Seriously. With the grocery store as a close second. I go to the hardware store at least once a month to grab school related items and various supply "hacks." I am certainly not the first person to have this genius idea, but I'm just sharing the love in case you have not heard about the miraculous "hardboard" or "white tile board" found at your local hardware store. Cheapest white boards ever. Cheap enough that your classroom budget might just cover it!
These boards are typically used on shower walls so they are water resistant and sturdy enough to withstand the terror afflicted on them by young school children. You can find them at Lowes or Home Depot (or probably any other large hardware store).
They do come in very large sheets, too large to fit in the little Mazda Miata I owned, so it you ask very nicely, the people who work there may even cut it down into a million tiny boards for you - FOR FREE (now that part will be covered by your school budget).
*When I purchased my boards, the cuts were free. This past week when I visited the hardware store (same chain - different store), cuts were $0.25 each after the first two cuts. So. free cuts are not necessarily a guarantee - even if you do ask nicely.
Another thing that makes these stores amazing is that there is a statistically significant positive correlation between how unsure you are about your project and how nice they are. I haven't actually worked out the statistics, but I'm sure that it's true.
I felt pretty awkward asking the gentleman at the store to cut it for me, but based on his reaction, I probably wasn't even the first person to ask that day. He knew exactly what I was talking about, and it was done in less than five minutes.
I ended up with 20 individual boards, with dimensions of 12" x 18" from a 4' x 8' board.
Look for the tile board in the molding section of the hardware store which is typically located towards the back of the store. The sheets of tile board can be found on the lower shelves and are sold in 4' x 8' sheets. If you would like to have them cut in the store, take it to the wood cutting area (also at the back of the store by the lumber), and alert an employee. Of course, the cutter at our local store is currently out of service so you may want to call ahead to make sure it is available!
Using in the Classroom
I ask my students to bring dry erase markers and an eraser to class at the beginning of the year (a rag or *clean* sock would work just as well as an eraser). If your school has a supply list that goes out at the beginning of the year, this would be a great thing to add.
Of course, you know your school and students best so if you are worried about your students being able to afford these extra supplies, you may want to invest in a set of classroom markers.
These boards are a great way to keep all students engaged and accountable - although some students may start drawing portraits and need to be refocused. Here are a few examples of how they could be used in the classroom.
The instructor asks true and false questions as a lesson review. Individual students write "T" or "F" and hold up their responses.
Students use their boards to work out very long problems that typically require lots of erasing and restarting (stoichiometry problems in chemistry, vector problems and ray tracing diagrams in physics, short answer responses in the humanities, quadratic function problems).
Students in a "scribe" role summarizes group work or lab activity
Students collaborate with one another to create a time line of events. Each student has an event on their board and need to position theirs in the correct orientation with respect to their classmates.
Students use their board to start a problem that will need to be finished the following class period. After the students label their board, the instructor will keep it until the following day. This will prevent students from inevitably forgetting to bring the appropriate materials the following day!
After using these "white boards" for five-ish years, there are only a few that should probably be retired. They can scratch (courtesy of absent-minded middle schoolers who like to stab things with random sharp objects - like pens, protractors, teeth...), and stain (if the marker is left on...say for the entire summer?). I would recommend cleaning them off within 12-24 hours of use, especially if your students are using the cheaper non-name brand dry erase markers).
Assessing Student Work
The assignments can certainly be informally assessed, but when I want to grade the work that they have done I love to use the free version of the app CamScanner (for Android). You simply use the app to take a high quality photo of the board and it converts it to a pdf. I typically provide students (or their parents) with an emailed copy of the pdf with their earned grade.
**Make sure that you are abiding by your school policy before emailing students. If your students do not have school emails and prior parental permission, make sure that you speak with your administration and receive approval before you communicate with your students through email.
Here is a copy of my Google sheets technology form that I have my students' parents fill out at the beginning of the school year. Please feel free to use and modify as you feel necessary.