How to Create an Awesome Online Classroom Setup (Without Breaking the Bank!)
Hoping to create an online classroom setup that’s inviting, practical, and cost-saving? If you watch videos of some online teachers’ setups, you’ll probably wind up feeling one of two ways: inspired or deflated. Or maybe even both. Perhaps the office supply-loving nerd in you will be at odds with the doubtful realist that you are when you look at the limited space and funds you have. Whatever the case may be for you, let’s hash out what tools will easily crank your classroom up a notch. I’m going to give you a little tour!
And remember: Just like how Rome wasn’t built in a day, your classroom will be a continual work in progress. Take it from someone who has rearranged her classroom more times that I can count on two hands (and two feet). Speaking of feet…I actually use a standing desk to teach. A standing desk may not be a possibility for you but if it is, you’ll want to stick around until the end of this post for some interesting tips. Let’s take it from the top: Lighting.
Natural light is the best!!! But…let’s be real. Many online teaching jobs require early morning hours when there isn’t a lot of natural light (if any) to be found. To combat the darkness, take a common tip from photographers: make the light “bounce” from various directions. Personally, I like to use a floor lamp with various heads. It’s very easy to adjust the positions of the light and most floor lamps allow you to choose from a variety of brightness levels. Oh, and it’s easy to move a floor lamp! Some online teachers also rave about photography “ring” lights that you can position right near your webcam. Easy peasy! Also, remember: there is such a thing as too much light. Be sure to check for glare on items such as your background and eyeglasses!
When it came to setting up my classroom, I wanted to create a space that was versatile and interesting for my student—and cost-effective and simple for myself. I found that hanging an oil drip pan behind myself was a great way to create a large, magnetic surface that fulfilled all of those wishes. I simply hung it up with four Command Strips and it has stayed safe and secure for over a year of daily use. To switch up the appearance, I simply cover it with a cheap, plastic tablecloth. The best part of this setup is that I can toss anything magnetic up there (including reward systems!).
A magnetic board is pretty pointless without magnets. There are three types of magnets that work nicely for attaching 2D props and other items to your background. The first type is the strongest—but also the most expensive and the most dangerous (if swallowed). They’re called neodymium magnets. I recommend neodymium magnets for hanging heavier items such as a shelf. The second type is the “middle ground” in terms of strength and price point: magnetic buttons. Despite the name, there actually aren’t holes in them. And last, but not least: the magnetic option that is the least expensive and least strong (but loved by teachers for being less bulky): magnetic tape. It’s convenient because you can cut it to size for oddly-shaped 2D props. I’ve found that the best tools for attaching magnets to props are: Super Glue, packing tape, and a hot glue gun.
Now that you’ve got the background and “displayed” items figured out, let’s talk about how you can store those props in an efficient way!
Storage for 2D props
Personally, I’ve found that magnetic surfaces (yep, talking about magnets again) lend themselves well to 2D prop storage. I have a small, open-top file cabinet cart that can hold 2D props that I use less frequently (which I group together in sandwich-size Ziploc bags). I love the added bonus that it’s metal, so I can stick my more commonly used 2D props on there!
Storage for 3D props
What about 3D props, you ask? After trying many different ideas, I’ve decided that the easiest way for me to quickly grab what I need is by using open-top storage bins. Perhaps you already have some of these clutter-tamers at home. I organize my 3D props (such as stuffed animals and dollhouse furniture) by topic; “like items go together,” as my mom always affirmed.
Oh, and a few of my props have found their “home” alongside the letter of their first name. For example, a set of legs (Barbie legs…) that I use snuggles in next to the letter “L” flashcard. Here’s what I mean:
Storage for Letter Flashcards
By the way, all I did to organize those letter flashcards was tack up a plastic over-the-door shoe organizer, which I cut in half so that I wouldn’t have to bend down when reaching for a letter at the end of the alphabet. I can very easily grab whatever letter I need with just a quick glance.
Quick Prop Storage Tip
If you find that you haven’t used a prop in the last 2-3 weeks, it probably doesn’t deserve a spot within arm’s reach.
By the way, I’ve found that it’s even easier to keep things within arm’s reach if you’re using…a standing desk! The medical community often declares that sitting is the new “smoking” and that a sedentary lifestyle seems to be the cause for lots of health issues. So if you’re able, why not give standing while teaching a try?
Now that you’ve got some practical ideas for sprucing up your classroom (or perhaps, for starting up your classroom), just remember: it’s a work in progress!
Disclaimer: If you click on the product links and then buy something, I’ll receive a small commission from Amazon. I’ve only selected products that I think are worth their weight in gold!