Whiteboards have been used in classes for many years, whether it is the big whiteboard on the walls or mini white boards being used by students at their seats. Recently I was reading one of the math blog’s I follow from other math teachers/coaches around the world and came across a post by Graham Fletcher where he mentioned the idea of VNPS (Vertical Non Permanent Surfaces). He himself had come across the idea from reading and talking to two other math bloggers named Nathan Kraft and Alex Overwijk. They informed him the idea came to the forefront through Peter Liljedahl.
What are Vertical Non Permanent Surfaces? They can be any large surface where students complete their math work on using dry erase or some form of erasable marker. The most common one I have seen and the version I have decided to pilot with teachers at my schools are large 4 by 2 foot whiteboards. I had them ordered and specially cut at the lumber yard. They are made out of shower board and came in two 8 by 4 sheets. They were then cut into 8, 4 by 2 sheets to use in my classrooms.
From what I read, the research says that students will take more risks when completing math on a non permanent surface. It also allows the math to be instantly visible around the room. Students can easily look at other groups solutions and it makes consolidating the math much more efficient. I have now piloted math problems on these whiteboards in six classrooms and all the reasons why they are suppose to work well became clearly evident in all the classes. I want to focus on a benefit to using the VNPS boards that became a clear positive to using these boards and was not mentioned in the reading I had done.
Once the students have been put into their groups and then sent out to the walls of the classroom to a specific whiteboard something happened that we were not expecting. The classroom became much less congested, and the whole vibe and feel of the classroom calmed down and the focus on the math improved. There was still math discussion at each board but it was more focused and relaxed. The students get to stand around the boards which also gives students a break from sitting and may contribute to the calming focused effect (Although that is just my thoughts and is not researched based by any means!).
The overall reaction from the teachers I have worked with piloting the VNPS boards has been extremely positive. They all felt engagement, focus and math discussions improved. Many have asked about getting a set of VNPS boards for their own rooms. Next steps are to spread the word to other teachers in my buildings and help teachers acquire their own for their classrooms. Thank you to Graham Fletcher for posting about this and passing on the idea. Another awesome reason to follow math blogs and be on Twitter!