Towards the beginning of this school year, we created a whiteboard wall in our library as a part of our Makerspace. Around the same time, we gave our instructional space a makeover which included four Bretford quarter round tables with whiteboard tops. Later in the year, we also added an Interior Concepts Collaboration table with a whiteboard top to our Makerspace. I’ve loved observing how students use these interactive elements of our library. This post is a reflection on how my students have used our whiteboard surfaces (and how they make our space more awesome).
Whiteboards for Academic Uses
I’ve seen students come up with many creative academic uses for our whiteboard wall and tables in our library.
Everyday during 7th grade lunch leading up to their competition, our Mu Alpha Theta team would come to the library to practice. They would write out their algebraic equations on the whiteboard wall and work together to solve them. It made for a very comfortable study environment for them – they could easily switch from standing, perching on the Hokki stools, or laying back on our comfy chairs.
A group of 8th graders would regularly come down during their lunch to brainstorm their end-of-the-year language arts project. Their topic was the controversy over whether teachers should be allowed to carry guns at school. They would draw out brainstorming diagrams, create informal polls that students could answer, doodle ideas, etc.
I’ve also made a conscious effort to bring in the whiteboards to lessons. I used Written Conversations a lot this year, and I would frequently have the students use the whiteboard tables to write out their summaries. Check out Buffy Hamilton’s blog post for more examples of using whiteboard surfaces in instruction – she’s made an amazing use of her space.
Whiteboards in Makerspaces
Being positioned in and near our Makerspace, students frequently used the whiteboard surfaces in collaboration with maker projects. Students would draw diagrams of projects they planned to build, brainstorm ideas, build draw-bots with whiteboard markers. One student created a track for Sphero on our larger whiteboard table and challenged other students to program it to follow the track. Another student created a whiteboard marker “extender”. Brainstorming is an essential element of a Makerspace, and our variety of whiteboard surfaces definitely promoted creative thinking with our students.
Whiteboards for creating fun, interactive environments
Part of the joy of having whiteboard surfaces in our library is seeing how much fun students have with them. I think that this is a very valuable aspect of our space. I want my students to enjoy being in our library. I want them to feel comfortable and at home. And the whiteboards have helped with that.
Students will use the whiteboards to keep score while playing board games. They’ll draw pictures of characters from their favorite books and invite other students to read them. One student would frequently come in the mornings to draw comic strips. They were many games of hang-man. Once, students created a collaborative story, where each student would add a new line throughout the day.
Advice, tips & tricks
Getting started: Students may be apprehensive at first about writing on the new whiteboard surfaces. Get the ball rolling by writing messages inviting students to write and draw on the boards. Add a few doodles yourself. Ask a student who you know is a talented artist to create the first whiteboard artwork for your space. Make sure to have lots of markers near the surfaces. It won’t take long for your students to get the hint 🙂
Cleaning & Maintenance: When you add whiteboard surfaces to your library, they will need to be cleaned frequently. I’ve made it a part of my student assistants’ job to clean up the whiteboards when they start to get a little messy. And they will get messy, trust me. I also keep a cleaning cloth and some soapy water spray near the whiteboard wall so that students can clean it themselves if they want to add more. Word of caution: if you use whiteboard paint, that surface will never be purely white again. Even with regular cleaning and good whiteboard markers, there will be some ghosting. I think it’s worth the trade-off, but it might bother others. The porcelain whiteboard top tables clean much better, though the do show some scratches.
Inappropriate drawings/language: This hasn’t really been a big issue at my school. Every once and awhile I’ll find a bad word, but for the most part my students censor each other, and will quickly erase something inappropriate. Once, a student even censored him/herself by using asterisks in a swear word. Most of the time, the worst thing we end up with is a bunch of hashtags, Instagram handles and Kik names.
Quality of your markers: I thought at the beginning of the year that I could get away with cheap markers. My whiteboard wall quickly started to look awful as they didn’t erase well. It’s worth it to buy name-brand whiteboard markers. And while you’re at it, make sure you buy a TON of them, as they will quickly get used up. Also, make sure to have some microfiber cloths near the whiteboards for students to erase with.
Our whiteboards have significantly contributed to the interactivity of our library space. I love seeing students use with them everyday. They were worth every penny. If you want to try out whiteboards in your library, think creatively. DonorsChoose is a great way to get whiteboard paint, and you could use it on tables, doors, poles, an empty wall, your circulation desk, etc. Porcelain topped whiteboard tables do cost a bit more, but can be well worth the investment if you can get the funding. Even having maintenance mount a traditional whiteboard from another room can make a big difference in your space.