Does your classroom space reflect 21st century learning?

By Kristine Tesoriero
Middle School Curriculum & Professional Learning Coordinator

Twenty wooden desks are lined up in neat rows. The teacher’s desk is in the front of the rectangular room and a podium is stationed in front of the chalkboards. Fluorescent lights buzz from above and faded vertical blinds cover the windows.

How many of us can remember a similar classroom when we wereimages-2 students? We can probably all remember the smell of pencil shavings and the sounds of the bell signaling us to move to the next classroom (which looked almost identical to the one beside it).

But can the traditional classroom space support what we know about teaching and learning in the 21st century?



Let’s consider these questions when thinking about the traditional classroom set-up:

  • Flexibility Is the space flexible enough so that students can easily collaborate and communicate with one another? Is there a place to go for students to interact and work in small groups? Is there also a place to go for students to work individually? Does the space offer places for teachers and students to confer? Is there flexibility and autonomy for students to choose the best digital tools to enhance learning?images
  • Inquiry- Where do students go to investigate and search for answers and solutions? Is there a classroom library? Is the school librarian a co-teacher in the classroom? Is the school library utilized to pro
    mote inquiry? How do we leverage technology to promote a culture of thinking and inquiry?
  • Community- Do students feel a sense of ownership over the space? Do they have the freedom to manipulate the space to meet their needs? Is it the teacher’s classroom or is it a community space? Does student work adorn the walls? Are students digital citizens in an online learning community? Do we teach digital citizenship and resilience?
  • “Resource-full”- (full of resources!)- Are bulletin boards used as teaching tools? Are digital tools easily accessible? Are there non-fiction resources pertaining to the current unit of study? Where can students go if they need more support? Are there resources available to students who need a challenge?Unknown
  • Innovation- Do students see themselves as designers and makers? Are the right conditions in place for students to create and innovate with various tools and spaces?
  • Communication- How do students share their learning? Are others invited in and is teaching and learning de-privatized? Is the space conducive to presentations and exhibitions of learning? Are digital tools used to share learning and connect with authentic audiences?images-3
  • Mobile Learning- Are students and teachers confined to their classrooms? Or are there common spaces on and off campus, online and offline? Which digital tools can be used to learn anytime, anywhere?
  • Global Thinking-Are students part of a global classroom? Does our learning space (physical and virtual) promote learning about our world? Do students connect and learn with people outside of the school community?

When we consider ISB’s L21 framework, and the teaching and learning that is happening in our classrooms, what role does space play in bringing these principles to life?
L21 new compass

Here are some examples of how schools around the world are rethinking the use of learning spaces:

  • Shekou International School is excited about their ability to use “Level 5”, which is an initiative of International Schools Services. Level 5 is a flexible learning space that allows for a wide range of learning activities.
  • The International School of Brussels has redesigned a traditional space of their school into a collaboration space.


Additional research and resources:

Why learning space matters

20 things educators need to know about learning spaces

Does McDonald’s have a better learning space than your classroom?

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