### On the fourth day of back to school, my principal gave to me, four bulletin boards with a mixed-up set of TEs.

Bulletin boards. Just hearing the phrase still excites me. Decorating bulletin boards was my favorite part of setting up my classroom each August and I usually spent a lot of time during the summer months meticulously planning each board– border, paper color, and content. However, as much as I wanted to fill the boards with decor that matched my theme for the year, I try to make them learning focused. In fact, my motto is, “If doesn’t support the work that we do, it doesn’t deserve bulletin board space.” So today, I want to share some of the bulletin boards that I just can’t teach without.

**Word Walls**

Each year, I use the largest amount of wall space for my word wall. Often times, we see large word walls in the lower elementary grades that include sight words and words to help students with their writing, but math word walls are a good idea at any grade level. The pictures to the right show my seventh grade word wall (bottom) and the space for my fourth grade word wall (top). They are both prominent displays in my classroom and I refer to them on a weekly basis because learning math vocabulary and terms is essential to students understanding the skills and concepts necessary for mastery of the content at each grade level. And, it’s important that students interact with the vocabulary words on a regular basis in order to truly understand them.

Math word walls can be organized by topic or letter. A word wall can even be organized by both letter and topic using colored word strips (see the bottom word wall picture). Individual word walls can also be used to highlight a specific set of words (see the picture to the bottom right) or to better show connections and relationships.

At least one day each week, I begin class with a starter which requires my students to use the word wall to participate in the activity. Here are a few examples of the activities I do with my students each week:

- Once a week, take 5-10 minutes out of the day to review the words. Choose a word to define and say, “I’m thinking of a word wall word that means (insert the definition here).” Ask students to raise their hands to respond. Repeat the process for 5-10 words. Over time, with regular use of this activity, students will become more proficient with their math vocabulary.
- Ask two students to pick a word from the word wall. Have student groups determine how the words are related. After all student groups have had the opportunity to discuss the relationship, share out as a class. This is a great way to have students think about the relationships between words.
- Give each student a whiteboard. Have students create a visual definition, illustration, for each word. Then, have students discuss how their visuals match the definition with a partner or classmate.

Want more word wall activity ideas? Check out this blog post that I wrote last August!

**Data Center**

A few years ago, I worked in a school district that emphasized collecting class data and displaying it for students to see and analyze throughout the year. From run charts, where teachers collected data about students’ silent sustained reading habits, to progress charts, where teachers collected data about students’ mastery of specific skills, there was data all over the classroom. After leaving that school district, I took some of the things that I’d learned and incorporated it in new ways. Thus, my data center was born. Initially, I used the data center to show progress toward class goals and my STAAR 2000 Review strategy. (Read about it here.) Over time though, I began including other class data that we had collected through graphing mini-lessons.

In the past, graphing has always been one of those skills that gets slighted because it always tends to land right before our state test on our yearly scope and sequence. So, I began integrating graphing activities throughout the year to avoid providing my students with a hurried graphing unit with the help of my data center. I have included some of my favorite graphing/data collection ideas to get your students graphing from the very first days of school.

- Create a Birthday Bar Graph with the number of birthdays in each month of the year. I typically use the one-inch graph paper on a roll that you can find at math manipulative companies, such as EAI Education. I have also used the one-inch graph paper available on a large tear-off pad from Office Max/Office Depot. Tip: The regular 3″ by 3″ Post-it Notes work great on the one-inch grid paper because they line-up perfectly with the horizontal and vertical grid lines. For a variation, convert the data to a line (dot) plot using the birth month number instead of the month’s name. If you choose to make both graphs, you can compare and contrast how they are alike and different with your students.
- Create a Distance Traveled Bar Graph (Histogram) illustrating how far students traveled over the summer. Ask students to record a city and state or country they traveled to over the summer (or at any time if your students didn’t travel much). Use the Travel Math website to get the driving or flying distances. Then have students use Post-it Notes (see below) to indicate the distance they traveled on the class histogram (a bar graph with intervals instead of discrete values). This type of graph isn’t generally introduced until middle school, but given the authentic situation, students should be able to understand the practicality of the intervals on the graph.
- Create a Learning Styles Triple Venn-Diagram showing the learning styles of the class. I often use one of the learning styles surveys that is available on the web to find out more about how my students learn best. After we get the results, we graph it! I typically use a Triple-Venn Diagram to display this data because some students have a tie for how they learn best, i.e. visual and tactile. However, you could also use a Pictograph or a Bar Graph to display the same data. Just decide in advance how to handle the students that may end up with two learning (or three) styles. (You can find a copy of my learning inventory in my “Getting Started with Math Notebooks” Newsletter Subscriber Freebie. Click the image at the bottom of this post or on the sidebar to subscribe.)
- Create a scatterplot illustrating the relationship between the number of vowels in a name and the number of syllables. In Texas, our fifth graders learn about scatterplots. In order to help them understand the purpose and eventual usefulness of a scatterplot, I use this graphing experience because students should see a 1:1 ratio; however, some names will not follow this ratio exactly. The data provides several interesting discussion points.

After we collect the students’ data and discuss how to best display the data, we create the graph on large graph paper and then analyze it. Afterwards, I transfer the graph to small graph paper and post it on the data wall so that the students can refer back to it all year long. See the picture below for details.

Here are a few other essential elements of my classroom decor:

**Problem Solving Posters:**With my fourth and fifth grade classes, as well in middle school, I use my J.U.S.T.I.F.Y. process to help the students analyze and solve math word problems and complete problem solving tasks. To support the students with this process, I display posters with each letter of the process and its meaning. You can spy a few of the posters in the picture to the right.**Critical Thinking:**This is a new bulletin board idea that I began integrating intermittently over the past few years. I first began using the idea when I expanded my math stations into the hallway and began using some hallway wall space to create station activities. That sparked an idea! I could use my classroom bulletin boards as learning centers where students can complete the bulletin board activity as part of a station rotation, a menu activity, or as a fast finisher challenge. Boards can be interactive and involve students contributing solutions to one problem or situation or students can use the bulletin boards to complete the problems and then submit an individual task sheet. Check out my favorite interactive bulletin board activity, Boggle Math, here.

**Sound Off:** What’s your favorite way to decorate your classroom bulletin boards?

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