Maximizing student engagement is a never-ending quest. But research suggests one answer is literally written on the walls: traditional classroom whiteboards. Also known as dry-erase boards or marker boards, whiteboards are more popular than ever.
Why the Surge?
K–12 teachers and schools are embracing (or re-embracing) no-tech, multi-purpose whiteboards for their practicality. Unlike interactive white boards (IWB), there’s nothing to power up and no apps to open. A basic whiteboard is often the easiest, quickest way to seize a teachable moment, capture someone’s attention and engage students of any age.
Plus, there are plenty of options, from full-height, wall-mounted whiteboards to double-sided mobile whiteboards that can also act as quick space dividers. We’ll review some new products in a bit. But first, here’s a short detour into pedagogy.
Foster Vertical Learning and Create Wall Zones
If we view the classroom environment as the “third teacher,” then classroom walls are an extension of the teaching and learning process. So are whiteboards. They create instant vertical learning opportunities and establish wall zones.
For young learners, vertical learning could mean using a wall-mounted whiteboard to manipulate two- and three-dimensional objects, like magnetic numbers. For older students, it’s standing to solve a math equation or map out a collaborative group project.
Whiteboards also help differentiate wall zones, much like physical learning zones. According to one Edutopia article, establishing such zones are the first step in creating a thriving 21st century classroom.
The Science Behind the Benefits
Traditional whiteboards don’t have all the bells and whistles of IWB. But that’s the point. Students don’t always need digital bling to hone critical thinking skills, and teachers don’t need more digital hassles. Consider these benefits of traditional, large whiteboards:
Engage the body and brain
- Getting and holding students’ attention requires engaging their bodies and brains in the learning process. Whiteboard work does that. The very act of getting up and walking to the whiteboard increases alertness and helps encode and trigger memory. Movement allows students to refocus and strengthen their ability to pay attention, reports “The Kinesthetic Classroom: Teaching and Learning Through Movement.”
Working at a whiteboard also engages multiple senses, and thus, more learning styles. Our visual, semantic, sensory, motor and emotional neural networks all contain their own memory systems. “Written or spoken information paired with visual information results in better recall,” says American psychologist and author Louis Cozolino.
Doing learning activities on a vertical surface also helps students develop spatial and body awareness. Younger students better understand concepts of up, down; right, left; high and low. Older students gain confidence in body control before peers. That’s great training for future careers.
Fine-tune fine motor skills
Children’s first develop writing and drawing as large movements (i.e., stick-figures with big heads) and become refined to smaller movements. Child development researchers have found that working on large vertical surfaces helps students develop physical dexterity and control. For this reason, many occupational therapists encourage children to use vertical surfaces in the classroom, rather than just table or floor work.
Take group collaboration to new heights
There are group benefits to using whiteboards. Writing information and ideas on a whiteboard frees users from having to remember important information. Displaying that information helps create shared group knowledge, too.
Formal learning at a desk or table is just one part of teaching. Whiteboards placed throughout a classroom switch things up. They help create flexible learning environments that allow instructors to adjust on the fly; there is no front or back of the room.
Kalena Baker is a former elementary school teacher who created the website “Teaching Made Practical” for upper elementary educators. She said whiteboards allow for more spontaneous sharing, learning and assessment.
“I really don’t know what I would have done if I had to teach in a time before whiteboards and markers. They were essential to my classroom. We were using whiteboards in the classroom at least five times every day!” They gave her a way to gage student learning.
“Having students complete a math problem, write an answer, or explain their thinking on a whiteboard was my favorite way to quickly assess students work.”
Give digital devices a break
Remote and hybrid learning have fed digital fatigue. Using large vertical surfaces like no-tech whiteboards stimulates imaginations, enhances the learning process, and offers alternative ways to focus attention – sans the glowing screen.
Add some fun
Christine Boatman is a middle school social studies teacher at Estacada Middle School in Oregon. She said that using giant whiteboards is an easy way to encourage teamwork, differentiate, and foster deep engagement with content.
“When students walk into my classroom and see giant whiteboards on the daily agenda, I see many faces light up with excitement,” Boatman explained. “Every student in my classroom participates in academic discourse, every student has an activity differentiated to meet their needs, and every student is engaged and participating fully. The level of critical thinking my students show is incredible.”
Boatman said the strategy creates better communicators and fosters critical thinking. “I am in awe of the learning that takes place.”
New Smith System Whiteboards for K–12 Schools
There are no limits to whiteboard-worthy spaces in schools: classrooms of all grade levels, labs, makerspaces, locker rooms and conference rooms are just a few spots for these multi-tasking surfaces.
“Schools are continually coming up with new ways to use whiteboards. Educators know the research, and they see the benefits of whiteboards every day,” said Shawn Collins with PolyVision. It’s a leading global manufacturer of writable surfaces made from highly durable CeramicSteel, a low-carbon steel substrate coated with porcelain enamel.
Smith System has partnered with PolyVision to create a new line of modern, high-performance whiteboards, in both mounted and mobile options. The smooth, glass-like surfaces are magnetic, easy to clean, and resistant to scratches, bacteria, chemicals and fire. They’re ideal for schools.
Here’s the line-up, as well as some application ideas:
Flow Vertical Modular Whiteboard Panels
(Available Spring 2021)
This full-height writing system brings limitless freedom to the classroom. It eliminates the need for multiple boards at different heights, which keeps classrooms flexible for any grade level. The big canvas is great for writing and as a projection surface.
Flow’s modular system is easy to install side-by-side, making it simple to integrate into any learning environment. It’s available in two sizes, 72” high x 47” wide and 95”high x 47”wide, with two standard finishes (white gloss, grey chalk). Schools can even add a custom image, logo or design to the surface.
Serif Whiteboard Panel
(Available Spring 2021)
Serif is great for busy collaboration zones. It has a slim profile, concealed mounting, and comes in three fixed panel sizes: 47” high and either 47-inch, 72-inch or 95-inch widths. Schools can mount the whiteboards horizontally or vertically for greater flexibility. Surface color options include the brightest white for easy readability, especially at a distance.
(Available Spring 2021)
These mobile, two-sided whiteboards let teachers and students capture ideas anywhere. Lockable casters roll smoothly across the floor to open up site lines. Use multiple boards side-by-side for large collaboration sessions, separate them for smaller breakout sessions, or simply move the learning from one room to another. There are several size options.
When not in use, Mobile nests easily to save on space, or use them as space dividers for learning zones, testing or to screen out distractions.
Is it Time to Chuck Chalkboards?
No necessarily. Blackboards (or chalkboards) rule on the longevity scale. The “modern” school blackboard is 220 years old. But many schools have moved away from the mess of chalk dust and broken chalk bits. Markers are easier to grip, allow for faster writing, are more visible, and come in a rainbow of colors. Plus, the scrape of chalk, not to mention fingernails, on the blackboard can trigger sensory issues in anyone.
Lastly, if you’re considering whiteboard paint over whiteboards, here’s a great comparison chart. The gist: whiteboard paint is fine for DIYers, but high-traffic K–12 school environments need the durability (and many other practical features) of traditional whiteboards.
Thankfully, Smith System has ample versatile options for any learning space.