What Would You Do With A $1,000 Classroom Grant?

A reader asked me what classroom technology she should purchase with $1,000. My response:

I’d install whiteboards on every vertical surface in the room. I’d make sure I had a good document camera. And I’d probably purchase video capture equipment, a hard drive, and a microphone so I could record my lessons. That’ll probably get you close to $1,000.

I felt clever recommending old-school whiteboards with a new-school technology grant. But then I put the question out on Twitter and everybody suggested the same purchase:


Crazy, right? What would you buy?

$1,000 isn’t nothing, but there are lots of organizations giving away that sum and more to teachers. I have it on some authority that The Mathematics Education Trust has trouble some years giving away their (fairly substantial) grants. “Not enough qualified applicants,” I was told. So get out there. Get some cash. Get those high-tech whiteboards.

BTW. I think we can trace some of this recent popularity of whiteboarding to Peter Liljedahl, an associate professor at Simon Fraser University. Liljedahl gave a presentation at the Canadian Mathematics Education Forum on whiteboards, which he called “Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces,” which is why I’m looking forward to finishing graduate school.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Any chance of getting access to the audio or even better, video, of that from Peter? Looks worthwhile!

  2. And I’d probably purchase video capture equipment, a hard drive, and a microphone so I could record my lessons.

    Can you expand on this? If you were in the classroom how often would you record and view your video?

  3. But if you don’t get $1000, and you don’t want to wait to be whiteboard awesome…

    Some time in August or September, Costco has whiteboards for $20 each. I took $100 of my professional money and put up five all around the room, giving each table of students a surface to show thinking (including the permanent front boards and the whiteboard easel, for a total of 8 separated surfaces). Works GREAT! They even each came with a set of three markers in a magnetized holder with an eraser on the back (that fell apart, but the eraser retains the magnet), four individual magnets for putting up paper, and a spray cleaner. If I need more, I also have a four drawer file cabinet that is set sideways…that broad side surface works decently enough with whiteboard markers. Have to clean it immediately or it takes extra effort, but the kids get a kick out of it.

    Before that, I was a big supporter of using the desk tables as whiteboards. Our tables erase similar to whiteboards. After the kids used them, I’d give out chlorox wipes, and the tables would actually get a cleaning.

    And if your tables don’t erase decently, I have used (and continue to do so occasionally) high quality paper protectors with white paper inside. Whiteboard markers do decently there as well, and the students can lift those up to show or share.

    Don’t just dream of how great your classroom can be…

  4. Tommy Lingbloom

    December 10, 2014 - 7:09 am -

    I did the whiteboards last year. Not sure others’ situations but I went to District Surplus and scavenged. ALL of my whiteboards at no cost (markers another story, but consider refillable).

    If I had $1000, the next step is a Surface Pro 3 with Wireless Display Adapter. Then the teacher desk is gone and only student tables are left. I sit or stand anywhere in the room. I’m excited to try and make this happen!

  5. On a similar note I am often asked by elementary teachers for a set of 5 or so iPads. I then ask them what do they think would enrich their class more: $3000 to spend on blocks, clay, paint, organizers, books, etc. OR 5 iPads. In that context the tech looks like a very small bang for the buck. We are 1:1 Chromebooks for 3rd-12th grade so once the students can read and write, the tech becomes pretty powerful.

  6. Colin,
    I teach kindergartners and I have a ton of blocks, paint, books, and such. But I’m trying to get 5 Chromebooks as well. My kiddos can’t read or write enough yet to interact with technology that way, but the ability to record themselves and listen to each other is amazing. They can create digital stories that are beautifully crafted, something they can’t yet do with pencil and paper. They can orally do the same kind of work that older kids do on blogs – recording their thinking, listening to each other, and responding.

    I think all teachers have to be careful about tech use because it’s easy to just turn to that tool whether it’s the best option or not. But there are some awesome ways to use tech with young kids too.

  7. Why have I been wasting my wall of windows? Moving furniture away from that wall and using them for student work immediately.

  8. Cheers for Prof. Liljedahl! His class in my teacher training was incredible, hands-down the best experience I’ve had as a student. Challenging problems, all done through group work, starting off with solving card tricks and eventually working with things as crazy as fractal dimensionality and the graph theory of scribbles. Take-home assignments where we solved a hard problem and the handin was to write up a detailed story of how we solved it.

    His class convinced me that a) progressive stuff can be both advanced and fun, and b) if you want to convince people to change up the way we run classrooms, don’t just talk about it; do it and let someone experience it.

  9. @Dan, I recorded every lesson for a while from a two-camera setup while wearing a lav mike. Unsurprisingly, the video just sits unedited on a hard drive. Nowadays I’d only do that if I thought the video would help me illustrate a particular teacher move.

  10. [goes off topic, recommends some software, doesn’t disclose she works for the company that makes the software]

  11. I used to keep a webcam set up so that I could record lessons sometimes. I probably recorded one a month. These recordings were just for me. Watching myself teach is pretty powerful professional development. I learn a lot about my instruction and my interactions with students from these videos. I haven’t done it in a few years and need to get back into it.

    (Of course, a webcam was just fine for my purposes. I didn’t need anything fancy to watch myself and my kiddos.)

  12. Hey, remember… not “whiteboards”, they’re vertical, horizontal, portable, and transparent (windows), non-permanent, collaborative thinking surfaces.

  13. Here is a great an inexpensive alternative to whiteboards: showerboards from home improvement stores. A 4’x8′ sheet is about $20 (or less).

    I had a classroom full of chalkboards. I bought a few tubes of adhesive glue and panels of showerboards, and glued the showerboard panels directly over the chalkboard (and my principal said it was ok!). I had to trim some of the lengths, I believe, and the edges are not beautiful, but you can cover the seams with tape or printed border and it looks fine.

    Functionally, it’s terrific.

  14. I love the idea of whiteboards everywhere. I remember my college adviser telling me about a conference she attended, where there were chalkboards everywhere – even in every elevator and bathroom – so people could jot down ideas and share and build off of them constantly.

    I am pretty lucky – my classroom has a Smartboard and whiteboards covering two walls (including one wall of sliding whiteboards for writing/covering). With that $1000, I’d make sure I had plenty of whiteboard *markers* so that we wouldn’t have to scrounge around every time one dried up.

  15. Hi Ethan, you can get refillable whiteboard marker pens and the ink to go with them. After the initial outlay, they’re cheap. Refilling is just a case of taking off the cap and sticking the tip into the ink reservoir. No mess. I don’t know why more schools don’t use them.

  16. Why would you use a document camera now that there are smartphones? Also what about for teachers who do not have the same classroom for each lesson even with the same group?

  17. Hi Julia,

    Re: Learners using their own smartphones — In f2f learning activities I’ve found mobile devices to be more distracting than productive for various reasons.

    I also think that documenting the process of learning is important so that learners can reflect on them (one of the core principles of the Reggio Emilia approach, among others). A class/group only needs one set of documentation but all learners must have access to it (to reflect on it and refer back to it). Leaving that up to learners to organise themselves tends to be chaotic and insufficient. I’ve found it more reliable to have one person who’s responsible for documenting and sharing learning processes for each class/group, which in itself is an important “life-skill” to acquire. In addition, it’s important to consider learners’ privacy so that they can make mistakes, ask questions, which in retrospect appear naive or stupid (it’s part of the learning process), in confidence without the fear of it being out on the web for all the world to see.

    Documentation requires careful, organised, consistent management and curation.

  18. Late to this, but I have whiteboards all around my room, as well as 40 student sized whiteboards. A donor buys me $150 cheap little whiteboard pens a year. I just put in a grant for $300 to get refillable white board markers. If they work even passably, that gets me more colors and less waste, and my donor can just buy me refill ink. If they don’t work well for the kids, I still have refillable markers.

    I get the roll your own whiteboard stuff, as well as stick on coordinate paper, which works really well–a bit longer to erase, but Kaboom! is always there in an emergency. I was going to buy the showerboard stuff, but have decided to paint my back wall with white board paint–it will cost less than $100 plus, you know, coolness factor and more square footage.

    As for acquisition: I always insist on at least two large ones in my room. I bought the roll your own–about $100, and I’ve barely made a dent–and then I’ve, er, borrowed the smaller ones from various schools I’ve worked at because they were sitting in dark dusty corners with “DO NOT ERASE 05/10/02” on them.

    You can see a lot of them on display in this project: https://hypersensitivecranky.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/halloween-candy/ They’ve been hung up since then, though.

    I would like to put roll your own whiteboard on the student desks, but haven’t gotten brave enough yet. Mainly, I’d probably yell at the students for peeling it off.