Sonoma County Office of Education

Technology for Learners

New Active Learning Environments in Petaluma City Schools

Author: Rick Phelan
Published: 07.12.15

PCS furniture K-12 classrooms in Petaluma City Schools will look different when students and teachers start back to school in August.  Furniture that had been in classrooms for 30 to 40 years has been taken away and sold. New kinds of desks and chairs have been put in place that promote active learning. Wireless access points have been installed to support student use of one to one computers and tablets.

Deputy Superintendent Jane Escobedo states that changes in classrooms were necessary because, “... we’re asking teachers to cultivate and develop new skills among students that include communication, collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking and learning with technology.” The old classroom furniture was difficult to re-arrange, didn’t support flexible learning and weren’t ergonomically appropriate.  Escobedo went on to describe discussions among faculty at each Petaluma site exploring needs for classroom changes and what was required to complement new instructional strategies.  Questions included the following points:

  • What does meaningful learning look like?
  • What does student engagement look/sound/feel/like?
  • What products do we see to know we are successful in providing a 21st century learning experience?
  • How do we support teachers in a 21st century learning experience?
  • How do we support students in a 21st century learning experience?

Lively campus conversations took place. One teacher summed up thinking at her site with the following comment: “We are not redesigning the room just for technology, we are redesigning the room because we are teaching differently.  We need the room to catch up with our teaching.”

Based on these site conversations a team of administrators and teachers worked to find new classroom furniture that would complement 21st century learning needs.  “We went forward with the understanding new furniture needs to support learning in Petaluma for the next 30 years,” asserted Escobedo.

Visiting Petaluma’s classrooms this summer you will see many signs of transformation.  Changes are most apparent at Petaluma’s two year round schools where classes begin in two weeks: Penngrove Elementary School and Mary Collins School at Cherry Valley. Teachers are rearranging classroom learning areas with adjustable height tables, wing desks, Plato stools, mobile whiteboards, cubes, noodle chairs, and other kinds of furniture.  

Penngrove School principal Amy Fadeji says that the changes have made standard 900 square foot classrooms more spacious and flexible for different learning activities. She contrasts the old furniture with the new furniture. Old furniture was designed for students to sit in rows facing forward. Fadeji declares, “We are not this classroom anymore…it was very hard to force this furniture to cooperate with our new teaching.”

Looking at the start of school in two weeks, Fadeji is excited about transformations taking place. Teacher desks have disappeared, filing cabinets have been tucked away or thrown away, new tables in varying sizes and heights have appeared, as well as several seating choices for students to select depending on what they are working on and with whom. Flat screen TVs have been installed in classrooms to replace clunky dated projectors and teachers are thinking about the effective integration of one to one iPad tablets that will leverage student learning further!

The new forms of Petaluma City School classrooms support the functions of 21st century teaching and learning.

Additional Information:

What Is An Active Learning Environment? YouTube Video by Petaluma Educators

Petaluma City School Classroom Furniture Design Typicals for Grades K-12


Blog: Technology for Learners