Monday, December 11, 2017

Property Values

     One of the first things I do when I walk into a classroom is look for vertical whiteboard space.  Ever since being introduced to the work of Peter Liljedahl, I've counted myself as a member of the #VNPS movement.  Liljedahl's research, along with the efforts of chief practitioner Alex Overwijk, combined with experience watching students use them in my own practice, has convinced me that every available inch within student reach is precious.

     However this prime real estate, which should be preserved as open space for student work, is often taken up by some dubious development.

SMART Boards are one culprit.  Think of all the wasted space underneath!

Big Ideas, Essential Questions, Objectives

What's the opportunity cost of all that lost whiteboard space?

     In her book Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You'd Had, Tracy Zager  summarizes Liljedahl's work, as well as her reaction.  She writes:

     "When I first read Liljedahl's research, a whole series of narratives and images from the history of mathematics buzzed through my brain.  Mathematicians frequently talk about standing around blackboards or whiteboards together, thinking and talking.  This particular kind of collaboration--standing, talking, thinking, and writing--is so inherent to doing mathematics that many math buildings are designed around it.  Given that mathematicians work this way, and that educational research has revealed there are tremendous benefits to vertical, non-permanent surfaces in classroom settings, it seems we have ample reasons to set them up." (pg 322-323)  

     She offers options for teachers in classrooms with limited wall space, including hanging whiteboards on cabinets, closets, and bathroom doors, and allowing students to write on windows with vis-a-vis markers.

Mirrors work, too.  just ask Will Hunting.

     But before we resort to those measures, let's take stock of what's on our existing, classroom-wall  mounted whiteboards.  What's there?  What purpose does it serve?  Who benefits?  Who's it for?  If it's necessary information, can it be moved someplace else?  When I first started teaching back in the mid-1980's, objectives went in our plan books.  We didn't plaster them all over our chalkboards. (No one had a whiteboard back then.)  We didn't know from Big Ideas and Essential Questions.   Is there research similar to Liljedahl's that shows how advertising them promotes a thinking classroom, enough to sacrifice empty whiteboard space?
     "We all have real constraints on the size and layout of our teaching spaces,"  Zager writes.  "Nevertheless, it's worth thinking about how we can work within those constraints to provide students workspaces that promote thinking partnerships." 
     After all, it's their room too.