The Harkness table design and teaching methodology were created at Phillips Exeter Academy in the 1930s, when philanthropist Edward Harkness challenged the Exeter faculty to create an innovative way of teaching that would include every child in the classroom learning experience. The result was an oval wood table that ensured that every student could be seen and every voice could be heard. Today, authorized reproductions of the original Harkness table are produced by a single company, New Hampshire’s D.R. Dimes, whose artisans built the tables for Shore. They were painstakingly crafted from locally-grown hardwoods and finished in an environmentally-friendly, yet extremely durable, coating that can stand up to many decades of classroom use.
Shore faculty members have for years incorporated the Harkness methodology into a unique style of student-centered, discussion-based teaching, which begins as early as fourth and fifth grades. The tables in Shore’s science, history, and English classrooms enhance the school’s leadership in a method of learning that puts children at the center of their own education.
The Harkness pedagogy interacts fluidly with the cognitive growth spurts and the need for energy release that young people are experiencing. When students gather at the Harkness table for a discussion, each of them knows that their voice matters. They are part of a collaborative dynamic that uses extended conversations, which help them understand their ideas are real, valued, and meaningful. Most importantly, these students thrive when they are at the center of their learning. The Harkness approach puts them there. Just as tablet computers and SmartBoards are tools that facilitate learning, so too is the distinctive oval Harkness table, with its carefully calibrated proportions to promote eye contact and human interaction, a transformational piece of technology.