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2 Quick, Inexpensive Ways to Add Collaborative Space to Your Classroom

2 Quick, Inexpensive Ways to Add Collaborative Space to Your Classroom

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In this era of tight school budgets and limited district resources, the simplest, easiest and cheapest improvements naturally rise to the top of the list. I wanted to share two that have made a big difference in my classroom - our "Whiteboard Wall" and my Z-Rack - in the hopes others might want to try them too.

Our whiteboard wall is literally just that - a giant wall painted floor to ceiling with 'whiteboard' paint, in this case, "IdeaPaint":

A wall covered in idea paint

Close up of idea paint on wall

Children using wall covered in idea paint

(Note: I have heard Draw It Paint is also good.)

I'll be the first to admit that geting this stuff on the wall properly was a real challenge - it sets up quickly and you have to move very fast - and it works best in my experience with a very smooth surface. But, when it's done, you have a natural collaboration space that is flexible, easy to maintain, and looks great too. You can get a kit to do 50 square feet or larger quantities to do bigger spaces. Don't have a wall? You can paint your desks, closets, doors, you name it - and they instantly become colloaborative work spaces.

A Z-Rack

My Z-Rack is an idea I came across in Make Space, the fantastic book on learning spaces by the Stanford d.School. Here's the PDF you need - direct from the book.

I found the base garment rack on eBay for about $65, bought the materials I needed including some ordinary "shower board" at a home goods big box store for less than half that, and in a few hours I had a cool, portable, two-sided whiteboard.

Here are pics from when I put mine together.

These two items have made a huge difference in my classroom. They are student-centered, inexpensive and effective.

What enhancements would you like to make part of your classroom?


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Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

Love what you've done, Kevin! I am lucky enough to be in a district that is devoting significant funds from a school bond to purchase new, active learning furniture for all classrooms. So I have seen up close and personal what a difference furniture can make in dictating how we work. This transition has also opened my eyes to how I situate the room for work, and how my expectations may not line up with what is best for my students. Your whiteboard wall is one of those areas... I've just never given my kids access to my whiteboard (those pens are expensive! and isn't that my space?)... and now I'm wondering how to change that. I don't think I can whiteboard-paint a wall, but I am looking at getting bins of smaller whiteboards so kids can use them for brainstorming sessions. And I do plan to copy your adorable clocks in our new TV station!

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Teaching Middle School 'Technology, Engineering & Design' in Northfield, NJ

Thanks Laura! Those are just two of the innovations in my room, there are more, I should write another post, haha - as for the clocks - they were a suggestion from Christian Long, learning space designer extraordinaire and man-about-town. Not sure you can see from the pic but the "location" names are all fantasy places - 100 Acre Wood, Bikini Bottom, Gotham City, Narnia, Neverland, etc. I will never forget the reaction I got from a Kindergartener the first time he saw the clocks - it was the first day of school - he pointed up at the Bikini Bottom clock and yelled THAT'S WHAT TIME IT IS WHERE SPONGEBOB LIVES!

I was like...YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! IT WORKS! (Some of the 4th graders bust my chops about the places not being real, I just ssssssh them.)

My learning space is all about wonder and possibility...and it's unique in the school, there's nothing like it.

Smaller personal whiteboards for brainstorming are great - but I'd suggest going bigger - about the size of a standard desk top. You can get showerboard at Home Depot etc. for next to nothing. Some duct tape around the edges (they can get rough) and WHAMO! You've got mini-boards perfect for collaboration and even presentation...what do you think?

Doris Herrmann's picture
Doris Herrmann
Technology Integration Specialist for Clear Creek ISD

One thing we've added in our classrooms, is write on desks. The idea is similar to your wall, but students can sit at a desk, collaborate on the desk itself with white board pens and take a picture of it with their tablets or their cell phones. The desks just wipe clean. The fact that thy are double duty is an added bonus.

(1)
Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Teaching Middle School 'Technology, Engineering & Design' in Northfield, NJ

Yes! Did your district purchase the desks with the writing surface preinstalled or cover them yourself with this kind of paint?

Doris Herrmann's picture
Doris Herrmann
Technology Integration Specialist for Clear Creek ISD

The desks were designed to be written on. The cost was really not much different when you are buying them in bulk and our high school students love them.

I have seen desks that were painted with white board paint that work equally as well.

(2)
Red Cherry's picture

I liked the two ideas, thanks Kevin! We should try them. I'm certain they will be great.

(1)
Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Teaching Middle School 'Technology, Engineering & Design' in Northfield, NJ

Kathryn, you have a point. I'm fortunate that $100 is inexpensive; everything is relative. I've bought so many things for my classroom, even just this past week, that I've become numb to it. My advice would be to contact a local cleaners or garment shop to see if they had one they would be willing to let go. You might be surprised. Then the wood itself and other hardware would not be too bad. What do you think?

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