Thursday, March 31, 2016

Whiteboards for Everyone

This year, I've turned into the Oprah of whiteboards: you get a whiteboard, and you get a whiteboard, and you get a whiteboard. Everyone gets whiteboards! That hang on the walls, but can move!

Over the summer, I learned about vertical non permanent surfaces (VNPS) from Alex Overwijk, which he has explained in a blog post titled Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces and Visible Random Groupings. The research on VNPS comes from Peter Liljedahl of Simon Fraser University, and is explained fully in his paper Building Thinking Classrooms: Conditions for Problem Solving. Both the blog post and the paper are worth reading fully, however here are the main definitions:

  • Vertical surfaces are ones that hang on the wall and can be seen by everyone, such as chart paper or wall-mounted whiteboard. 
  • Horizontal surfaces are ones that are placed on a desk, like a worksheet or individual whiteboard. 
  • Permanent surfaces such as chart paper or worksheets cannot be erased. 
  • Non-permanent surfaces can be erased or modified, and include chalk boards or white boards. 

And the main take-aways:

  • Students who work non-permanent surfaces tend to start working more quickly and tend to persist longer than those working on permanent surfaces. They also tend to discuss their ideas more with their peers. This may be because non-permanent surfaces allow for corrections, and enable cognitive risk-taking.
  • Students who work on vertical surfaces tend to share ideas with students in different groups (called mobility in the study).

So, it seems like hanging whiteboards are the way to go!

Some classrooms have whiteboards on multiple walls, but I did not. In fact, I didn't want one large whiteboard per wall. I thought it would be better if students (or groups) had their own large, vertical whiteboard that could be moved or re-sequenced as needed. Individual whiteboards would also fit nicely into a 5-Practice Routine framework.

To that end, I created 2 ft by 2 ft 8 in whiteboards out of Thrifty White Tile Board. They come in 4 ft by 8 ft sheets, so having the people at home depot cut it into 6 pieces isn't too bad. And, they're about the same size as the Post it Easel Pads (and much cheaper in the long run). I bordered each with black duct tape, and drilled two, 1 in diameter holes in the top, using a cardboard template to drill in the same location each time. The center of each hole is about 2 in from the top and each side. Lastly, the boards are hung with a bulk pack of Command Medium Hooks. I ended up with about 18 boards in total. In the picture below, they haven't been hung up yet, but a better picture is above.

The great thing is that I've found more ways to use them that I thought possible. I've incorporated them in timed-practice, whiteboard speed dating, stations, find the error problems, anchor charts, and more. Even better, I can put these boards on a chair and use it to teach a mini-lesson to a small group of students.


Recently, I've had the kids getting more involved. They've been walking over to a board in the middle of class to explain an idea. I find them teaching each other on the boards between classes. One student has started taking pictures of his boards with a cam-scanner app as a way to save his notes. Not too bad for a few dollars at Home Depot.



I moved buildings last year and I got to take the whiteboards with me. Most of the command strips came off easily, except those on the window in direct sunlight. Those degraded and needed to be scraped off. I was able to save all of the plastic hooks, and simply buy more command strips. Below are some pictures of my new classroom.


The VNPS are spreading! I moved out of my room and took my boards with me, but the teacher that moved in created a set of her own. She used larger holes (1.5 inch diameter) and red duct tape. It looks great!

She also added a Calculator Caddy using the same command hooks. Now everything is on the wall!