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Model Learning Spaces

New student-centered classroom design being piloted in the Ithaca City School District is helping create the best environment for all children to learn.

The model learning spaces include a variety of seating options, easily movable furniture, and the ability to create classrooms that adapt to multiple student needs and preferences.

This year, Mary Beth McDaniel’s second grade students at Northeast Elementary School have six different types of seats to choose from. She’ll also create dedicated standing spaces in her classroom, once she’s determined where students like to stand while working.

In addition to traditional seating, students can use seats with moving backs, backless stools that rock, stationary stools, and stools that stack to become higher or lower. “Some like (the rocking) and some don’t,” McDaniel said.

In the classroom’s reading area, options include soft movable seating, scoop rockers, and sitting on the floor. 

McDaniel first tried out rocking stools last year after receiving a Red and Gold Grant for student-centered classroom design from the Ithaca Public Education Initiative (IPEI). She then assessed how students responded, using that information to determine what additional furniture to purchase.

Children are welcome to change from one chair to another at any time. They often do, McDaniel said, depending on subject or time of day.

“My goal was to encourage student choice and movement as much as possible and accommodate students’ sensory needs,” she said. “We wanted the design to be really flexible.”

Other touches provide further opportunities for collaboration, innovation, and student-centered learning. Wheeled storage cabinets can be moved out of the way or used to separate the classroom into distinct areas for one-on-one or small group instruction. The sides are dry-erase and magnetic, so the cabinets themselves can be used as learning surfaces. Triangular student tables can be easily moved together for group work while still providing each student with his or her own space.

“It takes the learning all over the room,” McDaniel said. “We can make spaces for different things.”

McDaniel said the best part of the project is watching her students utilize the space in ways that help them better learn and focus. 

“It’s been really fun,” she said. “It’s an amazing project, to take a vision of what you think would work for kids and then you see it happen. It’s been really great.”

Belle Sherman
Beverly J Martin
Cayuga Heights
Fall Creek
South Hill
Boynton Middle
DeWitt Middle
Ithaca HS
Lehman Alternative


Ithaca City School District
Dr. Luvelle Brown, Superintendent
400 Lake Street
Ithaca, NY 14850
(607) 274-2101