Listen to the Walls

In preparation for next weeks #pypchat on learning spaces, I thought I would reflect on my walls, and see if the chat changes how I approach it.  At the start of the year, the walls are empty.  Like a blank canvas.  They are covered in butcher paper and bordered with those border packages (I never used them but a staff member recommended it, and it does look more aesthetically pleasing!).  As we learn new concepts or skills, we use marker and write it directly on the board.

[caption id="attachment_1405" align="aligncenter" width="300"] A section of our math wall[/caption]

For subjects like Math and Language, we keep the same paper up all year and keep adding to it.  Like a continuously growing mind-map.  It can get a little messy, but it lets us make connections, draw lines, separate concepts that are different and gel concepts that are similar   Sometimes I do it, other times we collaborate on the walls, other times a student takes it upon themselves to update.  The most important idea that we take away from this is the interaction with the wall.  We use it as a place of research, review, or for developing new ideas.  At the beginning of the year, I find that it is mostly me drawing attention to the wall, but as the year progresses, the kids begin to realize what a resource it is and do it themselves.

Our units of inquiry are a bit different.  I wish I had the space to just leave up all 6 units and have them as permanent histories of our investigations, but I can't for space reasons.  Instead, I have developed the following system.  At the beginning of each unit we start with a blank canvas.  As we get into our inquiry, we add elements to it.  Sometimes we write directly on the board, sometimes we draw, sometimes we glue pieces of paper (the glue is key, as I will explain later).  We are always interacting with it.  It acts as a class brain.  A storage space for memories and ideas.  Like an external hard drive that is always visible.

[caption id="attachment_1406" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Near the end of our health and nutrition unit[/caption]

I print of pictures that I take and stick them up.  We glue reflections.  We choose work that helps us remember or that we are proud of.  Since most of our final products are digital in nature (and posted on the class wiki) I tend to print out examples of work and ask the authors to glue them up.  I try and have each student represented equally in each unit on the board.  At the ned of the unit, we take out the pushpins, take down the large sheet of paper, roll it up, fasten an elastic around it, and put it somewhere safe.  Later in the year, we will come back to it to sum up the year and look for more connections from unit to unit.

For now, we put a new piece of paper.

A blank canvas.

[caption id="attachment_1407" align="aligncenter" width="300"] A blank canvas for a new inquiry[/caption]

There is something soothing and relaxing about seeing that blank piece of paper.  It sets the mood for the inquiry.  We don't know where we are going, but we are going to get there together.  We are going to create something as a collective.  Discover what the blank canvas needs.  And then, we take it down and start all over.


  1. Layla Sacker24.11.12

    You raise an important issue and one that I have been thinking about... as we move to more and more digital recording of thinking ... I am questioning the relationship between online content and having it all up there physically to move, add to see. You seem to have found a workable way of using both.. we have such limited physical wall space... and I believe that it is essential to see the forward and back in thinking. TO make new connections. I have come to think that the blank wall - no central idea - nothing but possibility is the way to go. Thanks for a timely post. I'm really looking forward to the PYP chat. I have so many questions.

  2. I've been wondering the same myself for the last couple of years. I think we need that physical representation in the class, something we can walk up to and touch and run our fingers over. The physical sense of touch is an important aspect of learning. Always trying to find that harmony between touch and tech.

  3. Helen Morschel25.11.12

    I love this simple, practical sharing. I have been working a lot in schools recently on conceptual understanding and mind mapping the central idea throughout the unit so that students keep reconnecting to the ' big ideas' as their inquiries uncover more understandings - mvoing from the words to the understnadings.This is especially in response to people who are stuck in the topic....animals, advertisements etc. it is also an answer for those who still believe that central ideas need to be simplified for young or non English speaking learners. By continuing to mind map and uncover the big conceptual understandings behind the unit in this way and to have it so visible and accessible to everyone the chances of being stuck in a topic will diminish. Added to this everyone can observe personal inquiries and see what their friends are uncovering and support their understandings....instant collaboration. Some schools have open spaces and walls painted especially for mind mapping etc, but in reality most of our schools are not purpose built for collaboration and we need to think outside the box to create spaces like this....nice work.

  4. Miranda26.11.12

    This post couldn't come at a better time. I have been wandering through our classrooms when students are out and have been trying to get a sense of the inquiry that is going on. I keep asking myself: what is missing? why are the walls not screaming with the great student questions being pursued and conceptual understandings being developed? Your post is a starting point on the road map and will be a great provocation for our teachers-THANKS!


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