There has been quite a bit of buzz about the ‘21st Century Classroom’ over the last few years but what is it, and how can you create one?
To understand the shift to 21st century classrooms, it is helpful to take a look back at what we are shifting away from and why.
In the early 20th century, schools became as industrialized as the economy. The focus then, as now, was to prepare students for their eventual workplace. At that time, the vast majority of students would move into factory work and industrialized labour and the classrooms of the day reflected that expectation. The students were in rows with desks and chairs neatly aligned. The teacher was the deliverer of knowledge, the disciplinarian, and the supervisor – positioned at the front of the classroom, often behind a desk or podium. The learning was teacher-centered, the focus was on memorization and the 3 R’s, and the students usually worked in isolation. Much like the jobs they were being prepared for, there was an expected objective or outcome and a standard to be achieved.
The 21st century classroom is similarly preparing the students for their eventual careers and the environment in which they will be working, but the workplace has changed dramatically over the course of a century and the classrooms now need to reflect that change. Careers that exist today are part of entire business areas that didn’t exist a decade ago. Children who are starting school now will work in environments and in occupations that most of us can’t even imagine today. Today’s students need to be agile thinkers and flexible learners. They need to be collaborative, creative, and technologically savvy. They require teachers to be facilitators and coaches. The classrooms and furniture that these students use for the course of their learning need to reflect those needs, and, the spaces they inhabit need to be adaptable to the changes that are coming in the rapidly evolving educational environment.
The 21st century classroom needs to be flexible, allow for individual choice, encourage collaboration and creativity, and be agile enough to withstand multiple changes to curricula in the coming years.
Things to consider when planning your 21st Century Classroom
Choose furniture that can be used in multiple ways – tables that can be used individually or grouped, seating options that can be used in multiple ways, products that are mobile and can be moved within a classroom or to other shared spaces. Provide a wide variety of seating options that encourage student empowerment through choice. Soft seating in multiple shapes, ottomans, wobble seats, bistro height chairs and tables, standing desks – all allow students to control a portion of their environment and encourage them to find the working environment that suits them best.
Unlike classrooms of the past, where students were expected to sit still and usually admonished or disciplined for moving out of their assigned place, current learning theories understand that most students benefit from some aspect of movement, and, rather than it being a detriment to their learning, it is a highly beneficial learning enhancer. Incorporating movement into the classroom is essential, not only to those students that have difficulty with stillness, but to all students. Movement can take the form of shifting position within a classroom (i.e. moving from a table to a standing desk or a wobble stool) or using furniture that supports movement on its own (i.e. wobble stools, fidget desks, etc.)
Ensure that at least one area of the room permits collaboration. 21st century learning encourages individual strengths as well as the power of collaboration and sharing knowledge. Create a learning environment that allows for both. Collaboration can take place at tables, standing desks, on the floor, in groups of ottomans or stools, anywhere really. The key is to create different zones that encourage grouped learning and knowledge sharing.
Technology is speeding along in its evolution far faster than the public education environment can realistically manage with current budgets and planning departments. That said, understanding that the integration of technology is critical and that pen and paper and book learning is rapidly fading, creating an environment that is open to change and prepared to be adaptable is essential. Computer labs are obsolete and coding, lab work, and research are integrated into everyday learning including groupwork, and project and inquiry-based methods. Students themselves are becoming the technology hubs and the classrooms are only facilitating their achievements. Storage for devices should allow for flexibility in the devices’ design and function. Furniture design and placement should permit engagement with technology. Space design should encourage both individual and group access to various media.
Creating a 21st century classroom is creating the space to allow for creative, engaged, student-centered learning. Taking the time to consider the needs of the students, the needs of a changing curriculum, and the evolving nature of our workplaces will ensure an environment that is flexible and robust enough to serve your education space well in the decades to come.
If you would like to learn more about 21st century classrooms contact Brezach Solutions. We’ll help you create your space. www.brezach.com