Friday, February 22, 2008

My mini-whiteboard love-hate relationship... Can you help?

I've been using mini-whiteboards daily in my numeracy classes all year. Students use them most of the time, except when I have a worksheet for them to do (and even then, they tend to use them for scratch work).


  • I can see, from anywhere in the room, what students are doing, and if they are on task.
  • Students enjoy writing on their whiteboards more than on paper.
  • Students don't have to waste paper for scratch work (this is especially helpful for those students who have still not mastered the art of bringing school supplies to class).
  • And I don't have to make worksheets for every single task either.
  • It makes collaboration easier during pair/group work tasks.
  • It's great for quick checks of understanding - put a problem up, students do it on their boards, and then immediately lift them up for inspection.

  • We burn through markers like nobody's business, and the ones that are low-odor cost about a buck a piece. I've tried the cheaper ones, but they run out really fast, or have fumes that cause much complaining of headaches.
  • Tables and hands tend to get really messy (for some students more than others...) Our beautiful white laptops are getting covered in whiteboard marker smudges.
  • "Mr. Greene, can I please go wash my hands???"
  • Some students not able to respect materials, destroying markers by pounding in their tips, or writing with them on paper till they run out.
  • Some students unable to stop drawing beautiful works of art when I am presenting material. Or maybe this is a positive because I can see that they are off-task, whereas if they were doing plain old paper-and-pencil doodling, I might not notice?

I was wondering if anyone had any ideas to help with the logistical issues of mess and expense? Remember the Magna Doodle?


bogusia said...

Even if the logistics aren't quite there yet, I think that's the most inventive idea I've heard in a long time!

LadyMath said...

I worked for a small company that used MagnaDoodles during meetings instead of white boards. They actually might work, but they're harder to read.

Dan Greene said...

I'm surprised that the MagnaDoodle thing was something you guys really did! I remember them as being really hard to read, and for erasing, they are all-or-nothing. How did it work out in your meetings?

I need something with the resolution and flexibility of a whiteboard, but without the mess.

Maybe I just need to keep spray bottles and rags on each table. I wonder if that could lead to trouble... :)

Mr. Wendland said...

Our school gave any teacher who asked a class set of whiteboards. I have a set, but never use them. I always think "if I had a whiteboard in class what would I do?" Failing kids will screw around with them. And some kids that are passing will screw around because they already know how to do the work after one or two examples.

Plus, as mentioned already, the markers add up and complaining about getting dirty.

What happened to talking notes the old fashioned way?

Dan Greene said...

Mr. W,

The boards can be a management issue, but so can pretty much anything. When we aren't using the them, I ask the students to put the boards and markers on the floor (otherwise, there are a few who really can't stop doodling).

This isn't for taking notes - it's about doing practice problems. And it works better for certain types of material. For example, if I want to see if the students are doing well at adding fractions, I can put 3 or 4 problems on the board, ask them to do them on their whiteboards, and then walk around and easily see the results. These are small, quick problems, and it probably wouldn't benefit the students to have pages of worked out fraction problems in their notes. They do have other things in their notes - usually handouts I give that they take some notes on, and have some examples, text, and pictures.

I don't typically use the whiteboards in my Algebra 2 class, because problems tend to be longer and more difficult. However, the boards still can be useful for certain topics: evaluating fractional powers, simplifying roots, quick factoring problems, etc.

Lsquared said...

You have to ask your questions more carefully (and, of course there's the money problem) but clickers would be a no-mess solution

Glenn Waddell said...

What you are looking for is called the "GelBoard". I was given a sample of them at the NCTM 2008 conference. It works on magnetic filings, and you use a magnet to write on it. Very cool. Any pressure on the board will erase, so no mess, no fuss. The website is

Dan Greene said...

Glenn - thanks! I'll check those out. If they look good, it could be an excellent solution.

Aaron said...

When I was a student teacher in a very wealthy district we just required the students to bring their own markers. This was my first exposure to the whiteboards and we used them every day (8th grade). The average student only goes through 3-4 markers in a year.

I work in a much less affluent district now and I teach freshman algebra. I ordered a set of whiteboards right away, but I've run into the same problems you have. Students can't afford markers, so I have to provide them. My solution has been to only use them sparingly. Every once in a while we'll have a practice day and spend 30-40 minutes doing whiteboard problems. I have the students hold their boards up in the air so I can vary the difficulty of questions based on their progress. I also throw some fun questions in (e.g. write down the name of your favorite rapper or draw a picture of a dog or draw a picture of your math teacher). This seemed to help with the kids becoming destructive or getting bored and wasting my markers coloring.

You absolutely need to have a rag at each desk - works much better than paper towels. I just wash them at a laundromat after a couple of heavy days of use.

My district also has the clickers and they seem like too much work for the payoff. The whiteboards serve the same purpose without the time investment.

Anonymous said...

Having the students use old sweat socks to erase works very well

Anonymous said...

I teach 8th grade math. I have the same problems you have. I would let my students use the whiteboards for everything. However he mess, the smell, kids breaking them, and the never ending "my marker doesn’t work" really is frustrating, so I came up with Operation: save the markers. What I do is I have the student work on scratch paper and then only use the boards to write down their answer. That way I still get the benefit of the boards by seeing who is working out the problems, and who is getting the answers wrong. I also give them the option to bring their own marker. If they bring their own marker then I will allow them to use the whiteboard to work out the problems as well.

james said...

I am about to deliver a workshop on mini-whiteboards to ALL school teaching staff. Anyone done something similar recently? Need some tips.

Bill Singer said...

I used a set of white boards at a former school. Instead of markers, we used crayons. You need to use a dark color and it takes a bit more work to erase, but it's cheap and easy to replace them. I had them keep the crayons in an old sock in their desk. The sock was the eraser.

Shannon said...

I know this post is SUPER old, but what about mini-chalkboards? Even if they don't make them, they sell chalkboard paint now, so they'd be easy to make. I thought about using whiteboards but I wouldn't want to deal with the fumes.

Dan Greene said...

Hmm... chalkdust... fingernails... think I'll pass. :)

Lindsay Lou said...

What about those colored but clear pieces of plastic that stick to a white cardboard surface? You can write on them with any object resembling a pencil (minus a pen or marker of course) I think they're called plastic writing boards?!...but don't quote me on that! You can find them at the dollar store or the toy section at Wal-Mart or Target probably

colin_browne said...

Doodling might not be so bad.
"What does doodling do?" Jackie Andrade. Applied Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 23, No. 3, Feb. 26, 2009.
"It takes a large cognitive load to daydream. That has a big impact on the task you’re meant to be doing," said Andrade. "Doodling takes only a small cognitive load, but it’s just enough to keep your mental resources focused on the main task."