My ideal 21st century classroom. What’s yours?

Teaching and learning have changed in the 21st Century. They have that potential, at least. What would your 21st Century classroom look like? (Public domain image via

Teaching and learning have changed in the 21st Century. They have that potential, at least. What would your 21st Century classroom look like? (Public domain image via

I know. We’re already many years into the 21st Century. And I know there’s a chance that the term “21st Century” might rub you the wrong way.

But we’re here, and teaching and learning look very different. At least they have the potential to.

When I started teaching in 2004, there was one computer in the classroom: a slow desktop computer to take attendance and report grades. 

No iPads. No Chromebooks. No flip cams. No iPods. No 1:1 technology initiatives or augmented reality or virtual reality.

I was tickled when a retiring teacher gave me an LCD projector. (He said he couldn’t use it: “I don’t want to copy all my overhead transparencies over to PowerPoint.”)

I cobbled together what I called my “multimedia cart” — the projector, a CD/DVD player, a VCR and some speakers.

Oh, how times have changed.

Even if we don’t have an official “one device for every student” classroom or school, many students come to class with powerful supercomputers in their pockets every day.

We connect and share with our school community through social media, email and text message. (Remember when we thought the separation between school and Facebook should be like church and state?)

Now that we’re here in the 21st Century, what should our classrooms look like?

A teacher named Marie emailed me recently. Her school asked her to describe the perfect 21st Century classroom, and she wanted my thoughts.

I was really glad she asked. It gave me a chance to take a big-picture view at what’s possible.

So I responded, and I wanted to share my response with you. This was my response on that particular day, and it may change from day to day, month to month or year to year.

What I really hope this will become is a conversation. When you’re done reading, would you add your thoughts in a comment? Tell us any of the following …

  • What your ideal 21st Century classroom would look like
  • How it might look different than what I described
  • What you agree with in this post
  • What parts of a modern classes should look different (or the same!) compared to older, traditional classes

Here was my response to Marie …

Wow … the perfect 21st Century classroom. That’s a very big question. It could look different in so many ways. I think an important aspect is to know what the goals of the teacher/school/district are before crafting that classroom.

I think there are some aspects that I’d make sure to include no matter what.

One is to break down the four walls of the classroom with global connections. That could be with video calls (Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime) or other collaborative tools (Google Apps, etc.). Connect students with other classes around the country and world. Bring guest speakers in virtually. Take students on virtual field trips. These options are almost always free and open students up to the world around them in ways we can’t alone in the classroom.


A second is to promote a student-centered classroom. Direct less from the front of the room. Give students options in activities, in topics of study, in projects to create. Direct them to YouTube and other videos — and let them find their own pertinent sources of content.

(Resource: Hyperdocs, Hyperforms, Google Classroom)

A third is to promote creation instead of consumption. Creating and using creativity will become more and more important in the future workforce, and if we can encourage students to create and produce instead of only consuming and watching/listening/reading, they’re well positioned.

(Resource: Project-based learning, any activities where students create instead of consume).

A fourth is to encourage serving others. We have populations in our own communities and worldwide that we can serve in pursuit of our standards and learning. When students have a purpose larger than themselves, it elevates activities in the classroom to a higher level of motivation.

Finally, always try to bring it back to the four C’s: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. These are the skills that we believe employers will really covet in new employees in the future. If we want students to be prepared to exhibit them, they need lots of practice in schools. (Note: I added this one after emailing Marie.)

(Resource: NEA’s “An Educator’s Guide to the Four C’s”)

[reminder]What does your ‘ideal 21st Century classroom’ look like (or your ‘ideal modern classroom’ if the 21st Century term rubs you the wrong way)? Please, please, please tell us in the comments below![/reminder]

For notifications of new Ditch That Textbook content and helpful links:

Interested in having Matt present at your event or school? Contact him by e-mail!

Matt is scheduled to present at the following upcoming events:

[getnoticed-event-table scope=”upcoming” max=”15″ expanding=”false”]