Are posters just decorative objects or is there massively underused educational potential in the poster? It's clear that posters can be colourful, attractive learning media which can enhance the learning environment - whether they bought, self-created or as we suggest a mix of both. Here we run over the value of posters in the educational setting, offers suggestions on selecting posters for learning, and include examples of various types of learning posters illustrated by our own posters.
"Teachers have to devise ways and adopt teaching strategies that match the learning styles of all the students in a class. The acceptable practice is for teachers to carefully select instructional materials and activities that will stimulate all students’ brains and facilitate effective learning for all students. When there is a fit across materials, teaching methods, teachers, and learners, learning for students is enhanced."
Stimulating all student's brains. Are we doing that with book and increasingly screen-centred learning? Are we making our centre for mathematics learning look and feel interesting to those who respond best to visual stimuli?
Visiting schools, we doubt it.
We've visited many schools and it is increasingly the case that classrooms look more like laboratories than places that send the synapses zinging and ideas racing.
"According to Jensen, “our eyes register about 36,000 visual images per hour, while the retina alone supplies 40% of all nerve fibers that are connected to the brain; 90% of the brain’s sensory input is from visual sources.” Researchers report that the visual sense is responsible for 90% of brain stimulation and that vision and visual memory take up to two-thirds of the brain."
Clearly that synapse zinging is a real and important thing.
"While many of the newer text books are heavily illustrated, the text book cannot take the place of a learning poster. Most obviously, a student must first open the text book to view the illustration within whereas a poster is immediately in their view on the classroom wall. Additionally, unconscious learning can take place through exposure to the information on the poster. Finally, posters create a more stimulating and interesting environment for learning."
"Most posters are attractive but not all are effective teaching tools. A poster that promotes learning will have some or all of the following characteristics. The learning poster will:
- motive and inspire students to learn
- stimulate interest in the topic
- effectively illustrate a concept or skill
- give the teacher guidance on how to use the poster
- provide reproducibles for student use
- provide directions for hands-on activities
- provide suggestions for additional instructional activities.
In addition to these criteria, the poster itself should be well-designed, well-organized, legible, and attractive. The best learning posters present concepts succinctly, grabbing and retaining students’ attention and interest."
We could divide mathematics posters into few different categories - some of which tick all the boxes above, others of which play a distinct role.
1. Single Idea - A Focus for Wider Activities
An example might be One Million - a striking poster with activity sheets to extend its use to thinking more widely about big number, composition of the denary system and so on.
2. Challenging, Involving an Activity
An example here is Roman Numerals - to solve the maze in the poster, the reader must understand the concept well enough. Could be part of a lesson, could be on the wall to engage the curious. The diffierence to the above though is that all the information needed is on the poster.
An example here is The Golden Ratio - plenty to occupy a curious mind, and set them thinking about more than the curriculum. Tarquin posters are often designed and written with this in mind - our belief is that posters that focus on exams are less important than posters that generate enthusiasm and interest. With that, passing exams is altogether easier.
4. Reference and Reinforcing
Curriculum topics like Pythagoras's Theorem can benefit from posters that remind and reinforce key ideas. It is essential these are attractive and stimulating - contrast other "information" posters on this topic to the irridescent blue and striking design of the Tarquin poster, with the key concept visually front and centre.
5. Thought Provoking and Challenging
Some of our most popular poster titles are ones were there is an implicit challenge to the viewer to work something out - with no apparent link to curriculum. For young and old Who Did It is one such. James Tanton's Without Words posters are another - like this one. The first challenge is to work out what the challenge is... Broadly this category might be thought of as promoting mathematical thinking.
In our experience going around schools, there is no one way to do it.
The best examples of classrooms are usually individual teacher-led. Themed wall display that is centred on some posters works well. Or teacher led work - Clarissa Grandi's genius classroom ideas show what can be done. We don't all have Clarissa's skill though. And we may choose to spend our time elsewhere.
The best overall departments though combine various different kinds of poster in different locations. Corridors and waiting areas are perfect for Inspirational and Thought Provoking posters. Get conversations going, or at least stimulate some students, about mathematics before the classroom. Anyone who has Who Did It? outside their classroom will know that this can be as good as a warm up. Individual classrooms and display areas then have targeted posters and displays, aimed at a topic of a term. Or if classrooms are used for age groups, are focused on suitable topics. Rotation of encapsulated posters so it appears fresh is a good way to use more limited spaces. Try some and see!
Quotations from The Role of Posters in Teacher Education Programs By Justina O. Osa and Linda R. Musser Pennsylvania State University