Decorating a Math Classroom

April 15, 2019

With the classroom’s physical set up in place (see The Sagherian Triangle), the teacher takes a few additional steps to optimize student concentration. 

They want the classroom to feel welcoming, but not at the expense of learning, and understand that the two goals aren’t mutually exclusive.  Therefore, they ignore many common elementary school decorating norms.  There are no clotheslines running through the center of the room, drooping from the weight of student work.  The great math teacher considers the board a sacred instructional tool, so all student sightlines must be unobstructed and distraction-free.  The board itself is a clean, barren canvas, maximizing the instructor’s writing space.  Magnets, daily schedules, anchor charts, and student work are not posted on or near it.

To make the learning space hospitable and conducive to learning, the teacher focuses their decorating energies on the side and back walls, while the margins around the board remain largely sterile.  Learning mathematics requires deep concentration and haphazard decorating can unnecessarily incubate distractions. They might adorn the three walls with class work, student photographs, pictures of famous mathematicians, and posters that celebrate the children’s interests and culture.  Whatever their choices - students will enjoy looking at the wall hangings, but never while instruction is taking place. 

Anchor charts are rarely, if ever, used.  This is because the educator teaches mathematics conceptually, instead of procedurally.  Procedures and processes are learned and internalized but never practiced by reading wall hangings.  Occasionally, the teacher might post a conversion chart, geometric properties, vocabulary with accompanying images, or student articulated strategies, but they always hang them in the students’ periphery.  By making these charts inconvenient to look at, their students are more likely to try and retrieve the needed information before stretching their necks to locate it.  This productive struggle encourages self-reliance, and helps children internalize mathematical rules, strategies, processes, etc.

The end product is a friendly and highly academic learning environment.