Today I went down to Barclay (Teacher) Supply Store in Brooklyn to pick up some odds and ends for the classroom. Tomorrow is the first day of school, and I still don’t have student trackers up on the wall. Wendy Kopp would lose her mind if she found out. How will I get the students invested in their academic success if they don’t have a public tracking system with glittery stickers?
(Side note: think what you will, even too-cool-for-middle-school students will go to unbelievable lengths for the sticker that they publicly dismiss as childish.)
So I ventured into Brooklyn and found myself descending into the bowels of Barclay, a basement warehouse of pens, pencils, tape, paper, folders, post-its, workbooks, and more. But the unbelievable assortment of posters they carried blew me away. From elementary to high school, science to social studies, secular to Jesus-themed, they had a poster for just about everyone.
Except, it seems, me. I quite liked many of the posters my peers had made during summer school with facts about rocks or how to write a good essay. These posters were handmade, drawn on giant sheets of chart paper, and colored with fat-tipped markers. They were clean, bright, and clearly summarized their key points.
The posters in the store, perhaps with the exception of the elementary school ones, did not. Written by someone who long ago forgot what it’s like to learn something, the abominations I saw looked as though a rainbow had thrown up on them. When did white space become a bad thing? It’s like Debussy says about music: “Music is the silence between the notes.” These posters were so busy that even if I wanted to gather information from them, I would be constantly distracted by pictures of rulers or happy faces or apples. A few really dated posters had pictures of a computer with a CRT monitor and 3.5″ floppy disks. For a brief second I was tempted to deck out my classroom with an 80s theme just to see what the kids would do, but then I came to my senses.
I searched and searched for posters I would feel good to hang in my classroom. I went through PEMDAS & how to solve word problems (ironically, too wordy). I looked at measurement conversions and the quadratic formula. Finally I found a set of 4 that describe big ideas in mathematics: the concept of 0, the Pythagorean Theorem, pi, and the Sieve of Eratosthenes. Perfect! They fulfill all my criteria for a good poster:
– Interesting content
– Presented well (layout and conceptually)
– Good use of color & white space
– Large enough to see from a distance
– Good font choice
For anyone who has not questioned a business’s font selection or wonders what the difference is between serif and sans serif… well, I have one recommendation.
Watch Helvetica. It will forever change the way you look at printed text. Seriously.