Empower Children with a Chalkboard Wall
How do you convert an old elementary school computer lab, lined with desktops, into a vibrant space that inspires innovation in students ages 4 through 14? With a budget of $500, I set about this summer to create a space that engages with students and empowers creativity. After adding some color to our walls, I continued my personal painting party with a magnetic chalkboard wall that would also kids to interact with the space.
Technically, this is a “Tech Lab,” but students need to feel inspired and empowered to do amazing things with the tech tools they have. A magnetic chalkboard wall is a fantastic way to empower students. With a stroke of chalk, or the placement of a magnet, even the youngest child can easily take ownership of the space around her. She can write her name, draw a picture, leave a message, and erase her mistakes – and in the blink of an eye, the technology lab becomes hers.
Think of the empowerment
ownership of space!
Think of the empowerment bundled into ownership of space! When you own something, you are more likely to take pride in it, care for it, represent it, defend it, and share it with others. How often do we begin the school year with a conversation about sharing OUR classroom? And what actions do we let students take so that they feel ownership in their space? A teacher hanging student artwork on the wall is very different from students actively hanging their own paintings. How can we use these simple tasks to help students feel empowered?
With student empowerment in mind, I decided to place our chalkboard wall at the entrance to the lab, so it is the first thing students see when they walk through the door: an invitation to own a piece of our tech lab. Below is a tutorial, so you can empower your students to take ownership in your classroom too!
Things you will need to paint a chalkboard wall
1 roll of 3M Scotch 2090 Multi-Surfaces Painters Tape 2″
1 good and thick drop cloth
2 paint trays
1 paint roller
2-4 paint roller covers (depending of if you will let coats dry overnight)
1 can of Rust-Oleum 247596 Magnetic Primer
1 can of Rust-Oleum 206540 Chalkboard Brush-On, Black, 30-Ounce
Step 1: Find a spot for the paint chalkboard wall.
I knew that I wanted the chalkboard wall near the entrance to the Adams Lab so that students are met with an immediate invitation to take ownership in the space. That limited my options, since there is only a 3-foot wide area of wall, followed by a 3-foot cabinet, our office door, a 7-foot window….you get the idea. In a way, the lack of space made the decision very easy, and I taped off those first three feet of open wall space.
Height was also important, since we were going to have students of all ages and heights writing on the wall. Using the painter’s tape, I taped off the baseboard in order to start the chalkboard wall as close to the floor as possible. On top, I ran the tape as high as I could reach, which is somewhere between 6.5 and 7 feet. This gave me roughly 21 square feet of chalkboard wall – certainly enough for 250 students to share, right?
Step 2: Purchase paint and supplies for your chalkboard wall.
Once I had taped and measured the area, buying the chalkboard paint was fairly easy. According to the Rustoleum website, one can of Rust-Oleum 206540 Chalkboard Brush-On, Black, 30-Ounce covers approximately 110 square feet. Since I was only painting a small 21 square feet area, I only needed one can.
On the other hand, the magnetic primer was a bit trickier. There are a few things to keep in mind when purchasing the Rust-Oleum 247596 Magnetic Primer. First, I knew that I wanted the magnetic pull to be strong, so we could put magnets on the wall. That means multiple coats – at least three, according to the directions. One can covers about 48 square feet, so it was going to be tight getting three coats from only one can. In the end, I decided to use one can and go heavy on the middle of the chalkboard wall area, leaving weaker magnetic pull along the edges. A piece of advice: make sure you have it shaken at a paint store before painting – keep reading to find out why.
I also purchased two rollers and three roller covers, in case one hardened too much between coats. I used foam roller covers, as suggested by the directions, and chose the 4″ size because I had a tall, but narrow rectangle to paint. Since the paints would be applied one at a time, I decided to purchase one painting pan, and then two paint pan covers so I didn’t mix the paints in the pan.
I also recommend buying a heavy duty drop cloth. The paint is black, so it will stain just about anything. I had some old bedsheets, which I folded over a couple of times and used as a drop cloth. I don’t recommend this approach because the magnetic paint is VERY thick and easily bled through the fabric. I had to keep folding it over and bunching it up to protect the rug. Next time, I’ll definitely buy a heavy duty drop cloth.
Step 3: Apply the Magnetic Primer Paint for your chalkboard wall.
Here’s the most important thing to remember about Magnetic Primer Paint: you need to have a paint store shake the can before you start painting. The magnetic properties of the paint come from iron in the paint. Sitting on the store shelf, the iron sinks to the bottom of the can and blobs together. I shook the can and used a paint stirrer for 20 minutes, and the iron still did not distribute throughout the paint. When I poured the paint into the paint pan, it was globby and hard to distribute evenly on the wall. The good news is that imperfections in our wall didn’t matter because the paint was so thick that it filled in divets. The bad news is that it was very hard to get the paint – and by extension the magnetic pull – to spread evenly on the wall.
I applied three coats over two days – one in the morning of day 1, one is the afternoon of day 1, and the third in the morning of day 2. It took 3-4 hours for each coat to dry completely. The third coat was very globby, since it came from the bottom of the paint can, where the iron had settled. It took a lot of elbow grease to spread it evenly. As I had planned, I applied the paint more thickly in the center of the wall, especially the globby third coat, so the magnetic pull would be stronger there.
After all three coats dried, I tested it out – success! The strength of the magnetic pull is definitely uneven, but magnets held on most of the wall. I was even able to hang a couple pieces of paper in the stronger areas.
Step 4: Apply the Chalkboard Wall Paint to your chalkboard wall.
The Chalkboard Paint was much easier to apply than the magnetic primer. It had the consistency of regular paint, and the coats dried pretty quickly in two hours each. The only tricky part was that the Chalkboard Paint was the same color as the primer, so I had to follow a pattern when painting to make sure I had even coverage. I decided to apply two coats of Chalkboard Paint: first, I wanted to make sure there was even coverage of Chalkboard Paint; second, I didn’t want to apply too many coats and diminish the magnetic pull of the primer.
After pouring the Chalkboard Paint into a clean paint pan, I applied the first coat in the morning, and the second coat in the afternoon. The directions suggest 4 hours between coats, and I probably waited close to that, but the first coat was definitely dry after only 2 hours in the August heat with air conditioning blowing. The next morning, I went over any areas that looked thin, and cleaned up!
Step 5: Let the Chalkboard Wall Paint cure.
This might have been the hardest step! The chalkboard paint needs to cure for 3 days before having chalk applied to it. I finished the painting on a Thursday, so I waited until the following week to apply chalk.
Step 6: Prime your chalkboard wall with chalk.
The directions suggest rubbing the side of a piece of chalk all over the new paint, and then wiping it clean. This will make it easier to erase later. I used small pieces of chalk (think “teacher chalk”) that kept breaking during this step. If I were to do this step again, I would use thick sidewalk chalk. Once the board (and I) was covered in chalk dust, I used a damp washcloth to wipe the board clean. There was some chalk dust residue left on the board – it was not shiny black anymore. But everything we have written on the board has wiped off cleanly without any ghosts, so it was worth the extra step.
Step 7: Chalk it up to the kids!
The kids LOVE the new chalk board – they come in and sign their names, write some hashtags, and leave friendly messages. I suggest that you check the board periodically throughout the day – our kids are very sweet, but a few did write their social media handles on the chalkboard wall. Since all of our students are under age 13, they shouldn’t be on mainstream social media, so I erased the handles. Otherwise, there have been no problems and the kids really feel like are leaving their mark in the Lab and developing a sense of ownership over the space.
I plan to use the chalkboard wall for different activities this year, and will update as we find new ways to own the Lab!
Comment below: How do you encourage students to take ownership of your school spaces?
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