Room for inspiration

19th September 2003 at 01:00
Decorating the classroom creates a positive learning environment for students, says Diane Cochrane

Turning a classroom into a positive working environment can be a challenge, but it's worth the effort. In my classroom I encourage students to discuss the "information" around them and I use walls, ceilings and even a numbered set of carpet tiles as teaching tools.

These ideas are not new, and in many secondary maths classrooms you will find a variety of resources in use that have become a natural part of the decoration. These will probably include a number line and a 100 square, as well as descriptions of national curriculum levels and information on how coursework is assessed.

These items can be useful tools in lessons and by carefully planning the questions around them they can be used to start a lesson, introduce a topic or guide students in considering how you will look at their work.

How to find the time to create this positive environment is clearly something to consider. I encourage students to take an active role in designing and creating the classroom and displaying their work. As a result they learn to value the environment and avoid damaging the displays. They also gain respect for other's work.

Displays can be produced by pupils as a part of their work on a particular topic. These may be pieces completed by individuals, such as the quadratic graphs drawn by a Year 11 group. They may be larger projects, such as a data handling report or a number investigation produced by a group of pupils. Expectations of best efforts in presentation are important, but I try to ensure that all ability levels are included in the work pupils see around them.

In my own stock of posters, the ones that I value most are those made by pupils. They include a large set of regular polygons, drawn with a board compass and painted on to large sheets of card by a group of pupils for whom description of the properties of these shapes was difficult, as English was their second language. Providing the terms to go around the shapes is a good exercise for pupils at various ability levels.

In another exercise, pupils working at higher curriculum levels created revision posters on solving simultaneous equations. This formed a homework exercise where they were asked to describe the method they would use to solve a pair of equations so that someone else could follow the instructions. The results were so impressive that I decided to laminate them and keep them as a part of my kit.

All areas of the classroom have value when we consider the way that the environment impacts on the learning within it. Using bright colours, borders and clear titles raises the profile of the displays and attracts the eye. Painting the boards in my own room with a bright pink emulsion created a background that didn't need to be replaced.

Often students will be drawn to a new display and comment on it without realising that they are learning from it. I find that changing the position of a poster in the room can have the same effect.

Using pre-made materials is vital to save time. These range from posters containing keywords and their descriptions to supportive messages and pictures. I often place these at the higher levels in the room and move them less frequently, making the changeable areas more accessible. These materials don't need to be expensive and are available from many sources.

I am always on the lookout for new ways to improve my classroom and stimulate comment from students. My latest acquisition has been some fabric containing a pattern of diminishing squares. A list of questions about sizes and angles leaps to mind.

I hope the students will appreciate my efforts when I ask them to come up with some questions of their own. Or maybe I'll put the fabric on the wall and wait for their comments, and hope the maths comes to the surface for them in the same way it did for me.

Daydream Design for A1 wall charts:Tel: 029 2045 2288

Association of Teachers of Mathematics:Tel: 01332 346599

The Basic Skills Agency:Tel: 0870 600 2400

The Festival Shop:Tel: 0121 444 0444

Diane Cochrane is an advanced skills teacher at The Earls High School in Halesowen and was head of maths at St Michael's Church of England High School in Rowley Regis. She is a member of the executive committee of the ATM

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