After rising for decades, creativity scores have been dropping in the last 20 years, particularly among young children in kindergarten through 3rd grade (Kim, 2011). The cause is unclear, but adapting classrooms to serve the needs of modern children is undoubtedly a good place to start. In order to learn and be creative, students must feel comfortable and yet stimulated in the classroom environment. It should reflect both traditional educational approaches and technological advancements.

Hands-on materials
In their discussion of open classrooms, Ramey and Piper note that students should have ample opportunity to physically manipulate objects (1974). A good example of this is the wall hanging seen below at left, with which students learn how words are grouped with other words. Activity centers and materials baskets also contribute to this kind of hands-on learning. Roskos and Neuman recommend that literacy "nooks" be embedded in the classroom design -- particularly in the "play areas" to get small hands reaching for books (2011, p. 111).



Ever wonder why we all grew up sitting in rows? Research found that the traditional rows of desks were particularly effective in keeping less-attentive students focused and on task (Higgins, et al., 2005)! However, the modern curriculum calls for more than content delivery and individual work, so increased flexibility is important during discussion and group activities. Maddern recommends matching seating to classroom needs in this way:

  • lecture - individual desks (in rows)
  • creating/sharing - small round tables
  • communicating - one big table
  • decision-making - square tables (2011)

Alternatively, teachers may opt for a horseshoe-shaped arrangement for lectures and class discussions, as it has been shown that students ask more questions in this configuration than when sitting in rows (Higgins, et al., 2005). Training students to help move chairs and desks quickly and quietly ensures that seating can be flexible and minimally disruptive (Maddern, 2011).


Lighting and color

To be productive and creative, children should not be bothered by distracting or annoying environmental conditions. Unfortunately, researchers disagree about many issues related to lighting. Some have found evidence that bad lighting conditions had little effect on mood or performance, while others did find such negative effects, as well as increased absenteeism and even an increase in dental cavities and weight gain (Higgins, et al., 2005). Similarly, there are mixed opinions about the appropriate use of color in the classroom. Some researchers assert that males and females have different color preferences, but others argue that the evidence is not convincing. However, one study found that children do voice a strong preference for colors in general, although parents and educators were generally unconcerned about whether or not walls were colorful (Higgins, et al., 2005).



Peter H. Reynolds offers four key points in his interpretation of the updated standards from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Students and educators will be expected to:

  • "generate new ideas, new products, and new processes;
  • create original works as a means to personal or group expression;
  • use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues; and
  • identify trends and forecast possibilities" (2008, p. 28)wacom-tablet.jpg

Reynolds goes on to provide suggestions for engendering creativity in the modern classroom. One of the most interesting is the use of graphics tablets to take the crayon-era into the future (2008). As the tablets become increasingly more affordable and free graphics software (and even operating systems) become more mature and user-friendly, any student with the inclination should be able to get an early start on expressing creativity through image creation and manipulation.

With the proper supervision and teacher training, online social technologies can also have a place in the classroom environment. In "Tweacher (n): the Twitter-Enhanced Teacher", Matteson describes how Twitter may be used for a collaborative creative writing assignment or an ongoing homework discussion, with students posting responses to a prompt and then responding to each other (2011).

For a wealth of information on best practices in classroom design, see this comprehensive literature review commissioned for the Design Council. It offers comprehensive information about everything from air quality to lighting.


Higgins, S., Wall, K., & Mccaughey, C. (2005). The Impact of School Environments : Produced for the Design Council. Communication, 10, 04–08.
Kim, K. (2011). The Creativity Crisis: The Decrease in Creative Thinking Scores on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. Creativity Research Journal, 23(4), 285-295.
Maddern, K. (2011). Seats in groups, columns or rows. Times Educational Supplement, (4964), 4-7.
Matteson, A. (2010). Tweacher (n): The twitter enhanced teacher. School Library Monthly, 27(1), 22-23.
Ramey, C. T., & Piper, V. (1974). Creativity in open and traditional classrooms. Child Development, 45(2), 557-560.
Reynolds, P. H. (2008). Six essentials to foster creativity and innovation in the classroom. District Administration, 44(7), 28-29.
Roskos, K., & Neuman, S. B. (2011). The classroom environment. Reading Teacher, 65(2), 110-114.