APRIL 4-8, 2016

Visualizing a 21st Century Classroom Design

As we continue to focus on the 4 C's this year, this article summarizes characteristics of a 21st century classroom:

Problem-based learning, makerspaces, flipped learning, student blogging -- these are becoming perceived staples of 21st-century learning. With such ambitious practices taking the spotlight for how people regard modern classrooms, it's not surprising that a murmur of impracticality or skepticism is still a frequent response when they're first introduced. Here are five elements of 21st-century classrooms, along with concrete suggestions that teachers can visualize and implement today.

Element #1: Zones 21st-Century Learning Principle

Instead of requiring students to learn, work, and think in one place all day, consider how your space might become more flexible.

Practical Steps

  • Designate a whole-group special gathering zone (class meetings, wrap-ups, mini-lessons) by laying a second-hand rug or taping down a perimeter -- even for older students!
  • Maximize space by having your desk do double-duty with the kidney desk, but maintain office space with shelves on the wall behind you.
  • Get creative with the student workspace zone by providing spaces for working as individuals, pairs, and groups.
  • Request donations for beanbags and oversized pillows, and check thrift shops.
  • Add casters to chairs, and top individual desks with plywood for flexible group tables.
  • Arrange furniture to create nooks.

Element #2: Accessibility 21st-Century Learning Principle

To walk the talk of a real classroom community, we must ask ourselves if all of our resources are designed and arranged for the convenience of all learners.

Practical Steps

  • Ask your students for feedback on how they use and would like to use classroom resources.
  • Ask your administration's permission to have the custodian adjust the height of bulletin boards, whiteboards, hooks, and anything else that isn't as functional as it could be.

Element #3: Mobility 21st-Century Learning Principle

We need to be sure that we're not catering to just one type of learner. Be mindful of your introverts, extroverts, collaborators, solo thinkers, writers, dreamers, and fidgeters -- and design a flexible environment that can meet everyone's needs.

Practical Steps

Create a tech station to allow students more choices in how to research, practice, and present learning. Don't have 1:1 or even 30:1? Start today by submitting a DonorsChoose project requesting a tablet or laptop. Chromebooks are under $200 and iPad Minis under $300. Then, immediately install an arsenal of apps or Chrome apps to help preclude the all-too-common "what do I do with these devices?" dilemma.

Blogging apps:

Math practice apps:

Research help apps:

Publishing/creating apps:

Fun fast-finisher apps:

Classroom organization apps:

  • Google Classroom
  • Google Drive
  • Evernote
  • Nearpod
  • Socrative

Examine low-tech options:

The abovementioned casters will help your students easily roll their chairs away if they need to work solo for a bit, or to collaborate with multiple people around the classroom. Add a clipboard, and voila -- a budget-friendly version of the Node chair.

Element #4: Inspiration 21st-Century Learning Principle

We often expect students to passively wait until we present opportunities to create, and then we expect them to turn on that creativity like a faucet. We should find ways to foster ongoing inspiration and creativity.

Practical Steps

  • Set aside a creation/inspiration zone that's open to students as often as possible (Genius Bar, Wonder Shelf, makerspace, etc.)
  • Explicitly teach and emphasize process over product, growth mindset, and metacognition. We cannot cultivate risk taking, failing, and perseverance -- all essential characteristics of creativity -- if we repeatedly demonstrate to students how all that really matters is neatly filling out our worksheets.

Element #5: Respect 21st-Century Learning Principle

Consider our students who don't do school very well. You know the ones -- the kid who rarely earns stars and class bucks, the kid who never brings homework, the kid whose name is called far more frequently than others. For them, traditional school quickly becomes a game of "me vs. the teacher." For their sake, we must find ways to dissolve this mindset, replacing it with the real reason why we're all at school -- genuine learning and growth.

Practical Steps

  • Carefully examine your reward systems and ask yourself: "Do they perpetuate or lessen the perceived game of student vs. teacher?" Take steps to minimize extrinsic rewards that often do nothing but reinforce to struggling students the futility of their efforts.
  • Focus on your one-on-one relationship with each student. Greet them at the door, ask them about their interests, and listen.
  • Fiercely safeguard time for end-of-lesson wrap-ups and reflections. Those moments are the perfect opportunity to highlight the conversation of ownership. After all, this is about student learning. Model and let them learn from others how individuals make learning personal and genuinely apply it to their lives.

What small changes can you visualize in your room today?


Have you completed our school climate survey? Please do so this week if you haven't!


3:30pm Team Leaders meeting in media center

Please store grades before you leave for the afternoon!


No School Events scheduled


3:30pm K.Williams baby shower


Report cards distributed

3:30pm Jennifer Grosse wedding shower

6:30pm PTO meeting


2nd grade field study

College Colors Day

1:45pm Montessori community meeting

RELAY FOR LIFE..........Pontiac is still in need of a team captain!

Pontiac Elementary is one of the few schools in the district that hasn't formed a team yet for our community's Relay for Life 2016 event. Our staff did a great job in 2015 with very limited time. Please let K.Barber know if you are willing to serve as our Team Captain and lead this campaign for our school and community.


Are you an EARLY BIRD? We have a position to fill in our Early Birds program. This program welcomes students that arrive early, beginning at 6:30am. Supervision is with approximately 15 kids in a space. Please let K.Barber know if you are interested in filling this position for us for the remainder of the school year.

Please consider nominating a colleague for the 3rd nine weeks!