Classroom chair-desks tend to be uncomfortable and not appealing to the student.
A patent search using the term “chair-desk” reveals that students today are sitting in exactly the same rigid plastic seat, bolted to a metal-frame, high-pressure polyurethane-topped student chair-desk as their parents or grandparents did more than a half century ago in 1953. When the five major school furniture manufacturers in the United States were asked what research they relied on for their furniture designs, the response was that they did not rely on any and so have adopted a one-size-fits-all philosophy (Parcells 1999).
In an effort to put an end to one-size-fits all design of learning environments this paper presents a detailed account of the participatory design approach followed by a high school engineering technology class from Hopewell High School, Virginia, USA to re-design the traditional school chair-desk as part of their efforts in the 2010 Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams program. With a belief that students should experience an optimum state of active-dynamic learning the team used a participatory design approach to innovate an inclusively designed, accessible student chair-desk that adapts to its user’s need of healthy, ergonomic movement resulting in an improved chair-desk experience and ultimately an enhanced learning experience. Key milestones achieved, challenges encountered, and relationships forged during the design and fabrication process of this desk are also highlighted.