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Black and Bright First Grade Classroom Makeover with Astrobrights

Last month, I was given the honor of traveling to Alexandria, Virginia to help Astrobrights give one very bright teacher a classroom makeover. You may remember that Astrobrights launched their Brightest Teacher contest in the spring. Parents, teachers, students, and administrators from across the country were invited to nominate a very bright and deserving classroom teacher for a classroom makeover. Markeda Brown was selected as the 2016 winner of the Astrobrights’ Brightest Teacher contest and I am so excited to finally share Markeda’s first grade classroom makeover with you on the blog today!

Get ready for lots of classroom inspiration! This post contains affiliate links for your shopping convenience. I receive a small commission when someone purchases an item through one of my links, which helps to support the blog so I can continue to share more content like this with you in the future. Astrobrights did not sponsor this blog post, but they graciously shared all of their photos from the classroom makeover with me. Thank you, Astrobrights!

view from the door into first grade classroom with black, white, pink and purple classroom decor

Meet Markeda Brown

I am so excited to take you on a tour of this gorgeous first grade classroom, but first you need to know a little bit about Ms. Markeda Brown.

When it comes to passionate educators, Markeda Brown is the real deal. She truly shines as an outstanding first grade teacher and I quickly learned that she is one of the most colorful teachers I have ever met. Markeda arrived at school for each of our work days wearing bright pops of color; she even accessorized by wearing a bright flower in her hair to match her outfit! Markeda is warm, loving and such a beacon of inspiration. This contest was extra-special because all of the entrants had to be nominated by someone. This was one of three nominations that Markeda received and it perfectly describes the kind of teacher she is.

This when you walk into Markeda’s classroom, brightness hits you in the face. Not only is her classroom a work of art due to her painstaking effort to cover every inch of wall with color, but her love of children and teaching shouts loud and clear. 

Markeda is the type of teacher that parents request by name. She’s the type of teacher that her principal calls whenever she needs something special, or an idea, or an ambassador. Markeda rolls up her sleeves and plays in the dirt with her students. 

On any random day, you’d walk in her classroom and find her on the floor drawing with students, or dancing with them, or helping her 1st graders recite MLK’s “I have a dream” speech verbatim. She was born to teach and lives her purpose out loud and in bright colors. Ask anyone at Patrick Henry Elementary which teacher lights up a room, and you’d here a unanimous “Ms. Brown.”

Now that you’ve had a chance to learn a little bit about Markeda and the wonderfully bright teacher that she is, let me take you on a tour of her freshly Colorized classroom. I’ll start by giving you a quick overview, then share a few “before” photos with you and some of the logistics (and challenges!) of the transformation. I am sure you will have lots of questions about where we purchased certain items, so I will follow up with a closer look at all of the wonderful spaces in Markeda’s classroom and give you an in-depth look with a deeper explanation and even more photos.

Are you ready?

First Grade Classroom black and white makeover with pops of pink, purple and teal

The Classroom Makeover Quick Tour

When you first enter Markeda’s first grade classroom, your get a straight view across her community area and straight into her classroom library. We wanted to keep this view as clean, bright and functional as possible so students could move freely around these high-traffic areas.

first grade classroom circle area with large black and white rug near classroom library
first grade classroom library area with large black and white rug for students

As your eyes take in the scenery, a look to the right reveals Markeda’s desk and guided reading table in the corner. This gave Markeda a straight view of the classroom door so she is always aware of students entering and exiting the classroom, as well as the arrival of visitors.

bright first grade classroom decor with black, white and pops of bright colors
white tables arranged and ready for back to school in first grade classroom

The back portion of the classroom is a collaborative work space for Markeda’s first grade students. Their tables are arranged in the center of this area and all seats have a view of Markeda’s smartboard.

Instructional materials and math manipulatives are neatly tucked away inside of the cube storage. A shelf of student book boxes are kept in the back corner for easy and convenient access to students when their work is finished, and art materials are stored in the large blue cabinet in the back of the classroom.

student tables in first grade classroom with subject areas displayed on the wall
first grade classroom makeover from astrobrights
bright first grade classroom with table seating, white walls and large black and white classroom rug
first grade classroom workspace for students

Seriously, how fun is this space?

Markeda is such a bright, shining educator, she just radiates love for her students. I was so happy to help create a first grade classroom with bright pops of color to match her vibrant personality.

Maria Gavin from Kinder Craze in first grade classroom makeover

Meet the Astrobrights Classroom Makeover Team

I promise, I’m going to give more details on the various spaces in Markeda’s classroom, but first I want to show you a little glimpse into the work we had cut out for us and the resources we had available for this little decorating adventure. Markeda’s school had a pretty full summer maintenance schedule, complete with lots of floor waxing. And, as you know, the floor wax schedule dictates all other events at school during the summer months. School administrators were able to offer three days from their busy summer maintenance schedule that we could use to make over Markeda’s classroom.

Knowing how precious our time would be, a massive collaborative discussion took place all summer long between the team at Astrobrights, Markeda and the Bright Minds.  I’m sure you already know and love Jennifer, Marsha, Reagan, April and Jodi. We had a blast brainstorming how to bring an exciting twist to Markeda’s first grade classroom. We planned, talked, shopped, and had all of the materials shipped to the school ahead of time.

Astrobrights Bright Minds

At last the day finally arrived! I represented the Bright Minds and joined the Astrobrights team of Jeremy, Dannah (front left) and Jessica (back left) for our three-day adventure.

Astrobrights team at classroom makeover

The Transition

Markeda’s first grade classroom transformation began with a view that elementary teachers know all too well: a heap of her classroom belongings piled up on tables and off the freshly waxed floor.

before photos of first grade classroom makeover

The first thing we did was empty all of the small, manageable items into the hall so that only furniture remained in the classroom. Then, bit by bit, we let the smaller items reenter the classroom. We also brought in some new furniture items and cleared out some extra tables and storage pieces that Markeda no longer needed.

It was important that the space work to enhance Markeda’s teaching style. She and I spent a lot of time brainstorming the best way to arrange furniture and store her materials.

Little by little, we made progress.
It was so exciting to see all of our planning and hard work come to life!

The Community Area

A smartboard serves as the instructional focal point of the entire classroom. Markeda uses the smartboard for instruction in a variety of ways. Sometimes she uses it to teach while students are seated at their tables. At other times, she gathers her students onto the floor in front of the smartboard. We wanted to make this space as welcoming as possible for her students, without causing a hinderance in how she delivers new content.

We found this fabulous black and white rug at Target. I love the bold impact it makes on her bright white tile floors.  The black cube shelf and purple fabric bins are from Walmart. The black shelf was priced under $50 and was such a great bargain! The fabric storage bins are also from Wal-Mart. The solid purple color option doesn’t seem to be available online right now, but they purple chevron and solid pink bins, which we also used in the classroom. Markeda already owned the purple milk crate (similar) and it was the perfect size to hold all of her clipboards.

We added a pop of bright color with two teal stackable drawers from Michaels. We also placed a teal plastic basket from Really Good Stuff. I posted a photo of these bins on Instagram and got so many questions about them! The color is called “Shoreline” and they are a little bit buried on the Really Good Stuff website, but you can find them here. A size medium is shown in the photo.

The black Alphabet Picture Cards are from my TpT store. Markeda already owned the purple number line and it was such a perfect fit for her classroom’s new look. I have searched online for the same version and all I could find is a blue set that is similar. The round items you see displayed on the board near the door are ten frame numbers. They can be found in Reagan Tunstall’s Bright and Black Classroom Label pack on TpT.

First Grade Classroom Library

Just past the smartboard and community area lies Markeda’s library. You already know how much this space in the classroom melts my teacher heart. Something about the children’s books … and the bright bins and … the organization. This is my version of teacher heaven.

We used the same cube shelving model in her classroom library with purple chevron fabric bins. Black, pink and turquoise pillows are all from Target.

Markeda and I knocked out a plan for organizing her library and she worked so hard to sort all of her books during those three days. Once the categories were established, we sorted the books into plastic bins. The pink, black, and turquoise bins are from Really Good Stuff. Purple boxes are from Steps to Literacy.

The Listening Center

Markeda really wanted to have a listening center in her first grade classroom, so we designated a small area beside her library to serve this purpose. Markeda already had a few DIY crate seats in her classroom that matched her decor perfectly and were just the right size for her little listening center.

We also purchased two iPod Nano devices for her classroom and two headphone splitters, which will allow multiple students to tune in and listen to the same iPod. Markeda will have access to her school’s iPads later this year so we purchased a black storage and charging base for the iPads. We also outfitted Markeda with some Kidz gear headphones in a cool purple color that I am certain her students will love.

All of those items are completely awesome, but my favorite gadget is the Ion Tape Converter that transfers old-school cassette tapes into mp3 files. This handy little device will help Markeda to digitize her old cassette tapes and make use of more modern technology.

First Grade Classroom Teacher Desk Area

Since Markeda gives so much of herself to her students and her school, we wanted to establish a corner in her first grade classroom  that would be a special place for her to enjoy. In our conversations, it became apparent that Markeda did not spend a great deal of time sitting at her desk during the school day. Rather, she preferred to tuck her desk out of the way and use it as a table top with functional storage. Markeda also mentioned that when she did sit down during the school day, it was often with a group of students for guided reading instruction. With that in mind, we merged her teacher desk area and her guided reading center. This way, she would have easy access to all of her files and instructional materials.

Markeda has a beautiful set of windows in her classroom that let in a lot of natural sunlight. This was an ideal space for her teacher desk area so that she could enjoy a little sunlight while teaching her students or prepping for upcoming lessons.

Let’s break down some of the furnishings in this area. We treated Markeda to two new file cabinets. These are from Home Depot, but Walmart also has a similar style available for a great price. We also tucked two IRIS 6-drawer carts under her desk for school and office supplies and placed a coordinating IRIS 10-drawer cart to hold her guided reading books. Finally, two black magazine storage boxes sit on top of Markeda’s desk to hold teaching manuals and other professional books.

The drawers of the IRIS 6-drawer carts were labeled using my Visual Supply Labels so she will know exactly what is inside for quick and easy access.

Of course, no teacher desk would be complete without a system for organizing her materials for the week. We found a simple white rolling organizer from Really Good Stuff and traded the rainbow baskets inside for black paper baskets to match the decor in her revamped first grade classroom.

The beautiful stapler, tape dispenser and pens are all from Poppin.

If you’ve been paying careful attention to the photos, you may have noticed a bit of a switcheroo with the chair positioned at Markeda’s guided reading table. We ordered a fun purple chair for Markeda’s classroom makeover and it didn’t arrive with the rest of her supplies. We anxiously awaited its arrival while we worked and hoped that it would make an appearance before we had to go home.

After the makeover was complete, while we were taking a final round of photos, the purple chair was delivered as the final accessory for Markeda’s beautiful first grade classroom! Markeda also kept her existing blue chair and plans to use it while her students are learning on the rug.

First Grade Writing Area

Markeda also needed a space for students to manage their papers and gain access to writing materials. The back of her classroom was an ideal location for the writing center. Her student mailboxes sit above the writing center and a white scrapbook cart is the perfect place to store student writing papers. Additional items can easily be stored in the stackable clear purple boxes from The Land of Nod. We also added an inspirational art print to remind Markeda and her students that they are all pretty special and amazing. Purple book bins are from Steps to Literacy.

Sharp and dull pencil signs are from Reagan Tunstall’s Bright and Black Classroom Label pack on TpT.

First Grade Classroom Math Station

Markeda uses a lot of manipulatives to deliver math instruction, which is so wonderful! The downside of having so many hands-on materials is figuring out an effective storage solution. All of those clocks, counters, balances, bears, dominoes and everything else have to be stored somewhere and they take up a lot of space. Fortunately, Markeda’s district provided her with a very nice wood storage shelf with cubbies to hold all of the smaller materials. The shelf came with primary colored bins, which didn’t exactly coordinate with her Markeda’s new classroom color scheme. We bought her a new set of purple bins from Lakeshore Learning and they were a perfect match! We also laminated and attached labels from my Visual Supply Label pack on TpT so Markeda and her students could easily find their desired materials.

The purple bins solved the storage problem for Markeda’s smaller materials, but she still owned a number of bulky instructional manipulatives. Two black cube storage shelves from WalMart and coordinating pink and purple chevron fabric bins easily solved that problem. Markeda’s materials were tucked away, easy to access, and had a polished look.

The Classroom Walls

Like most teachers, Markeda uses every inch of her classroom wall space to display reference information. She often creates several anchor charts with her students and displays the completed charts around the classroom. Markeda has a beautiful whiteboard that spans the entire back wall of the room and is an ideal location to display her current anchor charts. We divided the whiteboard into five sections that correspond to her content areas.

Markeda loves to color coordinate her subjects, so we printed each set of pennants onto a different color of Astrobrights cardstock. For Markeda’s first grade classroom, we used the following Astrobrights colors:

Fireball Fuchsia™
Pulsar Pink™
Gravity Grape™
Terrestrial Teal™
Celestial Blue™

The black ink made a bold statement and I love the pop of peekaboo color from the Astrobrights cardstock.

teacher setting up classroom decor with purple printed bulletin board pennant letters that spell "social studies"

We also tied in the same cardstock colors to add a fun focal point to Markeda’s first grade classroom library.

first grade classroom library area with large black and white rug for students

The wall space above Markeda’s whiteboard will be used a a word wall. We printed the alphabet labels from Reagan’s Bright and Black Classroom Label pack. They were a perfect match with her classroom’s new look.

white and airy first grade classroom with pops of pink and purple bulletin board pennant letters displayed on whiteboard

The Student Workspace

The only remaining detail of the classroom was creating an effective workspace for Markeda’s first grade students to learn. We arranged the student tables in a central area and made sure that all of the chairs were arranged to give students a view of the smartboard. The students have easy access to all of the classroom learning areas, which is so important.

Wouldn’t you love to be a student in Ms. Brown’s classroom?

The Reveal to Administration

After three very busy days of transforming Markeda’s classroom, we invited her principal and assistant principal to come see the finished result.

We followed all of the district guidelines for classroom setup, which are very common for classroom teachers across the country. Note that nothing was hanging from the ceiling, we used minimal paper on her walls, and we didn’t paint any of her existing furniture. I think it’s safe to say that her administration approved of the makeover.

Markeda Brown has proven herself to be a truly extraordinary educator and I am so honored to have been a part of her classroom transformation. I’m also so thankful to Astrobrights for recognizing teachers and the tireless work they do. I can’t think of a more rejuvenating way to begin the school year than to help celebrate a truly deserving teacher.

I wish all of you an amazing 2016-2017 school year and I know for certain that Astrobrights will be cheering you on from the sidelines! Join the fun on Facebook and Instagram and keep an eye out for the latest Colorize Your Classroom contest from Fun In First on September 11 and Tunstall’s Teaching Tidbits on September 18 for a chance to win Astrobrights paper!

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Maria Gavin

Maria is a former kindergarten and first grade teacher, with 13 years of teaching experience. Her love and passion for all things early childhood is now fulfilled as a mom to two amazing kids. She loves sharing practical and creative tips and ideas that are perfect for young learners – in the classroom or at home!

Leave a Comment

18 Responses

  1. This is so exciting for Markeda and her students! I love the clean look with the pops of color! Great job, Maria and Astrobrights 🙂

  2. Oh no! That’s very strange and I haven’t heard of anyone else having that issue. Maybe try using a different web browser?

  3. Now that the school year has started I would love to see an update from Markeda on her new classroom layout! What is working? What, if anything, isn’t working?

    1. It was a great school year. Everything for the most part stayed the same. I did move a bookshelf to make the class more open. I kept everything organized. The students LOVED using the ipods and pillows. Im still in love with this classroom. Even though I had to pack uo alot of the items. I will be switching to 2nd grade thua year, so I’ll be getting desk. But I plan on redoing the layout the same way. I still cant thank everyone enough for everything.

  4. I love your ideas. I put many in my TPT cart, but I could not find the one with the letter pennants. Are you selling that on TPT?

  5. I have signed up with 2 different email addresses and confirmed them both, but don’t have access to the banners/pennants. Could you please email them to me?

    1. Oh no! I’m so sorry for the inconvenience. I just emailed you the banners directly and I hope they work perfectly for your classroom.

  6. Hello. That room looks awesome. Are you still giving way the banners? I just need one for Reading and Writing

  7. I love EVERYTHING!!! I was able to find the Word Wall letter card set on TPT. But I can’t find the letter banners. Are those on TPT? Thank you!

  8. Hello,
    I am looking for the Word Wall letter banners, could you please email them to me?

    Thank you in advance
    (1st year teacher)
    Heidi Ross’

  9. Hi!

    Where did you get your classroom library book labels (E Level Books, F Level Books, etc.) I didn’t see a link for the labels.

    Thank you!

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Hi, I'm Maria.

I’m a former kindergarten teacher turned work-from-home mom. I still love sharing ideas and resources to make teaching easier, so you can focus on what really matters in the classroom. When I’m not working on the blog, you’ll find me chasing kids around the house with a cold cup of coffee in my hand (some things never change even once you’re out of the classroom!)


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