout? Simply that high risk of transmission = low student agency

Study nooks afford students a more quiet, personal space to focus.

So, where low levels of student agency are necessary, the less flexible the classroom layout can be. Study Nooks with screens, or allocating specific desks and chairs to students to use as their ‘personal space’ work well. Flexible table systems are a perfect choice, as they can be pulled apart and easily rearranged back to collaborative configurations once student safety permits.


Did you know? Research shows that students prefer flexible seating arrangements (Harvey and Kenyon, 2013). In particular, students have been shown to be more partial towards classrooms with mobile vs. fixed chairs, and trapezoidal tables with chairs on casters as opposed to rectangular tables with static chairs.


 

Positive movement in the classroom: Keeping students healthy and engaged in their learning.

 
As childhood obesity and associated health issues increase in our schools, the accepted wisdom of staying seated at a desk or table for extended periods of time is now being questioned. Dr Mark Bendon, associate professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, has discovered the following benefits of standing height desks:

1) Reducing sedentary behaviour and corresponding benefits in the reduction of childhood obesity and its corresponding adverse health effects (cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, osteoarthritis, sleep apnoea, and some types of cancers).

2) Increased cognitive function, higher rates of haemoglobin, greater levels of oxygen to the brain. Better attention and focus.
 

Many students love to learn standing, or kneeling at a low table from the floor.

These benefits can be derived from a variety of furniture settings: adjustable height tables, kneeler tables or standing height tables, which combine well with seating options such as lab stools or cookie pads for those who need to sit. 
 

Download our top table solutions and tips for your classroom here

  
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Designed with the user in mind: How spending time in the classroom shapes our thinking.


Experience has taught us that there is no substitute for real-life prototyping, collecting feedback to refine ideas and improve the user experience. In this short video, one of our industrial designers, Jess, explains the process of reimagining an existing table into a more flexible table system improving:
  • legroom
  • compatibility
  • collaboration
  • manoeuvrability. 
We never stop learning. Talking to and observing our students and teachers in the classroom provides us with an authentic view of the challenges they face in the classroom and shapes our design ideas.

 

A Whiteboard table is a wonderful low-tech inclusive teaching and learning tool for the classroom.

This user-centred design approach has led our design thinking numerous times. When a school principal requested we replaced a tabletop with something writable, we knew he was onto something. Now, all our tables can be a whiteboard, providing a basis for a host of pedagogical benefits such as, collaboration, visible learning, fine motor skills and risk-free experimentation. Discover more about why whiteboards work here.  
 

Ensure every learning style is catered for.


Our tables are designed to meet the full range of collaboration options. From private study carrels and alpha desks to paired and group work with more flexible, modular table solutions. 

Tailor your table selection to the correct age and stage.


Different cohorts have different requirements. Imaginatively shaped tables can fill these needs and our junior offerings such as flower, D tables or kneeler tables are all designed to foster an attractive and happy learning environment. This supports younger students who are still learning the concepts of sharing and personal space. Flexible furniture affords teachers and students the freedom to match the setting to their own particular age and stage.

 

Kellyville Public School students host a tour of their learning spaces, demonstrating how different table heights, shapes and configurations can set the stage correctly for socialising, collaboration and solo work.

Add a custom table in the mix to support specialist activities.


There are a whole host of specialist requirements for tables to assist students' learning;
  • Lab benches - Chemical proof surfaces, hard-wired Bunsen Burners, sinks etc.
  • Lego tables - Large surface area for building, easily available storage.
  • Robotics tables - Tables with rims to prevent falls, storage for tools and equipment. 
  • Light tables -Popular with Reggio Emilia - using light to display and examine leaves etc.
  • Harkness table method - Large rounded edge board-style table designed to promote Socratic debate.

Not all tables are created equal:


Tables are one of the hardest-working products in any classroom. So, you not only need to think about the activities you’re using them for, but also consider how they are made. School furniture is a significant investment and you want assurance your products will withstand the wear and tear of the classroom and stand the test of time.


Before purchasing, ask your supplier the following questions:


What are my tables made from? 

Furnware tables are made from EO board which is low in Formaldehyde and come with a 10-year warranty.

How robust are my tables? 

Furnware tables have a fully welded table frame made from the best quality NZ steel. Separate legs can be unstable and easily break.

Will the edges of the tables peel off easily?

Furnware tables use a strong heat-activated EVA adhesive applied by our adaptive controlled contour edge bander. With every table being quality checked by hand.

What tools will I need to assemble my tables? 

All Furnware furniture arrives fully-assembled and classroom-ready, no tools required. 

 

Mary MacKillop High School considered sightlines and flexibility when designing their classrooms.

Teaching and learning is evolving to support more student agency through adaptive curriculums and the need for more flexible furniture solutions have never been greater. However, every classroom needs tables and, with careful planning and consultation, their utility can be maximised to make the most efficient use of both available budget and space to support every pedagogy. The variations are boundless and with imagination, it is possible to create a unique space with your students.

Download our top table solutions and tips for your classroom here

  
download now



Links and further reading:
What the research says about classroom layouts from Teacher Magazine
https://www.teachermagazine.com.au/articles/classroom-layout-what-does-the-research-say
 
Research on the Bodyfurn system
https://www.furnware.com/en-nz/articles/waikato-university-bodyfurn-study
 
Professor Stephen Heppell on the benefits of writeable surfaces
http://rubble.heppell.net/write_on/
 
Research around the neurocognitive and physical health benefits of standing for students
https://www.startstanding.org/sitting-vs-standing-for-children/
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26703700/
 
How classroom design affects a child’s ability to learn
https://educationtechnologysolutions.com/2018/04/classroom-design-affect-childs-ability-learn-14-medical-educational-experts-weigh/
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