The 21st-century classroom is emerging as a disruption of the classroom of old.  But wait— why would you want a disrupted classroom? 

Picture this. Our scene opens with an old film in black and white. It projects onto the pull-down white screen hanging from the chalkboard. We see neatly-dressed students in neatly-arranged rows. They all have books open, pencils in hand with eager eyes and smiles on their faces. The teacher is in the front of the classroom calmly going over her lesson. It all looks so peaceful and stress-free. It’s the utopian classroom of yesteryear.


Cue the sound of the needle scratching an old vinyl record.

Suddenly, everything changes.

The vision transitions to images of color and vibrancy. In this new vision, we see students conversing with each other in groups. They’re checking their tablets for information and are busy researching. Some are chatting with students around the world via video screens. Others are tinkering with objects, building, and solving problems through hands-on learning. This is the 21st-century classroom.

Disrupting the 21st-Century Classroom for Better Learning

In the 21st-century classroom, we have discarded unrealistic expectations. The digital generation is being embraced. We have acknowledged differences in learning styles. We’ve acquired (and are still mastering) tools to help achieve better learning outcomes with our students.


Believe it or not, it has little to do with technology or Web access. It’s more to do with a shifting in paradigm. This is about inspiring independence and interdependence in children.

Kids Do Well if They Can

We know now that children want to do well. When they don’t, it’s because of lagging skills and unsolved problems. No amount of coercion or reward is going to solidly teach them how to teach themselves.


When students become dependant on outward rewards and consequences they lose any sense of intrinsic satisfaction of solving problems with grace and skill. So teachers and administrators are changing the way they address challenging behaviour. They’re discarding the old tools of suspension and detention. They favour more creative and productive solutions. These approaches honour the whole child.

Alternative Seating

The old image of students in their seats and in neat rows has little to do with the interactive, collaborative process of learning. Other seating arrangements favour collaboration, and better understanding and retention. Teachers are experimenting with different arrangements that enhance learning. They are considering individual learning styles and experiences. They use traditional seating some days, and group seating other days. In short, they’re shaking things up. 

Flipped Learning

The nature of homework is also changing. With the growing popularity of YouTube and other streaming video servers, teachers are using flipped videos. Sites like Khan Academy are replacing the old textbook. They show even the most challenged learner how to learn anything.


This means that instruction doesn’t have to occur and reoccur within the classroom. There’s no more wasting valuable time. Instruction can happen in the comfort of one’s home. When students do arrive in the classroom, they’ve watched the instructional video as many times as needed. The classroom becomes the laboratory for experimenting, discussing, trying things out, collaborating and higher-order thinking.

Project Based Learning

With project-based learning, our the 21st-century classroom becomes a fertile ground for solving real-world problems. The curriculum is derived from the real world, not from archaic outdated textbooks. Learning becomes alive because students are actively engaged in things that matter to them. They take ownership of their learning. They learn to honor each other’s different skills and learn how to work together as a team.

Technology Brings Collaboration

The Web has become a source of endless information and opportunities to forge relationships across the globe. It could be gathering insights of students instantaneously through Twitter in Education. Maybe it it’s following through on a project using Trello or Basecamp. Technology makes this simpler and organized. Everything is in one place.

Students are creating digital portfolios through LInkedIn to preserve their accomplishments for future college or job opportunitiesSkype in Education and the like are giving students glimpses into other cultures and nations. Students can talk directly to professionals without having to leave the classroom.

modern classroom instructional technology

Collaborative games like Minecraft in Education are changing the face of the classroom by making learning and problem solving fun. Grading quizzes using Quizlet with tablets is transforming ways in which teachers collect data. In real time, teachers’ gradebooks are updated with information. Students plug in their answers and data is collected instantaneously. It’s saving time for the teacher and giving instant feedback to students.

BYOD programs in schools embrace technology as a real tool of the future. Students learn safe practices and digital citizenship and how to work within a global society. In Tinkering Schools, kids can pick up hammers, sticks and other objects. They are trusted not to hurt each other. They use what they know of math, physics and anything else that comes to mind. With real tools they immerse themselves in creating and building and problem solving.

Things rarely go as planned, but that’s the beauty of disrupting the 21st-century classroom procedure. Kids learn by doing and failing and redirecting and trying again.

Looking Ahead

The old role of teacher as disseminator of information is transforming. Now the teacher is a facilitator and guide for students to discover things on their own. The teacher speaks about and models the Growth Mindset. Kids are taught that intelligence is not fixed. It can increase with practice and patience.

You may have decided to include some of these tools in your daily teaching practices. Likewise, you may discard some of them. Either way, it’s hard to ignore the fact that better learning is achieved when students take ownership of their learning.

How do you disrupt your classroom for better learning?


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