Generation Z: Now in the 21st Century, Active Classroom

Generation Z students sitting on a curb looking at their smart devices

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We know that currently, it’s Generation Z in the classroom.  What does that mean? The Z Generation’s years range from those born in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  Who knows who will be after Gen Z, but for now there are specific characteristics of Z Generation students that may just surprise you.  

Though there is a misconception that there are a lot of Generation Z negative characteristics, they are actually our best shot at changing the world for good.

I attended a phenomenal conference where a really important concept was discussed:  the differences in generations. If you are unfamiliar, people who are born within certain frames of years (give or take) usually have very similar characteristics with how they go about their daily lives.

Usually, these groups are determined by a major event that happens in society (think September 11th, Pearl Harbor, etc.). As of today, there are five major groups:  Traditionalists (1922-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980), Millennials (1980-1994), and Generation Z (1995-2012). There is also a new classification called the “Xennials” who were born from roughly 1977-1985.

Generally, these folks don’t really associate fully with Gen X or Millennials but have some traits of both (they have been fondly nicknamed the “Oregon Trail” generation….if this made you laugh, you’re probably a Xennial because you get it).

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Today, in our classrooms, we have formally moved from the Millennials to the Z Generation.

As educators, we often get so sucked into just the concepts of having students in our classroom, that we forget that they are generational. Each category learns, interacts, and thrives differently.

The Traditionalists, for instance, are very black and white thinkers. Baby Boomers are extremely hard workers in a very traditional sense and Gen X’ers often work outside of a traditional role or location. Millennials, who have been in our classrooms for the past several years, value work-life balance and are willing to deal with less money if it means more time in their personal lives.

If you look at that progression, it somewhat goes from one end of the spectrum to another.

Now we have Generation Z, and they are bringing the pendulum back a bit.

Those in Z Generation were born between 1995-2012. They have never known a life without the internet. They grew up with technology around them, so it isn’t a novelty to them. They see the mistakes their Millennial counterparts have made with technology and are VERY conscious of their digital footprint (which is also why they love Snapchat so much!).

TV? They barely watch it in real-time. Cell phones? Most of them receive one before their 12th birthday (and generally, it’s a smartphone). Need to look something up? They’re chronic YouTubers.

There is a great article from Business Insider that breaks down exactly what Generation Z is like. The most compelling quote from that piece is from a 15-year-old, who said:

“Everything in our generation is immediate. Since we have been raised in an age where texts and messages can be sent in the blink of an eye, we are less patient than other generations because we are used to having instant gratification. But our generation is also very determined to show that we are capable of real thoughts and using the technology and communication methods we have been given for making change, despite what older generations expect from us.”


Generation Z is the compromise that many have been waiting for.

Generation Z has already lived through a recession (or two). They’ve seen the effects of the student loan debt crisis. They have a different outlook on “what it takes”. They don’t want to fall into the same traps, and therefore their future outlook is different…and their entrepreneurial spirit is strong.

That’s not the only difference between them. They are passionate. They don’t want to help….they want to solve. Those in Z Generation don’t want to feed the homeless…they want to put an end to homelessness….period. Social injustice? How can we fix it? Big picture issue? Let’s figure out how to make it right.

This changes the entire dynamic in the classroom.

Generation Z is not passive. They want to take a role and be active in whatever they do. Student-Centered learning will work better for this generation than any other one that has come into our classrooms before.

The older, more traditional methods simply will lose these kids quickly (not to mention, the average attention span these days is 8 SECONDS).

They want to learn because they want to make a difference….but they don’t want to be passive learners. By NOT adapting to a student-centered model, we are not meeting the needs of this newest generation.

It is not a matter of “Well, the classroom has always been this way and these kids just need to learn how to learn that way”. This is a backward school of thought.

If we KNOW what type of audience we are getting in the classroom, why wouldn’t we be doing everything we can to help to make sure they are learning the best way possible?

We are supposed to differentiate for every student, are we not?

We are literally preparing these students for a workforce that looks totally different than it ever has before…in some cases, the jobs we are preparing them for don’t even exist yet.

By keeping our classrooms the same, we are taking this brand new generational shift and all the changes that come with them and ignoring them. Frankly, that’s not acceptable.

As educators, we need to make sure that our classrooms are challenging and engaging our students.

The data is telling us exactly what makes Generation Z “tick”. It is our responsibility to propel our curriculums forward and express them in a way that not only allows these students to “get it”, but to embrace it and passionately move forward in their education.

They need to feel that they are making a difference and that their learning matters. The EASIEST way for us to make that happen is by creating a student-centered environment.

Let’s not be a generation of educators that is stuck in the past. If we are to help our students become globally aware citizens who are doing good in the world, we need to make sure they are being trained to do just that.

I am not saying (to be clear) to push beliefs upon them; actually, that would make this teacher-led, wouldn’t it? Instead, spark their curiosity, make them willing to ask the tough questions, and look back and beam with pride as they move forward in this world and become the good that we all hope to see.  Let’s help them become the leaders they are destined to be. 

Consider picking up a copy of “Generation Z Leads: A Guide for Developing the Leadership Capacity of Generation Z Students” to help you along the journey. (ad)

generation z

Using Videos for Teaching…Appropriately

According to an article from EdWeek by Lauraine Genota titled Why Generation Z Learners Prefer YouTube Lessons Over Printed Books, every single survey completed showed that Generation Z found YouTube to be their preferred method of information delivery.

What does that mean for the classroom? We need to really rethink our strategy of using videos for teaching. Let me explain what that means when it comes to Generation Z videos.

Many people hear this concept of teaching with videos and immediately think, “Wow…how lazy!” Often our perception of using videos in the classroom is popping in a film so a teacher can do something else while their students are occupied with something.

That is NOT an effective way to use videos for teaching.

Granted, is a movie day a nice break in the schedule every once in a while? Sure! I used to try to show one “real” movie in my history class per unit so the students could make connections to the events vs. how Hollywood portrayed them.

This isn’t what is meant by using videos for teaching, though.

There are many ways to use videos for teaching in a positive way that isn’t the “easy way out”. I personally have found the most successful way is by flipping the classroom. When you flip the classroom, you are allowing your students to learn the content before they get to class, lending more time for hands-on discovery of that information once you are back together in the classroom.

There are plenty of ways to flip the classroom with various readings or activities; however, videos are SUPER easy to put together and they appeal to the students that are completing the assignments.

Click for Free SCL ideas

In the article referenced above, it was discussed that anything that someone needed to know could be discovered on YouTube. A few quick keyword searches and that information is being explained, often with visuals or hands-on demonstrations, to be watched (paused, rewound, etc.) as many times as necessary.

It appeals to every learning style and Generation Z has figured it out. They’re the youngest generation to realize that time is money! Why in the world would we NOT take advantage of the fact that there is a simple way that these kids are willing to take the time to implement to help their learning?

There are a MILLION different ways to do this. You can use videos from the internet that are already created. You can make your own Podcasts or even a Voki. 

I also LOVE LOVE LOVE EdPuzzle. With EdPuzzle, you can create videos (or use ones that are already on there) directly from YouTube, etc., add questions, and the students can work at them at their own pace. Check out our whole write-up on flipping the classroom with EdPuzzle here.

Making This Even MORE Student-Centered

A different avenue to go with this is to have your students actually create the videos that are used. One favorite example of this was when my students created a documentary on World War II. Each student had a different aspect of the war to discuss, and then I compiled all the pieces together into one video, popped it into EdPuzzle, added one question for each student’s work, and then we watched the whole thing. They LOVED it.

An easy way to do this in the classroom is with your student’s own smartphones if you don’t have access to iPads or other fun gadgets in the classroom.

I also purchased a simple green screen sheet that they had the option of using. They would record in front of it and then using the software of their choice (they know SO much more about this stuff than we do!), they would add in backgrounds, etc. that went along with what they are saying.

Take a look at how easy this is to set up in your room (ad):

FlipGrid is also a great tool for the students to create short videos and then view each other. They can comment on them and the possibilities become endless.

I have seen some students who are incredibly shy who have blown it out of the water when given the opportunity to use FlipGrid….or Voki…..or even creating their own EdPuzzle.

In the simplest terms, they are creating a medium that they all prefer and then have the opportunity to show it off to one another. It is a brilliant concept on so many different levels of the educational spectrum.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to this method of instruction. There are a million different ideas and it is up to you to decide what to try. What matters is finding what works for YOUR students.

There is nothing wrong with giving something a go and seeing if it takes off. If it does? Awesome! If not, does it need to be tweaked or changed altogether?

There is nothing wrong with messing around with these ideas….or trying them all out. I was having my students create a Voki once and a high school junior turned to me and said how excited he was to do this because no other teacher in the school came up with such creative ways for them to do their work.

It really wasn’t thinking that far outside of the box, but when the students were only used to traditional methods in the classroom, it meant a world of a difference. However, when you are in the field of student-centered learning, there is no higher compliment that you can receive!

Go ahead out on that limb….your students (and your sanity!) will thank you.

“Teaching Generation Z”: The Student-Centered World Podcast

Click above to listen to this podcast episode.

Below is the transcript for Student-Centered World Podcast Episode 39: Teaching Generation Z

Hey friends, and welcome to another week of the Student-Centered World podcast. I wanted to take this week and take a couple of steps backward because I’ve mentioned multiple times about Generation Z… “Generation Z is in our classroom”, “they’re different”, “Generation Z”, “Generation Z”. But I haven’t really talked about Generation Z. Who they are, why they’re different. I say they’re different, but I haven’t explained why, and I wanted to take time today to talk about them.

Welcome to the Student-Centered World podcast where we talk about all things hands-on teaching and keeping your energy and sanity in the classroom. This teacher turned consultant is making it her mission to help as many teachers as possible become the best version of themselves and keep their passion for teaching on fire. It’s her hope that we never forget why we desire to have a passion for educational progress. This is Student-Centered World, and this is Jenn Breisacher.

So, Generation Z is the kids that were born in the late 1990s and early 2000s. So, the kids that make up our classroom right now. A huge misconception is that these Generation Z kids have a lot of really negative characteristics. The term millennial still gets thrown around, but they are not millennials. It’s like using the term okay, Boomer. It almost becomes like a derogatory thing. But Gen Z does not have the negative characteristics as strong as they do they’re positive ones. That’s one of the reasons why the student-centered learning phenomenon works so well with them.

So, Generation Z, they’ve never known life without the internet. They grew up with technology all around them, so nothing seems like a novelty. Obviously, there are new advancements, but nothing is groundbreaking new. The point though, of them growing up like that is that they are very, very conscious of their digital footprint.

They understand what they’re putting out there in the world. Millennials came of age, when all of that was very new and a lot of them got themselves in trouble, because they didn’t realize when you put something on the internet, it lives there forever. Generation Z gets that and that’s why they like apps like Snapchat because they put their stuff out there and it goes away which obviously can cause a lot of issues but that’s not necessarily a generational problem that is a kid/teenager problem.

Generation Z’s Life is Different

Cyberbullying and all of that got worse because they gave them a platform that wasn’t just showing up on the playground and mouthing off to somebody. So, that brings a different aspect of this that a lot of us did not have to deal with when we were growing up. But that is just a negative side of this whole spectrum that they live on. They do things differently. They don’t often watch TV in real-time. If they get a cell phone, they’re like 12-ish. That’s about the average and if they want to learn about something they look it up on YouTube.

They’re very much an instant gratification society but they want to be able to use that to be able to solve problems. So, they’re a really, really passionate generation and since they have the world at their fingertips, they want to know what they want to know, and they want to be able to do something or become something with that information. That’s why student-centered learning works really, really well for them.

So, they’re not actually passive. When they want to know something, they’re going on YouTube to try to find out information, to try to find out the answers. If you’ve ever taken a step back, and watched them, that’s exactly how things play out. So, if something piques their interest, they’re all in they want to know everything there is to know. They want to solve the problem. They want to be an active member.

They want to take a role in whatever it is that they’re doing, which is why students and learning actually work better for them than any generation that came before them. As educators, were supposed to be challenging and engaging all of our students. The only way that we’re going to do that with this generation of students is meeting them where they are, to make sure that we’re giving them problems to solve, that we’re making it seem like it’s worth their while.

I’m not saying you have to get out there and have this whole song and dance routine trying to lure them into learning. When you’re doing student-centered learning, they’re doing what I like to call learning by accident because they are getting engaged and they’re being met on whatever level they are because everything is naturally differentiated for them.

So, they’re doing everything because it’s how they’re wired to be as opposed to feeling like they are forced to do something that they don’t want to do. That’s a very fine line because we all have to do things in life that we don’t want to do. But there are also ways as you grow to learn how to adapt to that and all of that intertwines in a student-centered model.

Finding What Works

So, you’re doing things to spark their curiosity and make them want to ask and answer the tough questions, and then look back and be proud of what they are able to figure out or what they were able to move forward with, or understand better or help a classmate with. It all ties in. So, these kids are really tech-savvy, but they don’t necessarily just automatically understand technology.

I know that’s something that a lot of people found out during the pandemic, especially if your school was fortunate enough to be able to communicate with your students through some type of device.

We were trying to adapt to apps and programs and websites and threw them at the kids and just felt that they would get them because they’re tech-savvy, but they have a learning curve just like anybody else would. Their learning curve is just a little bit quicker than maybe somebody who is a little bit more seasoned in life that hasn’t been around technology their whole life.

They will get it and when they get it they will use it and they will understand it and they will try to figure out how to take it further.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m a big promoter in programs like Edpuzzle because they take videos, and you can still ask traditional questions or open-ended questions. You can see their results in real-time and be able to come up with a plan based on what type of output they are putting. But with them wanting to go right to YouTube, they’re very video-based.

Being able to use videos appropriately, I’m going to get to that in a second, really helps feed into their knowledge and their curiosity on a subject. So, there’s this vision that if you’re using videos in the classroom, you’re popping on a movie, and then you’re grading papers while the students are watching. Anybody who is anybody thinks like well, that’s the laziest thing that you could possibly do as a teacher.

Now, obviously, a movie day is a good break but that doesn’t mean you’re using the movie to teach. So, that’s why I’m a huge promoter in flipping the classroom and using Edpuzzle because those are ways that you can engage the students with the videos that they love so much and also make it where it’s not that you seem like you’re constantly watching videos in the classroom. I talk a lot about the flipped classroom and how to use it appropriately, especially in a Passion for Progress and I talk a lot about using Edpuzzle.

There are a million ways that you can do this. You can use stuff that’s on the internet, you can have the kids create Vokis or podcasts.

There are a lot of different elements that I’m not going to get into during this particular podcast but there’s a lot of different elements there. But it helps bring the students in, it helps meet them where they are, and it helps them have ownership over that knowledge base. That’s when it comes to content and retention and curiosity and a deeper level of learning. It all ties in together. So, to home in on the central idea here, Generation Z is different.

They are growing up in a digital world that no other generation ever grew up in. The millennials came of age in it, okay, but it was still new. None of this is new for Generation Z. So, if you’re not preparing them, for the world, that’s going to await them, which is different than the world that awaited most of us going into, you’re doing them a disservice.

Our Role as Teachers

We’re teachers because we’re supposed to not only be teaching content but preparing them for the world that awaits them. if you’re not challenging them and teaching them how to ask the questions and how to find the answers, and how to use technology in an increasingly technological world you’re doing them a disservice. Now, I’m not saying that you have to be this master’s in technology and know all of this, but there are ways to go about it that will benefit your students way, way, way after they leave the walls of your classroom.

Again, Generation Z wants this. If we want to be teaching them effectively these are the shifts that we need to make and they’re not hard shifts to make if you have the correct guidance on how to make them. Again, I’m here to chat with you because I love helping teachers make that switch. I love helping teachers reach their students and have it where their students are engaged and understanding and doing the work and understanding at a deeper level.

Every single kid from the low kids to the highest flyers is being met on their level without it being more stress for you. If you want more, and you want to know more, again, feel free to reach out at admin@studentcenteredworld.com, Facebook, and Instagram. Reach out, talk to some other teachers who are in it to win it as well. All of us, especially me are rooting for you to make sure that you can get through to these kids. They are different.

Every generation says that the kids they’re always such a pain, blah, blah, blah but this generation is legitimately different. They’re learning differently because that’s how they’ve been raised, and we need to make sure that we are teaching them how to be successful in the world that they are entering. So, hope that was some good food for thought for you this week.

Generation Z and the 4 Keys

Nailing down what will work for the Z Gen in your classroom isn’t difficult, it just needs to ebb and flow with the students and where they are (physically, mentally, and emotionally). Being flexible is the key to making all of this work. The key is engagement. There are four keys to student engagement that I discuss in my video training challenge that releases twice per year. It is called “Finding Your Student Engagement Formula” and it walks you through those four keys and how to implement them in the classroom.

If you are interested in registering (it’s totally free), visit the Finding Your Student Engagement Formula Challenge registration page and you will be notified the next time the series is available.

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