What does a 21st Century Classroom Look Like?

     Both last night and this morning, I found myself having conversations about change in scho0ls, specifically our school HWRHS.  Last night I was able to present big picture items to our school committee so that they would have a better understanding of the future needs of our school.  This morning, I was fortunate to have a Principal’s Coffee with a large group of our parents.  As I spoke, I realized that I was opening the door for the first time to what our school could be like in the future and it was exciting.
     I thought it would be appropriate to write a quick blog post about what a 21st century classroom looks like.  The current classroom models that include students in rows, listening to a 50, 60 and 70 minute lectures must become  a thing of the past.  Flexibility is the key word to describe the evolution to a 21st century classroom.   Along with flexibility, the following twenty-first century skills: collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication become the foundation of the design of these intriguing spaces.  This blog post by J. Robinson begins to get at the root of the change by taking a look at the work that is being done in conjunction with the process of changing our classrooms.   Bridget McCrea writes, “It’s not enough to take a traditional K-12 classroom and fill it with technology. The smart classroom requires a more methodic approach that factors in the design of the basic shell, the teacher’s space, and the students’ independent and collaborative work areas.”  I believe it is even more than this.
     The view of the current classroom design must be challenged in such a way that students can work individually or together while using any space as their classroom.  Of course, technological tools creep into the picture – the use of the web for storing, investigating, and communicating collaboratively.  These tools, “like oxygen“, become an almost unnoticeable part of the environment, opening the door for students to collaborate anywhere, at any time, with anyone.
     The teacher of a twenty-first century class must make the transition from the sage on the stage to a facilitator of learning.  They must develop long-term, large-scale projects that are designed with the big questions in mind so that students can begin to think critically and logically while learning to synthesize the seemingly endless bits of information available to them.  The “classroom” must support this transition.
     So what does a 21st century classroom look like?  I have seen what some people purport to be a 21st century classroom, but it looks more like a classroom with movable furniture and that’s it.  I’m thinking that the 21st century classroom isn’t a single space.  It may involve a central location that enables students the opportunity to collaborate and also includes a robust web-based platform that can be used for collaboration, research, development, storage, presentation and management of all the available information.  It is a space, but not necessarily a place.  Students don’t always need to be in the room all of the time to function as a member of the team.
     The classroom of the future is Global.  It is a place where students can reach out to experts across the world and to gather real-time up to date information about just about any topic.  Imagine our students interacting with people around the globe in the aftermath of the recent devastating Haiti earthquake or learning about science and health as they connect to the Olympics, Olympians and everything about their environment, training, health habits, etc.  All in real time.  This isn’t how it should be, it is how it has to be.  The world is moving at a pace that many can not keep.  We must teach our students to be nimble, efficient and effective in this easily overwhelming environment.
     Twenty-first  century classrooms should ebb and flow with the needs of the students as they delve into the world of the creative intelligence, the critical thinking, and the problem solving that can open the doors to products and resources for the future.   Students no longer need to be locked into a specific classroom to take math, science, English  and Social Studies as long as they are given the tools and direction necessary to begin to think out of the box about the possible solutions to problems in long-term projects developed by interdepartmental groups of teachers.  These same teachers will have to step aside to allow students to explore like Lewis and Clark, to deal with the good and the bad of learning while they develop the skills necessary to be successful.