All Articles Education Once you go flat, you never go back

Once you go flat, you never go back

5 min read


Flattening the classroom is removing the classroom walls as students connect outside the classroom to authentically co-create with a variety of people. As co-founder of Flat Classroom Projects, we have students from kindergarten to college connecting with one another daily as they co-create and work together. Students are the greatest textbook ever written for each other. The Flat Classroom doesn’t talk to the world or at the world but becomes project based with teachers and other students around the world as co-creators and travelers on the journey of learning.

Some think flattening the classroom is just about connecting with other countries. This is overly simplistic. While it is an exciting part of flattening the classroom, there’s more. Julie Lindsay, co-founder of Flat Classroom Projects, and I think there are five areas of connection planning: information, location, generation, communication and time.


Traditionally the textbook and teacher were the two sources of information for students with a library visit or encyclopedia thrown in a few times a month for report writing. Students should be taught how to construct a personal learning network. Teachers should help students learn how to build a PLN using the devices they own to connect beyond the textbook to the people, communities, and current events happening around their topics of study.

Students may have technology in their hands, but many are sadly lacking in the ability to connect it with their heads using advanced search, RSS, and the location of appropriate communities and hashtags where discussions happen. When my students are working on their personal passion projects, one of the first things I have them identify are the hashtags and active communities conversing about their topics. It is harder than it sounds.


You can’t have a world-class education without connecting with the world, but this doesn’t preclude local connections. Some argue against global collaboration because kids aren’t connecting locally, but I believe kids need both local, regional, and global connections to be well-rounded learners.

Students should have strong connections to their “inner circle” including their homes, classrooms, districts, school, neighborhood and city. Involvement in meaningful work and discussions with people in these locations are important. But it doesn’t stop at the city gates, they should also connect within their state, nation, and to diverse places around the world.

For example, the project “When Mizzoula Was Young” from Flat Classroom-certified teacher Cindy Shultz had students select local townspeople from headstones in the the local cemetery while working with the historical society to document and learn about their lives. It is also like the Digiteen Project where students study digital citizenship and are partnered with students from other classrooms to research it and then create local action projects. Connecting outside the local classroom can free students from face-to-face stereotypes and unlock hidden talents that lay unnoticed in their own classroom.


Students should connect across generations to grandparents and ancestors all the way down to their own children and descendants. Our parents buried time capsules, but with digital technologies cross-generational connections are much easier than that. Students should be learning history from their grandparents and the older generation as they video, document, and capture stories. They should be connecting to future generations as they create electronic archives of modern culture, art and learning.

With electronic technologies, students can create a yearly time capsule to keep electronically and review in the future. Powerful mentoring experiences can happen with properly trained multi-age experiences.


Now we have electronic communications and the emergence of “technopersonal” skills where technology is the communication channel linking students. Technopersonal skills can be as important as interpersonal face-to-face skills as students learn the nuances of online synchronous and asynchronous communications. My students present several times a year to online audiences, and learn to connect with other students through wikis, multimedia and blogging because these are vital ways to communicate in the 21st century.

Students must master synchronous and asynchronous communication methods so they can collaborate and build connections.

Connecting with Yourself (Time)

Intrapersonal skills are an essential part of self esteem as is the self-talk that helps students problem solve and stay motivated in the midst of struggle. The misguided practice of unearned praise has caused this generation to distrust the awards and recognition of many well-intended organizations meant to serve youth. Perhaps this is why they are attracted to games that are impartial and only give badges and awards when earned and after much struggle.

I tell my students I am mining for gold – and the mine is in each of them. We’ll find the gold, but it won’t look like it. We’ll work together to polish and enhance their innate talents and abilities so that when I’m done with their time with me that they will come out shining. This requires personalizing learning and a constant search for the authentic talents of each child.

Our actions should add meaning to our student’s lives. It is completely irresponsible, in my opinion, to delete electronic student work each year without giving students the opportunity to save and archive their work. Students should graduate from high school and be able to look back on the memories and learning journey with a digital portfolio spanning years.

It is time to connect ourselves and our students.

Connections add meaning to life and the classroom. Flattening the classroom is about connecting outside the classroom in powerful ways. The thriving massive open online courses — MOOCs — are proof that people want to connect around common topics. So are our thriving Flat Classroom projects where students connect from grades kindergarten through college.

Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) is a full-time teacher, author of the award-winning Cool Cat Teacher Blog and co-founder of the Flat Classroom projects. For a more in-depth discussion of this topic, check out “Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds,” which Davis co-authored with Julie Lindsay. It’s available from publisher Pearson.