BIG HORN — It used to be a fairly straightforward process. A globe got placed on the desk. An American flag was hung in a corner. Posters and charts were taped to walls. Chairs and desks were arranged and chalkboards were filled with rules and messages.
However, decorating a classroom for the start of school these days is a whole new ballgame.
With classrooms now dominated by computers and other technology, the old decorations of the past are integrated with high tech gadgets and devices, even in elementary classrooms.
“To me, this is the fun part, decorating it and making it your own,” Big Horn Elementary first-grade teacher Caroline Houck said. “They spend their whole day here and I want it to be as fun as possible and comfortable. I try to make it as homey as possible. I always say that we are a home away from home.”
While some wall charts that run the length of the white boards, like capital and lower case letters and numbers charts, are standard decorations that a former student of any age would recognize, they are now interspersed with SMART boards, computers and document cameras.
“Anything I put up on my (desk) computer will be displayed,” Houck explained about how the SMART board works. “It is interactive so they can play educational games, we can show videos on it and we can do interactive software. We have a lot of really great technology here. It is a lot different from when we were in school and they barely had computers!”
“I think it really gets the students’ attention,” added Tina Martoglio, also a first-grade teacher at BHE. “They are totally tuned in because it is on the computer. It is fun and interactive. They also come in knowing a lot about technology. Technology is a joy for the kids, honestly. And we love it too, when it works.”
Because classrooms are emptied of everything at the end of the school year so the rooms can be deep-cleaned, each year teachers start from scratch with decorating.
Houck’s room was almost complete this week and ready for her new students when they begin class Aug. 26. Houck will have 12 students this year compared to 18 last year, which gave her a little more flexibility with room arrangement. Because of an emphasis on literacy this year in the school, Houck scattered books throughout the room and filled a special reading nook with a bookshelf, rug, a couple chairs and a child-size couch.
Houck said she tries to change her room every year and garners fresh ideas from a variety of sources.
“Really, Pinterest is a big one, I have to admit,” she said, noting that many teachers she knows use the website to get ideas. “We have a small budget (for supplies). But you recycle and you make a lot of your own things, repurpose and reuse. And some things are just out of pocket.”
Houck also said her room will continue to change through the year as she rearranges desks and chairs, adds artwork and work assignments to the wall and changes out posters and charts.
Fourth-grade teacher Mandy Roseberry, who teaches at Henry A. Coffeen, also noted that her room will change as the year progresses and her students contribute to the room’s décor.
“I make things with the kids as the year goes on, so the space becomes a space they created also,” she said.
Roseberry said while she strives to make her room welcoming to new students, she also focuses on organization and efficiency. She said she puts a lot of her efforts into making the room user friendly with easily accessible tools and supplies that her students will need throughout the day.
She also noted that technology has changed how she arranges her classroom, but said new, smaller devices such as mini-laptops and iPads make the process easier.
“The devices are so compact now and it saves a lot of space,” she said. “They are pretty fabulous. Even from when I did my student teaching, not really that long ago, there is so much more available, versus just the overhead projector. That is what I used when I was student teaching.”
But keeping the “home” room feel is always a priority. By providing a safe and comforting room to spend the day in, teachers are able to create a space that fosters learning and creativity.
“First impressions make a big difference,” Roseberry said. “When the kids walk into the room you want them to feel welcome and think it is a place they will enjoy and want to be in for eight hours a day.”
“Even though they’ve been to kindergarten, there is some fear,” Martoglio added about the first few days of school for youngsters.
“I’ve had kids come in crying. But we take care of them. We give them a lot of love and care and then get right into the academics,” she added.