IDE Corp
Professional Development for Innovative Schools

#LATICinsights: Form Follows Function

The term “form follows function” derives from an article by American architect Louis Sullivan entitled The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered. To summarize the meaning:

Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling.
It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.

The influence of the factory-model of efficiency had a profound impact on schooling, in spite of the fact that churning out products has little to do with nurturing thinking. Classrooms today still resemble the factory approach of individual seats set in rows, though in recent decades schools have worked to modify that by clustering desks or placing them in a circle. What must happen, however, is that schools need to rethink the function of schooling and outfit classrooms accordingly.

In a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, students engage in learning in a social environment, as collaborators as well as individual content masters. Students are actively engaged in a variety of activities throughout the day; and while short, whole-group lessons are a part of the day, they are nowhere near the bulk of the day. Therefore, the form of the classroom should address the various functions related to student work. Students can then move seats and sit in a variety of areas for the whole-group lesson. Here are a few considerations for furniture purchases:

1. To create a culture of collaboration, ensure an unbroken surface among collaborators. Round tables ensure that equals sit around a table with an unbroken surface, thus not designating any area as belong to any member, and not having any member at the head of a table. I recommend 42″ tables for most four-person collaborations as it allows for discussion with lower voices than the more common 48″ tables. A clover table is a great “hybrid” — students sit at the indent, 42″ apart, while surrounded by a little more table space with a 48″ diameter at the longest side.

2. For pairs discussions, and for speaking activities in a world language classroom, use smaller, 32″ café tables. A smaller table allows two students to converse with one another without adding to the overall noise level of the classroom. It provides a form that follows the function of a one-on-one conversation.

3. Consider high-top tables, particularly in middle schools. Students who are experiencing growth spurts and hormonal changes often need to move around and shift position during the class period. A high-top table allows students to continue to engage in learning whether they choose to stand or sit. While working, you’ll see students stand, sit, and stand again without interrupting the conversation.

4. For individual work, consider using some individual desks, perhaps placed in an area of the room away from the collaborative areas. Standing desks can be useful as well; a recent Forbes article pointed out the value of standing desks for energizing the brain.

5. For small-group discussions of, for example, the current problem students are trying to solve, consider soft-seating such as couches and comfy chairs so students are engaging in what feels more like a living room. Students can sign up to reserve the discourse center for their group work.

6. Teacher facilitation is an important part of the learning experience, and, while students are working, teachers should be moving around from table to table, area to area, to partner with them in the learning process. While facilitating, teachers should sit with students (or stand alongside them) rather than hover over them. To accommodate this activity, a stool makes a great seating option for the teacher. Teachers can carry around a lightweight stool or have several set up around the room.

7. For conferences; small-group, mini-lessons; and book discussions, you might want to use a rectangular table, allowing for a more formal environment with, perhaps, a group leader.

These are a few ideas for furniture that fits within the generally accepted ideas for classroom furniture. However, more and more school furniture companies today are developing unique options for various activities. Just consider the function, and find the appropriate form to match that function!

Here are some “tweeted” options from our client Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms (click on the image for the full tweet):




Desks with writeable surfaces


A variety of areas in third grade

Student-created areas

And more . . .


#LATICinsights – Avoiding the No-Man’s Land of Innovation

Innovation requires a shift in mindset and action, sometimes taking you outside of your comfort zone. As you design a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, you will no doubt find times that you are outside of your comfort zone. Your tendency might be to drop a structure that doesn’t seem to work for you or your students. Don’t do it!

In the game of tennis, players first played at the baseline. The ball would cross over the net, bounce in the court, and as it approached the back line, the player would hit it back. Over time, the game, and tennis racquet fotolia_tenniscourt_xstechnology, evolved, and the net game was born. The player would run up to the net and hit the ball as it crossed, not waiting for it to bounce first. For some players, this was natural and comfortable. For others, being at the net was stressful, and they would begin to back up, fearing they would miss the ball. The problem is that if they backed up to just the middle of the court, they would find themselves in what tennis folks call “No-Man’s Land” (the center of the court between the net and the baseline.) The balls would bounce at their feet and they could not hit them.

In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, if teachers back up and drop a structure here and there, they end up in #LATIC No-Man’s Land. The classroom will not run as smoothly and the students may not achieve to the desired levels. The key is, you can’t drop a structure because each one has an important reason for being there, and the structures support one another. Take a look at the list below. This represents just some of the many structures that make the classroom work.


As you innovate, be sure to lean in, embrace the change, reflect and adjust, but keep moving forward. When something appears to not work, it’s usually because a structure or strategy is missing. Rather than reverting to former methods, find out what’s missing that needs to be added. Avoid No-Man’s Land! Innovate and change the world!

Greetings from ASCD 2016

At ASCD 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia, people are talking about:

Screenshot 2016-04-03 at 3.46.26 PM

We’re enjoying the many great conversations with old friends and new.

ascdpic01 ascdpic04 PeeDee2016




Pedro Noguera: “How do we teach teachers to make their classrooms come to life?” “Good teaching takes art and skill.” “Equity is the issue of our times.”

Carol Dweck: “Growth mindset isn’t just about praising effort.”

Manny Scott: “Student Voice – help them find it as the world needs to hear it!”

In light of this, our favorite shares of the conference:

Great conference! See you next year.




From Best Practices to Systems Practices

Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they learn.” This speaks of the shift from teacher as the purveyor of information to that of an architect of a complex environment in which students learn; a shift from “teacher as ferry” to “teacher as bridge builder.” How does one create the conditions under which students learn?

Schools place considerable focus on best practices, which are necessary but not sufficient for creating the conditions under which students learn. Best practices are often approached as individual strategies for supporting student learning. Consider some best practices that would create the conditions under which students learn:

  • Using problem-based learning to launch a unit of study creates a “felt need” for students to learn, thus motivating them to pursue curricular goals.
  • Using an analytic rubric to provide students with clearly articulated expectations offers them a sense of responsibility for self-assessing, setting goals, and pursuing nodesthose goals.
  • Developing a set of rich and diverse opportunities to learn, including multiple pathways to the same objective, based on learning modalities, provides students with the differentiation necessary to ensure that all students learn at high levels.
  • Allowing students to schedule their own time empowers them to make decisions about when and how they will pursue individual learning goals.

These seem like worthy practices; however, the power of these practices lies in their interconnectedness, their interdependence. The key to creating the conditions under which students learn is in creating a systems-based classroom.

Consider the four best practices mentioned above. Teachers can build their ability to employ each of these, and, no doubt, this would enhance the instructional process. However, looking at these practices as independent strategies or structures falls short of creating the conditions under which students learn. What is needed is systems-thinking: how does each component of the classroom affect every other component of the classroom?

Fig Str 2 in progress

To determine the health of a system, you look not at the nodes; you look at the lines. It is in the interdependencies that one creates a strong, effective system for learning.

For illustrative purposes, this diagram presents just four of the structures of the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, designed to put students in charge of their own learning by creating the conditions under which they learn. The actual system includes many more nodes and lines. In order for students to take charge of their own learning, teachers must view the classroom as a self-sustaining, interdependent system.

First, think about the classroom as a system of interdependent components and identify the relationships among the components. You can then start building a system that removes the teacher from the position of “ferry master” and, instead, creates the conditions under which students learn.