Hopkins Brings Funky Furniture to Baldwin
In February, Hopkins launched a new furniture pilot in a Baldwin classroom.
Notorious for its “rustic atmosphere,” Baldwin Hall has been a staple of the Hopkins campus since 1925. The ninety-four-year-old building has maintained its original layout, with an open fireplace still located in room B205. Having not undergone a renovation in almost twenty years, Baldwin has remained relatively the same. Cyrus Kenkare ’22 commented on how well suited Baldwin was for the change: “Baldwin seemed a perfect fit, considering that it is one of our older buildings, it’s exciting to see it revamped.”
When walking into room B004, a basement Baldwin classroom, students are now met with five perfectly symmetrical rows of wide new desks and bright red rolling chairs. These desks, two-times bigger than the average desk, are intended to give students more space to work. Math Teacher Elisa Turner, who teaches her AP Statistics class in the room, commented on the versatility of the new furniture: “The new desks and chairs are great. Students can adjust the height of the desks to find a position that fits best for them, and students can stand if they feel like they want a change of pace.” The chairs have wire netting beneath them for students to place their bags, and four rolling wheels, making it easier to maneuver around the classroom.
Director of Innovation and Technology Lisa Lamont touched on how Baldwin was an ideal place to try since “some of the furniture is a bit dated.” Lamont works with the Teacher Enrichment Cohort, a professional learning community that discusses the best practices in teaching. “We also explore trying out new things for the classroom, such as this new furniture pilot,” she stated. While speaking on the importance of the classroom environment, Lamont said, “Research in education tells us that classroom spaces, including the furniture, has a profound impact on the way that we teach and how students learn!” Owen Smyth ’20 expressed similar views: “My comfort affects my studying the most in class. The Baldwin desks are sometimes too low, making it harder to focus because of how uncomfortable I am. It’s hard to stay attentive when you are not comfortable.” Dominic Roberts ’22 agrees: “I think by having good surroundings I can focus more on what’s at task,” he stated. “The new furniture pilot,” Lamont voiced, “will give some teachers the opportunity to try out some furniture that has a more flexible, human-centered design and focus.”
Once the idea was finalized by Head of School Dr. Kai Bynum and Dean of Academics David Harpin, teachers were then invited to apply to be part of the new experiment. With more than a quarter of the Hopkins faculty wanting to participate, room B004 was selected. “This classroom,” Lamont stated, “was large enough to pick some fun stuff! Additionally, the three teachers who share that classroom applied to be part of the pilot. With several different classes taking place here, the pilot will serve a variety of different grade levels.” With six different classes being taught in the room in a week, multiple different students will be able to test out the furniture.
Many students think the adjustability of the desks is one of the best selling features of the new furniture: George Wang ’20 said, “being able to move the desk up and down has proven to be great. I’m more comfortable in class and it’s easier to take notes at a height that’s better suited for me.” Paige Devoe ’20 also noticed how the wheels of the furniture have proven themselves useful in helping her concentrate: “I have noticed that I am not as fidgety because I can move around more freely. I’m more comfortable and can focus more, whereas, with the old furniture, it was difficult.”
Along with its adjustability, Lamont added, “the furniture is also constructed so that it can easily be moved for different configurations and types of class activities.” Turner expressed her enthusiasm about this feature when she added, “being able to change the layout of the class has proven to be extremely helpful, especially in a room used by four different teachers.” Devoe observed the new classroom environment since the change: “The classroom has been different. Meeting with teachers is now easier because I can swing to their desk more easily. It’s easier to talk with others and it promotes more discussion in class.” Turner showed no signs of nostalgia over the old desks: “One of the drawbacks of the old furniture,” she stated, “was the slanted desktops because items easily slid off. The new furniture allows me to easily have the students sit in many different types of arrangements. We can even make one big table out of the desks!”
The new furniture pilot comes with a price. Furnishing one classroom costs approximately ten-thousand dollars. However, the high price-tag reflects the quality of the new furniture. “The furniture is built to last,” Lamont added as she called the pilot “a long term investment.” There currently is not a specific budget for classroom innovation yet, however, Dr. Bynum gave his full support to the program. Wang summed up his thoughts on the pilot simply: “It’s great to even have the opportunity to do things like this at Hopkins. Experimenting with different ways of teaching seems to fit perfectly with what Hopkins’ innovative community.”