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Classroom Design: How I Use Wall Space

August 10, 2013

Over the summer, I changed schools and just finished my first two days in my new classroom with my new students. This means I had the chance to set up my classroom from scratch (again – this is actually the third time I’ve done it). One thing I’ve learned over the years is the value of using the physical space of the classroom to my advantage (see here and here). With that in mind, here are some of the things I’ve done with my physical classroom space this year.

1) Posters of Things I Say a Lot

I don’t know if there’s any scientific research backing this up, but I find there’s a huge difference between me saying something to a student 100 times, versus me writing that same thing on a poster and then pointing to it once or twice for them to reference. This is how my Rules of Math poster came into being:

2013-08-09 16.16.07

I got tired of saying those phrases to students as encouragement, so I put them on a poster. Now I hear students saying it to each other. This year, I also added a How to Solve Problems poster and a Habits of Mind poster:

2013-08-09 16.16.24

The ‘How to Solve Problems’ is heavily inspired by Polya’s problem-solving method. The Habits of Mind posters were made by stealing some of Bryan Meyer’s words and some phrases from the Park School of Mathematics. The posters themselves can be found here.

I also want to get this Growth Mindset poster, which I stole from Bowman Dickson’s post on Teacher Beliefs in Poster Form.

2) The Wall of Remediation

It’s just starting, but here it is:

2013-08-09 16.17.00

3) The Corner of Enrichment

I need a better name for this, but this is something I tried last year. The idea is: if I have a portion of my room dedicated to remediation (the Wall of Remediation), then I also want a portion of my room dedicated to enrichment. Interesting math problems and distractions for students who finish early and are curious. Here’s what it looks like right now:

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It has: Origami Paper and instructions, A fancy Tangram set and instruction book is there. A series of logic-puzzle books (think Martin Gardner and Mathematical Gems. Also, a copy of the Moscow Puzzles). This worksheet from Justin Lanier is there because it’s awesome. So are some puzzles from James Tanton’s Math Without Words (here’s a little preview of what those puzzles look like). I plucked some visual patterns and turned them into a few worksheets. Also some Sudoku and KenKen. There are some narrative math books, like The Number Devil (which several students have actually sat down and read after casually flipping through). There’s also a Rubik’s Cube somewhere nearby.

Anyway. The ideas between the Wall of Remediation and the Corner of Enrichment are the same: if I notice a student needs (remediation/enrichment), I can walk over and grab something of interest and have them work on it independently, then follow up later one-on-one. This area is especially helpful for students who finish tests quickly.

4) Norms & Expectations

One of my first-week-of-school activities involved my classes coming up with the norms and expectations they wanted to agree to for the rest of the year (which went really well – I wanna post about it later). Part of that activity involved writing their norms on a sheet of construction paper and taping them anywhere they wanted in the classroom. Here are some snapshots of what resulted:

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I don’t think its possible to read the individual posters, but they all have some sort of norm or expectation on them. Respect, Positive Attitude, and Active Engagement came up a lot (in different forms). It’s really awesome because the students have a sense of ownership and they’re all over the room – literally surrounding the class. They also had fun as they were making them, so they have a positive memory associated with these norms (which is important). It makes it easier for us to all have a group buy-in for the success of the class as the year progresses, and this buy-in is now one of the most prominent aspects of the classroom.

Anyway – here’s what my class looks like from where I usually stand:

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The desks are arranged in a manner described in this post. My classroom is also huge – one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. I have 34 desks and room for 5 tables around the corner and a big ‘ol desk that’s off-camera to the right. I’m spoiled this year. You can see the Wall of Remediation straight in the back, and the Corner of Enrichment in the back-right corner. The black space in the back will become my Wall of Champions once we have our first champion-worthy quiz/test.

For completeness (in terms of pictures I took today), here’s a note I found on the floor at the end of the day that I liked:

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  1. I’m completely jealous of the size of your space. We start in two weeks and I am planning on spending one of the days in the first week talking about norms and expectations as well. I’ve been working with UU Youth Groups and the language we use there is to talk about a Community Covenant. Not sure which way I’ll lean with the language. Covenant sounds a little intimidating maybe, but it also carries some real sense of seriousness of purpose I think. Looking forward to your post about those conversations.

  2. I have the same number line in my room! I love your math rules! Also, thank you for the enrichment ideas. I am also working on that this year.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing! I am getting my own classroom for the first time this year (after three years of traveling from room to room), and I am excited to start a wall of remediation and a wall of champions. I love the idea of a corner of enrichment as well!

  4. Great post! I am going to implement SBG this year in my Algebra 2 classes, what do you use for your wall of remediation? Worksheets with practice problems? Is the material on concepts you teach or possibly concepts they struggled with in a previous course? How do you assess whether they need it or is it their choice to seek you out for it?? Thanks for all of your great ideas 🙂

    • Agreed–I’ve been using SBG but my original intention of a “Jedi Wall” to show student progress on retakes totally fell flat. How do you use yours?

  5. Nice guide! Thanks for sharing. This is amazing.

  6. There is some really great stuff here. I wish I could emulate everything you’ve done, but my room is only so big.

  7. Heather permalink

    It must feel really good to see that note! 🙂

  8. Wow! I gathered a lot of brilliant ideas from your posts, thank you. I wanted to share with you that I have decided to call my wall of remediation the wall of enrichment. I think it sounds more positive and gives the sense of moving forward rather than backwards. Also, whoever is using the wall is enriching their own knowledge. So, my corner of enrichment will be the exploration corner instead. Thanks again for sharing your experience and wisdom.

  9. MSMTeacher permalink

    Good job. WIsh I had your wall space! Great ideas

  10. Great ideas! My classroom is small, but I am certainly going to use some of your ideas for my students. Thank you for sharing!

  11. Holly Crawford permalink

    That note is a little treasure!


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