School Appropriate Vandalism

Smart boards and white boards and whiteboard paint, oh my! I don’t have any of those things. I (and I’m assuming a lot of other teachers reading this) still have a chalkboard in my room. It’s green and it’s dusty and it makes horrible noises if you move the chalk in just the wrong way. But it’s one of those cool “science” chalk boards that is actually made up of four pieces and you can move them side to side to really blow the kids’ minds. =)

I’m ok with my chalk board. I’m the only one who writes on it anyway. But I would love for my kids to have their own spaces to put their thoughts and ideas and misconceptions down in a place other than on paper. So I started searching Pinterest… and it appears that teachers are keeping the whiteboard paint industry in business. Teachers are covering their walls and desks and tables and cabinets and every other surface with it. But I don’t have the time to do that. And my walls are brick & pegboard… not real “write on” friendly. And I really really hate spending my own money on school things… though my husband might not think so. So I was stuck with having the kids use paper.

A few years back, our student council made little appreciation bags for all the teachers. And they put dry erase markers in them (I am one of the few in my building with a chalk board). What the heck was I going to use these for?! Then I heard about teachers using them to write things on lab tables. I gave it a shot and it worked! Sort of. You have to look at it while the markers are fresh and from the right angle… but they will show up! So then I thought, we need a lighter colored surface (back to whiteboard paint?). Wait… student desks are light! And that’s where my problem was solved.

I pass out the dry erase markers as the kids walk in. I tell them we are going to school appropriately vandalism their desks. They think this is just wonderful. Then I give them a task and set them loose. Every single kid will be working. And I can easily walk around and discuss what they are drawing or writing or creating as they are doing it. There’s no pressure on them. If there’s a mistake or a misconception, just erase it. No one else has to see it. It’s a great way to me to do a formative assessment (sorry for the buzzword) and see what things a lot of kids are stuck on or misunderstanding. Here are some examples of how I use it.

The day after we discussed meiosis, I had them use only their notes (with no pictures) to draw the steps. Right away I could see who understood and who didn’t. They couldn’t just copy the picture out of the book, they had to process it in their own head.

To review the parts of the digestive system, I had students draw the parts in the order that food would pass through them. Again, they weren’t allowed to use any diagrams to help them. This helped show which parts the food actually passes through and which just contribute to the process. *The first picture was drawn on a black lab table just to give you an idea of what it looks like*

What I love about this is that every drawing or writing will be completely unique and personalized by the students. No two will picture or think of exactly the same thing. I really love to get them drawing. It is really hard for my kids to visualize scientific processes, but it so important to their understanding. I always tell them as long as they can explain it to me, it’s perfect!

Last but not least… some suggestions if you’re going to use this technique (all based on my own personal experience). Make sure your kids know that whatever they put on the desk will not fully wipe off until you spray the desks (or use a wet paper towel). It HAS to be school appropriate vandalism…. Because I WILL see EVERYTHING they put on the desk. And my suggestion for the best eraser for the desks is this one made by 3M.


I have tried the regular dry erase erasers (with the black handle) and they aren’t great on the desks. We’ve also just used paper towels, which work… but create a lot of garbage. These 3M ones are the best. Use the white spongy side and it wipes right off (though you can still see it a little… until the desk is sprayed).

You could use this for any subject… do math problems, write out english assignments, whatever you want. If you use it, let me know how it goes! If you have other ideas, please comment! =)


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