Teaching with whiteboards

Using “standing” or wall mounted whiteboards has changed my teaching. It’s amazing to me that something so simple could have such an enormous impact. But it has…

This is how it happened: a couple years ago I was channel surfing. I never channel surf and I rarely watch TV. But I happened to have some free time and I happened upon a cool documentary about teaching called “Teach”. It followed three teachers and their journey through a school year. All of them had very cool and interesting ideas. One teacher was teaching algebra and had the kids doing something she called a “360 classroom”. She had all the kids on whiteboard around the room. She could turn in a circle, hence the “360”, and see what everyone was doing. I thought that was so cool! I went back to school the next day totally fired up! I emailed my principal and asked for more whiteboards. Of course, his response was “they’re expensive”. So I came up with a modification of the 360 idea. I have one 4ft. by 8ft. board. I thought if I could add two 4 by 4 boards on wheels that I could set up a U shape with the large wall board. In my class we have been using a blended classroom model for the past two years (more on that later) so I thought this would be enough space as I only work with 8-10 kids at a time.

My principal was much more amenable to the idea of asking for two 4×4 boards on wheels. We ordered from our district and they were able to build them out of surplus materials so it ended up only costing us about $100 per board. They showed up in my classroom one day a couple weeks later!

math whiteboards

The whiteboard “math fort”!

I first envisioned them as an alternative to mini-white boards for drill practice. The mini-whiteboards are fun and the kids enjoy using them. I know, though, that there are huge benefits to exercise and movement for kids in a classroom so I figured standing up and using the whiteboards would just be one step better.

We made our “math fort” U shape and tried it out that day. I don’t remember what math we did that first day but I remember that we all love, love, loved it! The kids love it because…well I don’t really know why they love it. The satisfaction of writing with lovely, shiny whiteboard markers on whiteboards? The feel of the materials? The fun of doing something different? Standing up and moving around? The fact is that they just do. And now, after a year of using them more and more frequently and expanding the purposes for which we use them, kids say things like, “I really like using the whiteboards because I feel like I talk about the math more and that helps me.” I really encourage them to look at each others work, to compare work and to discuss work.

As the teacher I love the whiteboards and the set up because I get instant feedback, instant formative assessments, if you will, on every kid. I can see what they’re doing, I can jump in and help someone, I can do the math with them, I can stop everyone and have them look at something awesome someone has done, and I can model and encourage positive critiques of each others work. Plus, it’s just fun. I open up the text book to a review or homework section and just start giving them problems. I do say the problems out loud, which can be tricky for some kids as they’re having to basically “take dictation” but I repeat as much as needed and I tell them to look at each others work to get the problem written down correctly. I think there is an interesting learning piece that goes with that dictation, as well.
As I said, it’s just plain fun with tons of teaching feedback for me. And remember, if we’re not having fun teaching the material, then the kids are surely not having fun learning it. I think this works. I do still use the mini-whiteboards a lot. They are also effective.

I do think, though, that if you can try the 360/standing idea, you should. And tell me what you think. There are so many ways that I can think of to use them. It’s almost a case of the more I use them, the more ways I think of to use them. It’s exciting!

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