The Starbucks Classroom 


Charlotte Weghorst, Writer

The 21st-century classroom, alternative class system, and even the “Starbucks” classroom are all common names for the widespread use of standing desks, wobbly chairs, and beanbags within the classroom. While both public and private schools are dropping thousands of dollars to transform their traditional classrooms, does this method really work and allow students to become more engaged within their lessons?  

This alternative seating movement first gained traction on the popular social media platform known as Pinterest, in which classrooms held a variety of seating options and were displayed in a colorful manner. Though these classrooms were Instagram worthy, what was the reasoning behind this sudden switch from the tried-and-true method of desks which had been so popular since the Industrial Revolution? Unfortunately, no major studies have been conducted on the subject, so the research is limited and often unreliable. Edutopia’s article Flexible Classrooms: Research is Scarce, But Promising said, “Research on flexible classrooms -is frustratingly scarce.” Though, smaller studies have been performed, these often haven’t been on a large enough scale to draw a direct conclusion. Another thought to take into consideration is that how well a student does can vary based on a variety of environmental factors. It’s difficult for researchers to study the effects of differing classroom setups as student scores can also be affected by a multitude of factors including temperature, what they ate, the teacher’s learning style, and even their home life. Though there’s data currently available which is promising and in support of the “Starbucks” classroom, no final conclusions can be made without further research into the topic.  

This form of alternative seating holds many positives. First, with the increased amount of physical activity of rocking back and forth in a chair or standing up at a desk instead of sitting, students are lowering their risk of developing certain conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research’s article What are the risks of sitting too much? said, “Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns. They include obesity and a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels — that make up metabolic syndrome.”  

Second, students often take on more responsibility as they can choose where they feel the most productive. This encourages students to be more accountable for their actions, especially in elementary schools where younger children can’t fully comprehend the consequences of their choices. 

 Third, the 21st-century classroom is able to flourish because students like the “Starbucks” classroom better than the traditional setup. Students often rate alternative classrooms higher in polls and claim that they keep them more engaged and focused. In a master’s thesis titled, “Flexible Seating Influencing Student Engagement,” a study on a single alternative classroom asked students to rate the differing forms of seating based on their engagement levels. Overall, the students rated the forms of alternative seating much higher than that of the traditional setup and stated that they felt more engaged within the “Starbucks” classroom. Logan Shell, eighth grader, said, “Honestly, it’s more calming since everyone’s more comfortable in their seats with more freedom.” 

Fourth, alternative classrooms can regulate emotions like boredom, frustration, and resentment which can be more apparent in younger children. With the ability to move around the learning space at their own pace, students can often relax and cool off, allowing themselves to process emotions more easily. Finally, in the alternative classroom a sense of community can build amongst students. This can allow students to feel more comfortable within their surroundings and generate a feeling of belonging amongst their peers.  

However, there are notable problems with this new seating chart. First, it’s quite expensive. Underpaid teachers drop thousands of dollars into their individual classrooms. School systems, especially within poorer districts, just don’t have the funds or resources to properly renovate their spaces. Mrs. Amy Fry, eighth grade language arts teacher, said, “Traditional seating is expensive, and flexible seating is really expensive. There’s only so much money to go around.”  

Second, students often seize the opportunity to take advantage of this 21st-century classroom. In reported cases, students have fallen asleep on couches and cheated on tests. Ragan Moore, eighth grader, said, “One time, because one of the seats was very comfortable and we were reading a book, someone fell asleep.” 

Third, another problem which can arise, especially in the classrooms of younger children, is that disputes can break out over who is able to sit where. With the limited number of spaces for each individual type of seating, there are bound to be some temper tantrums thrown. This friction amongst students can cause long-term problems, as students fight for jurisdiction over a sector of the classroom. Mrs. Karen Kampshmidt, sixth grade language arts teacher, said, “There are always seats which are more popular than others.”  

A further challenge of the “Starbucks” classroom is the fact that all students are different and need varying environments in order to stay engaged and on task. This can include both alternative seating and the traditional setup, meaning teachers can have trouble tending to every student’s individual needs in their classroom. For example, students who are more reserved can have difficulty adjusting to the chaotic and noisy space. These students who are more introverted might need a more quieted space to work effectively and can struggle with the sudden modification from the traditional setup.  

In conclusion, alternative seating has its pros and cons which allow it to both flourish and hinder it from reaching its full potential. The concept of the “Starbuck’s” classroom has only become more popular in the last decade, and research suggests that school curriculums must make a huge shift in order for the model to thrive in the school environment. More studies could validate the alternative classroom in the future, or the concept could also fail under the scrutiny of researchers. Whether or not this classroom endures, only time will tell.  





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