Del Mar Union launches new modern classroom prototypes

DMUSD students balance on Norvaboards while at work in the classroom.

“I learn better when I wiggle.”

That student comment was one of many positive reviews of Del Mar Union School District’s new modern classroom prototypes. Embracing an open floor plan design, the entire room is used for learning with cozy movable furniture, a mix of student workspaces and Norvaboards, a board that students can balance (and wiggle) on while working at a standing table.

Prototypes of the new classrooms are at 16 spaces across the district, in kindergarten and first grade classrooms and a special education classroom.

“Environments really matter,” said Jessica Morales, Del Mar Union School District’s director of curriculum and instruction “They can inhibit or inspire the work of the group and the individual, and impact the learning and teaching that occurs in a space.”

A student gets comfortable on a stadium seat in the classroom.

Del Mar’s classroom modernization project began back in 2013 when the district began researching and exploring different options for students. Morales said that in Del Mar their classrooms were nice but they were reflective of a paradigm in education that they were ready to change. Gone were the days when classrooms resembled factories with rows of desks—in a modern classroom, there is no “front of the class”.

“Our spaces needed be redesigned to create environments that bring out the best in the learners and the educators,” Morales said.

The district launched its modern learning studio pilots at Carmel Del Mar and Sycamore Ridge in 2015 and since then they have continued to research and refine what works best and evaluate how the physical environments impact learning.

For the new K-1 prototypes, over the summer of 2020 the district refreshed the carpet, paint and removed unnecessary cabinetry in the classrooms to increase the floor space. The new furniture pieces were installed during winter break.

Students work independently in the new modern classroom.

The district’s focus with the new classrooms is on flexibility, comfort and choice. Morales said teachers have observed improved focus and student independence as students seek out and settle into the learning space that they are most comfortable in for a task, whether it’s perched on a soft sofa-like chair for reading, sitting on the ground at a low table or standing to work.

“The grassy dome is a huge hit,” Morales said of a Dr. Seuss-like mound of artificial turf in one classroom. Another student favorite is the “stadium seats”, curved cushions that can be put together and broken apart.

“We think stadium seats are awesome,” wrote a group of first grade students. “One reason is because you can lay on them. Also because they are squishy and comfy. Finally, stadium seats are light and easy to move.”

Morales said teachers have shared that they love the colors and feel of the rooms and that the furniture is playful, functional and comfortable. The movable pieces allow teachers to reimagine classroom configurations more easily—in one configuration, a teacher can sit inside of a circular table on a swivel stool, rotating to work with students seated around it.

Looking ahead, Morales said the district will continue to gather feedback as they develop designs for second through sixth grade classrooms. Ultimately the goal is to modernize spaces at all schools throughout the district with new furnishings once they determine the most effective prototype.