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

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Thursday, November 24, 2016

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]

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  • […] Source: My ideal 21st century classroom. What’s yours? | Ditch That Textbook […]

  • […] is always a treasure trove of ideas and different thinking.  I share it all often.  This week a post of his popped into my inbox on what the ideal 21st Century classroom would look like.  The post had me […]

  • Thomas Boles says:

    I second the focus on the learning goals and how the classroom environment best supports it. If that is considered and then thought about the layout and tools, I would have communal modular furniture, write and tack everywhere in the room, devices available for whatever adventure we were pursuing and all the tools necessary to create and present. That is the short version but the key would be the ability to collaborate and present in many forms with all the tools carefully tucked and ready.

  • I absolutely agree that we need to rethink our classrooms. I’ve been lucky at my school, I get my own classroom, so I can set up the space however I see fit.

    I’ve found a “frontless” classroom works best for me for a number of reasons. You can check out my setup here if you like.

  • Jay says:

    I have been teaching math since 1986. The biggest argument was should we have calculators. From there I have had 1 teacher computer and then 10 classroom computers. Now I have 1:1 laptops, video network equipment to teach calculus to 3 other schools at the same time as my school, 3d printer and google cardboard. I feel like I am drinking from the fire hose. The bottom line is still the same: Care about the kids first and use whatever tools you can to make the learning happen. I do wonder when I will hit the end of what is next.

    • Matt Miller says:

      Sounds like you have the right focus, Jay … and you’re exactly right: use whatever tools you can to make the learning happen. They don’t have to be the flashiest or techiest … they just have to work!

  • […] My ideal 21st century classroom. What’s yours? | Ditch That Textbook […]

  • Ove Christensen says:

    Thanks, a very fine a balanced answer for at very complex question.
    It is a shame, though, that you illustrate your thoughts with a picture of a classroom modeled from 18th century classroom. Or maybe you think it works as counterpoint?

    I agree in your focus on the 4 Cs – and I would ad world citizenship.
    I also think the authentic – real world – learning should be prioritized. Students dealing with real problems and trying to come up with real solutions.

    • Matt Miller says:

      Hi Ove … World Citizenship. Yes, that’s so important. As the world gets smaller with easier communication, we have to be more aware of cultural differences and how we’re all very much the same. Yeah, front-facing classroom design in that picture probably wasn’t ideal … but it sounds like the emphasis of the post wasn’t lost on you despite it.

  • Rhett Oldham says:

    The 21st century classroom guarantees to be ever-evolving that is for sure. Here is what I believe the 21st century classroom should look like:
    -Global Collaborations are the cornerstone of my classroom. My students are learning about the history of the world while talking to people their own age all over the world.
    -Technology must be an integral part of the classroom. Education is the only institution that clings to paper and pencil. To prepare students for the 21st century, tech integration is crucial.
    -Collaboration and Communicate: Students must realize how communication is most effective and that they are in charge of their learning. Teachers are the “guide of the stage” much more than the “sage on the stage”. Students must understand how to communicate effectively in a group setting.
    -Effort equals Excellence: Intelligence gives a student a head start but it doesn’t equate to immediate success. All students can achieve real success through effort.

  • Ken O'Connor says:

    I agree with your four components and would add “Conversations about student learning would use words not symbols.” By this I mean most student assessment would get descriptive feedback with no scores for formative assessments and the use of 2 to 7 levels for evaluating summative assessments that would be standards-based, comprehensive and engaging, high quality and only a few per grading period. Grades would be deemphasized and would only be determined and discussed for two days each grading period.

  • Dianne Csoto says:

    Matt, I whole-heartedly agree with your idea of the ideal classroom and love your post. I have ditched the desks, the worksheets, and the textbooks. My students regularly use the 4Cs and actually complain when I ask them to use only one specific tool to show what they know. Skype, Project Based Learning and BreakoutEdu are our friends on a regular basis. They regularly take their activities outside the classroom both in reality and virtually. I’m not sure I could ever go back to teaching using a traditional model. I feel sorry for my students when they leave my classroom at the end of the year and go back to “the way it has always been”.

  • What seems most important to me is the 21st century teacher that is in it. In it, not in front of it. As in: alongside with students.

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