Design Advice in Books

You can find design advice for classroom displays from all sorts of places. Recently I discovered you can even get quite lengthy previews in googlebooks. This is from a book called Bulletin Boards That Capture Them with Pizzazz. The book is quite old and you might be able to get a cheap second hand copy. The basic advice is pretty sound although the book is old and from the USA. You can read most of the advice right here in this preview:

This is my link and I get a tiny bit of commission if you buy through me rather than google 🙂 Bulletin Boards That Capture Them with Pizzazz

Sparklebox Alternatives – part 2 8

Sparklebox Alternatives is Part 2 in an ongoing series on the blog. Read Part 1

“Do you know of any alternatives to Sparklebox ?”- this subject still keeps coming up in my email, in direct messages on twitter and in face to face INSET days.

Here are 3 more useful sites for classroom display resources:

Mrs Pancake

Wonderful, creative, useful and very helpful the team at Mrs Pancake are a great source of interesting and innovative display materials. I have written about their resources before and they just keep getting better! They ask for a donation of between £0:50 and £1:50 for their downloads and use an honour system. There is no need to sign up or sign in. The site uses some advertising.

Mrs Pancake was created in a small design studio in Belfast, founded by a husband and wife team. Until recently we also worked as volunteer youth workers so we have full POCVA (Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults) checks. There are now three of us working as professional illustrators, designers, webby types, animators, consultants… we’re multi-taskers here.
We call ourselves a Responsible Design partnership which means we think and design for businesses and non-profits who share our passion for creativity, design thinking, transparency, responsibility in business and creating organisations with a positive net effect. We love what we do and it shows.
We have a passion for creating great educational experiences for tiny people and many of the projects we work on have an education slant. For example we helped BBC Northern Ireland and Sesame Workshop create an online world for Sesame Tree – the Northern Irish Sesame Street spin-off. This has been hailed as a huge success and schools across Northern Ireland use the resource as part of the curriculum.
We have also developed A wonderful Story – a children’s book and animation that teaches the benefit of seeing good in others and passing on encouragement. This is also being used throughout classrooms in  Northern Ireland as part of the Personal Development curriculum.
Mrs Pancake was born out of the frustration of lack of good quality classroom resources. We have a lot of teacher friends and enjoyed helping them make their classrooms more enjoyable places for their pupils. When we kept getting more and more requests we thought that it was finally time to put our resources online for any teacher to download freely and Mrs Pancake was created.
It has been a real labour of love, we run a busy studio so Mrs Pancake gets tended to during lunchtimes and spare moments. We love hearing the feedback though and we get to illustrate elves and monkeys and test out our craft ideas so we love our Mrs P times!
Heather, Pete and Karys

Primary School Teaching

Update – no longer available. This was a rather different sort of site. Primary School Teaching was based on resource sharing. Teachers contribute resources and earn a share in the advertising revenue based on the number of times their resource page is viewed. It’s early days for the site but there is some promising sharing going on. John and Lydia are young, energetic and committed.

John and I run the site together. John does all the technical work and I market the site and provide resources for it. I am a trainee primary teacher currently studying at York St John University.
Primary School Teaching is a free service for teachers to share their lesson plans and resources. Not only can you access resources easily but you can edit other people’s resources to improve them and keep them up to date.

Primary Technology is a young, energetic company with a range of skills covering almost all areas of ICT in primary education. Since 2004, we have provided onsite ICT services to primary schools in Yorkshire which has helped us to develop a company-wide expertise in the primary education sector.

We use our expertise to develop new and innovative hosted services for education, with a focus on web 2.0 and collaborative learning.

Primary School Teaching is a social networking and resource sharing site made exclusively for Primary School Teachers.

We also welcome other members of staff working in Primary Schools who may also find Primary School Teaching a valuable resource.

Primary School Teaching is a platform for sharing and ranking teaching resources and ideas. It allows teachers to communicate effectively in a collaborative environment, working to create exciting and engaging teaching.


Teachable is another teacher resource sharing site. This time it is not free but charges a small fee, half of which is paid to the teacher responsible for the resource.  The resources are mostly worksheets and lesson plans at the moment but it’s worth keeping a look out for displays stuff, or even contributing your own! All the resources are checked and vetted before they are approved but I’ll let Edward explain more:

‘Heroic’ is a word that applies to many of our teachers, and often their efforts go unsung and unsupported. Providing access to cost-effective top-quality resources is Teachable’s mission is to enhance education quality and to empower teachers who in turn empower our children.Teachers can browse and search for relevant resources matched to a subject, topic, age group and ability level.  By encouraging teacher feedback, and providing easy previews, makes it as quick as possible to find the best material.  A continuing flow of new resources is sourced from contributing teachers (over 500 so far) earning a half share of all revenue we make from their files.  We now have over 200 files for KS1 and nearly 1000 for KS2.

Teachable Ltd is a social enterprise, funded by private capital but with a specific commitment to use funds to improve teachers working lives, and reinvest a share of revenue in the teaching community.  It does not receive government grants or charitable handouts, but instead exists by charging schools and end-users for the content they use.  The founders believe in a fair, efficient and sustainable way to deliver educational materials in the Internet age.

Edward Upton founded Teachable at the age of 27, with a passion to improve the way the internet is helps teachers’ teach.  Edward wrote his first educational software aged 12, and has first-hand experience of using self-service educational materials when he taught himself GCSEs from home.  He is a scientist by nature, and youth winner of the Royal Society Gold Award for Biology.  Edward is happily married and CRB checked!

So there you are 3 more great alternatives to Sparklebox for you to check out. Watch out for another post in this series soon!

Why Do We Make Classroom Displays? 1

I use this video during the first week of the Classroom Displays Starter course and I’m always interested to see learners responses. Just why do we make all these displays?

Jamie, an NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher), challenged Teacher’s TV experts to help him with specific issues in his classroom set up and to explain why we make classroom displays at all.

The Teachers TV team come up with some interesting and some unexpected answers. The programme is well worth watching to the end. I wonder if you agree with one of the experts that plain white walls might be the best learning environment?


First Miranda meets Tim Benson, the headteacher of one of the UK’s largest primary schools. Tim offers some advice on getting the students involved in displays and making sure they reflect the diversity of the school community.

She then goes north to Lancashire to meet the executive headteacher of Alder Grange Technology and Community School and Sean McDougall from the Design Council. They look at different ways of arranging the classroom.

Finally, Miranda calls on Ian Jordan, an orthoscopic researcher, for his views on the impact of the classroom environment on teaching and learning.

Jamie asks about effective ways to organise the classroom environment. His interest is motivated by concerns about the disruption caused by a small group of boys who sit together for some lessons, and also by contrasting reports he has heard about the best way of using wall space.

Four experts from different fields are consulted:

* A primary school headteacher
* An executive headteacher in a Community and Technology School, school working in conjunction with a consultant from the Design Council
* An optician and orthoscopics researcher

They provide diverse views about the effects of wall displays on learning. Seating arrangements receive less attention, but a helpful solution is offered by Tim Benson, the primary school headteacher.

The video aims to address some of the contrasting and confusing views about an appropriate classroom environment. Although there are essentially two strands to the question, the wider emphasis is on wall displays and creating an environment that is conducive to learning.

Key findings

The viewer is taken on tours of the primary school and the Community and Technology School and hears interviews with each of the experts.

  • Different styles of wall displays are evident in the primary school. Some are created and managed by the children themselves. Others are used to stimulate interest in a topic or as a reference point. In addition, the headteacher suggests having ‘flexible grouping’ to avoid disruptive behaviour and for shy children to be integrated with more vocal members of the class.
  • Supported by the Design Council Campaign ‘The Learning Environment’, staff consulted pupils at the Community and Technology School and discovered that displays were a major distraction. Consequently, a minimalist approach has now been taken and classroom walls are kept plain and bare. Consideration is also given to aspects of the environment, that might improve concentration, such as temperature, lighting and air quality. The executive headteacher states that because it is “ordered” the environment “helps them (the pupils) to be ordered themselves and focuses them”.
  • The interview with Ian Jordan, an orthoscopic researcher, revealed that there is not an ideal classroom design for all children. Most children respond well to visual stimulation, whilst children with Special Needs require a calm environment that does not over-stimulate them. His key recommendation for classroom organisation is that all children should be able to see the teacher.

At the end of the programme, the NQT decides that the advice suggests it is worth using different styles for different purposes.

What Do You Think?

I recently asked this same question in my  classroom displays course and the group came up with some interesting answers of their own:

So what do you think? Just why do we make classroom displays?

Classroom Safety

I’ve written before about classroom safety issues when putting up displays and it remains a very hot issue in schools. The potential costs to both individuals and the system of falls is massive. If you are in any doubt about the seriousness of classroom safety just take a look at the HSE e-learning materials linked to in my previous post. We all need to take it seriously and find ways of avoiding dangerous situations.

Recently I was contacted by Michael at Hi-Fix Hangers Ltd. They have produced what might be a solution for some schools and were kind enough to send me samples. Their system really is quite neat and involves the use of a telescopic pole to help you fix a range of special hangers to the ceiling or high up on the walls.

The hangers can be fixed either with strong magnets or adhesive.

The magnetic version is perfect for modern schools with the classic metal grid ceilings. Hands up those who’ve never tried to lift up one ceiling tile & wedge something between the tile & the grid or tie string to the intersection? (Not a great idea & given to falling down at inopportune moments!)

I occasionally get inquiries from people who are not allowed to attach anything to the walls, often because the building has been provided as part of a PFI partnership. This system is perfect for that situation as it leaves no marks at all & is easily removed.

The magnetic system can also work in older classrooms that have a metal framework supporting a much higher ceiling. If you are involved with with Health and Safety issues in your school I urge you to check out Hi-Fix’ site where you will find an excellent flow chart to help you decide if the system is suitable for your school.
Falls in schools can have very serious consequences so don’t take any risks. IMG_0797.JPGThere_and_back Let’s see if we can have great displays and still improve classroom safety.

Planning Displays 2

Classroom Displays Group
1. 3D Art Display, 2. Medusa, 3. sunflowerdisplay.jpg, 4. Sunflowers and Bees – detail, 5. seasidedisplay.jpg, 6. Asset Map – Detail, 7. School Project Asset Map, 8. Class 3H Pirate Day Display, 9. 1st Grade, 10. Women’s History Month, 11. Land Use, 12. The Romans, 13. DoReMiFaSoLaTiDo, 14. DoReMiFaSoLaTiDo, 15. DoReMiFaSoLaTiDo, 16. DoReMiFaSoLaTiDo

Created with fd’s Flickr Toys.
Three years ago, when I started the Classroom Displays group on Flickr, I had a vision of great displays all over the world being torn down and vanishing for ever at this time of year. All that work and all those great learning ideas gone. Whilst in other classrooms, or even down the corridor, other people were tearing their hair out trying to think of new ideas. I wanted to find a way to change that.

There are well over 700 images in the group pool now and over 150 active members from all over the world. The group is growing faster now than ever before and there are some fantastic images of displays as you can see from this slideshow.

David over at Booruch (sadly no longer available) describes in his podcast how he used the Classroom Displays Group on Flickr to help him plan next terms displays with his classroom assistant. They spent a Friday afternoon with the slideshow from the group up the interactive whiteboard and used the images as the basis of a discussion. This seems to me a really powerful way of working with the inspiration that the group provides, collaboratively analysing and reflecting on what they saw, seeing how it might fit or jar with their context.
I also think this is a great use of the whiteboard for staff development. This is a tool that the children are used to using for their learning but it can be just as powerful a learning tool for staff.