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Technology Combined with Good Teaching Leads to Success

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Interactive whiteboards are the future of educational strategies, and without proper adoption of these and other technology tools, teachers are doomed to become dinosaurs in their practices.

Who says so? Educational research and practice expert Robert Marzano.

As he spoke at the CUE (Computer Using Educators) conference earlier this month, he warned educators, however, that although there are "no silver bullets," there are "silver BBs," and a teacher must decide which combination of silver BBs is best for his or her classroom.

But, unquestionably, the use of the interactive whiteboard and its voter-response technology is a true breakthrough in education.

The Research

Marzano recently divided 85 educators into two groups: One taught a lesson to students using interactive whiteboards and the other taught the same lesson using standard, more traditional tools. His data was undeniable:

  • Of those classrooms employing the boards and using the voting technology, there was an immediate increase of 17 percent in scores.
  • He also found that if a teacher had been given 20-30 months to hone his or her skills, there was an average 20 percentile gain.
  • The sweet spot, he says -- the perfect storm of student achievement, according to his findings -- was when a teacher was trained to use the technology, had used it for two years, and did so 75 percent of the time. That profile shows a whopping 29 percentile gain in scores.

But he warns that there is such a thing as too much technology. Marzano told the audience that beyond this sweet spot, dragons await in the form of diminishing returns in improved student scores, thus proving, he adds, that you clearly "can't take the human being out of teaching."

A Balance Is Best

To get the most out of the interactive whiteboard, a school district can't just give it to a teacher, and can't just give it to any teacher. The district has to train that teacher. And Marzano was quick to point out that weaker teachers require professional development in the use of both interactive whiteboards and effective teaching. Success comes in finding that sweet spot and using it properly. He emphasizes that, statistically, this successful strategy only works if

  • there is clear focus on content, not just using bells and whistles -- the technology proves merely distracting otherwise.
  • the voting component is in place, keeping track of students who are getting it and those who aren't.
  • this student feedback is used formatively to help guide future instruction.

Having Marzano carrying the technology standard is exciting. It proves not only the legitimacy of these strategies but also that all of us, even the best educational practitioners, can evolve in their own theories.

It is also comforting to have such a godfather of educational practice reminding those before him in the trenches that, despite the negative press about education, statistics continue to prove that "if you give magic BBs to teachers who want to hone their craft, great things can happen."

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Clarice Riggio's picture
Clarice Riggio
High School Social Studies teacher from Long Island, NY

Technology is a tool and we (teachers) are the workers. Both are needed to produce a good. In order to keep up with our students, educators must begin to incorporate technology into their lesson planning, but it should not just be a glorified blackboard or overhead projector. We must be trained to utilize the equipment to maximize its potential and student learning.

I would love to use more technology in my classroom, but I feel I am ill-prepared to do so. I hope to rectify that shortly.

Kala's picture

I agree that a balance would be best. Although we do not want to teach in old school methods, we must still keep the originality of a classroom setting while we incorporate technology. I must admit that technology is more interesting when it comes to learning! It shows the different dynamics of how the world of education as well as technology evolves. I personally do not feel as if the knowledge of the teacher would be for technology because it takes a skilled teacher to even teach through technology. So yes, a balance is best!

Bryon Demerson's picture

I agree with the fact that we cannot let technology simply replace the teacher in the classroom. According to the research, that is counter-productive to the success of the student. As educators, we must know the "thin line" between what is enough technology, and what is too much technology.

However, I do agree with the fact that EFFECTIVE use of technology in the classroom will enormously boost the productivity of the student. Interactive white boards, when used properly, can enhance the classroom instruction in ways that many never imagined. Teachers know to use them effectively, and how to engage the students through the use of the interactive white board.

Debbie K.'s picture
Debbie K.
2nd grade teacher, Setauket NY

Having an IWB is a powerful learning tool to engage young learners. The ability to have students take turns at the board "dragging" or writing responses is a valuable way to have students learn from one another. However, it is critical that the teacher be trained and have the professional development time to create appropriate lessons. Planning time is at a premium for most teachers and most certainly is done on personal time. This summer vacation I will be researching new IWB lessons for my classroom for sure.

Jenn V's picture
Jenn V
Math Teacher in Setauket

I was determined this past year to learn how to use the interactive whiteboard. I returned to teaching after 6 years to raise my twins and was so excited to work with the new technologies offered. As a "new" teacher to a new building I didn't get my own classroom, but found that rolling the whiteboard from room to room was definitely worth it! The summary of the article, "if you give magic BBs to teachers who want to hone their craft, great things can happen" sums up my entire year. The students were excited every day to come to class and they did phenomenal on their state assessments. I completely agree with Jason's comment that Technology + Teaching = Uncertainty, but Technology + A well-trained, passionate, creative teacher = Endless Growth and Possibilities.

Claudia C.'s picture

We have a rolling interactive whiteboard in our wing. I try to incorporate it into my day as much as I can. I notice when I use it that it keeps my students more engaged. I have taken many computer courses during my masters program (quiet a few years ago) and it baffles me the amount of new things that I can still learn about technology. The best way to keep up with the "times" is to continue to take PD courses throughout the year. Technology is always changing. It is our job as teachers to be empowered with the knowledge and pass it on to our students.

Lindsey's picture

I find your results to be consistent to what I have seen in elementary schools. Students seem to engage more in class when technology is used such as the Smartboard. As a college student studying Elementary Education, my professors are urging us to use the Smartboard in their classes in order to become familiar, knowing full well that chances are we will be using them in our own classrooms one day.
Above Heather states, "Technology + Teaching = Uncertainty, but Technology + A well-trained, passionate, creative teacher = Endless Growth and Possibilities" .. that couldn't be more true. All I can picture is a class of first graders sitting there, waiting for their teacher to figure out how to turn on a Smartboard, growing impatient with time and losing focus. As educators we must stay well informed about new technology coming out and we should be willing to try it in our classrooms if it means bettering the education for our students.

Jenny's picture

I really found your section on balance with technology in the classroom to be very interesting. I have never used a Smartboard or attended a professional development geared to a Smartboard. I know, for me, I would need massive practice to develop the confidence to use a Smartboard in my classroom. I most certainly am not opposed to a Smartboard in my classroom, and I would work very hard to design lessons and find ideas to use the Smartboard in my classroom. I think Marzano was referring to teachers like me when he said, " If you give magic BBs to teachers who want to hone their craft, great things can happen."

Stacey's picture
Middle School Social Studies teacher, Bismarck, ND

I agree with Marzano in that we need to find a balance of incorporating technologies into our repertoire of teaching tools. Teaching is an art and our practice can be refined and improved upon with the right technology tools and more importantly the right training. It is absolutely imperative that teachers not only be educated on the tools themselves, but be reminded of how to best use the data from those tools. As educators, we should be constantly asking ourselves the purpose of any activities we perform with our classes, so that they stay grounded in our content standards.

Jordan Johnson's picture
Jordan Johnson
4th grade teacher from Ada, MN

I agree with Marzano that teachers need to be taught how to use the interactive boards they are given and that some teachers will need more training than others. Teachers need time to be able to utilize these tools in their teaching and to incorporate them. I have fully integrated my Smartboard into my teaching but now would like to use the Smart Response system that is also available. I have heard it is a great teaching tool but need help to get it up and running. Using available technology is a necessary approach to today's teaching, but I love this quote from Marzano "you can't take the human being out of teaching." We need to always remember that-we are the base for all the technology to build upon. If we don't provide the base, the students won't have the experience to build upon.

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