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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Technology Combined with Good Teaching Leads to Success

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."

Comments (135)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Heather WolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You bring up a good point and one that I hesitate to answer without my own further research. But you might want to check out Marzano here at CUE Live http://tinyurl.com/d7q99a where he was interviewed after his keynote. He speaks further on the subject, and he might be able to answer your questions and more.
Thanks again for your questions and comments.

Cyndee Perkins's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

At the risk of being redundant, I agree that successful use of the interactive whiteboard depends upon the successful training of the teachers. Over the course of two decades of experience, we have learned that the most effective training in using technology is to incorporate immediate hands-on use of the tool in the classroom. Teaching all of the tools and experimenting with all of the bells and whistles in one or two long training sessions rarely accomplishes the goal of teachers being able to implement the use of the peripheral. Short bursts of training followed by in-class application encourages its being used successfully.

One of my most interesting experiences was attending a mandatory summer computer "boot camp" for all district teacher about ten years ago. The teachers had to learn the basic MS Office productivity tools and produce a workbook as proof of learning to qualify for the next pay step. In a class of 25 teachers, all of them produced the workbook at the end of the summer, and NONE of them implemented the use of the applicatons to create new teaching tools. When I conducted a follow-up training with some of those teachers, I taught each tool separately and sent them back to the classroom to implement it. They could not qualify for the next training until they demonstrated their new teaching tool to their peers. Not only did the retrained group master the application, the members shared their lessons so that everyone benefitted.

The moral of the story: insist that the teachers who attend the training for the interactive whiteboards (or any other peripheral) demonstrate their transfer of the training into the classroom. Follow-up by department heads and/or administrators is essential!

Cyndee Perkins
Director, Curriculum and Program Development

Katie Maltby's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Heather

I'm interested in writing a grant to get an interactive whiteboard for in my classroom. I'm familiar with SmartBoards and recently saw many others at the ASCD Conference in Orlando, Florida. If I were to purchse one, what would you suggest?


Laurie (Staff)'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Staff comment:


Take a look at these two Edutopia articles: A Clean Slate: Interactive Whiteboard Makes Lessons Snazzy, and Board of Education: A Wall-Mounted Computer Monitor for Your Classroom: A top teacher shares her enthusiasm for -- and tips about using -- interactive whiteboards.

Victor's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I agree with your statement that "we take a wrong turn when we make the mistake that any technology is anything but a tool. " But I believe that what you're expressing is exactly what Marzano points out with the following excerpt from the original post

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.

I myself am a big fan of white boards and have been using them for years and feel that they are just a tool, but a powerful tool in the hands of an adept teacher.


Amanda's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This was very refreshing for me to read. I am a third year art educator in an elementary school. I have pushed for an interactive whiteboard since the day I started teaching. Being young you come in with all of these ideas and strategies and hit a wall when you realize there is no support. This year I recieved an Intelliboard and electronic texts to go with it. Myslef and my students love it.

Recently, I was working in my room to create an interactive presentation to introduce students to the Louve art gallery. A veteran teacher, stuck in his ways, and ready to retire I might add, walked in and scuffled "This is what these young people thing work is, they don't know what is means to really make a lesson anymore." Meanwhile his classroom is a lecture, textbook, worksheet, test atmosphere. So I immediatly pulled up research that supported technology in the classroom and left it for his lunch time reading material. He has not said much since...

Nicholas Ogborn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The school I student taught at had interactive Smart Boards that were not being used to their full potential. The first day I came in I just played around with the board to discover its possibilities. I have to say I was very impressed. As a student teacher you're trying to impress your supervisor and co-operating teacher with amazing lessons and this board made it, so much easier.

On top of all the boards possibilities students love the using the board. There was not one student in my classroom who did not want to participate. I believe the participation alone makes these boards worth while, because I didn't need to pry the answers out of my students.

Jane Schwefler's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have first hand experience with how interactive whiteboards change teaching and learning. I piloted the use of Mimio technology (this is a portable and affordable version of interactive white boards) in my classroom last year. Although there was mimimal training involved, I was able to create interactive lessons and activitites to maximize the student engagement in my second grade class. Not only was it an exciting addition to my instructional strategies, my students responded very well to it. My test scores at the end of the year were better than ever. Beyond the test scores, my students learned life long skills of social interaction and computer awareness which is far more noteworthy than a test score!

Jane Schwefler
Gwinnett County
Lawrenceville, Georgia

kathleen Marshall's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Just thought I'd pop in on the concept of tech games as educational tools. I have been an elementary teacher for 42 years and love the concept of technology and game formats to motivate my 2nd graders. The challenge I have had over time is to find "games" that truly teach concepts in a format that is not totally linear. My children had the opportunity beta test an amazing new k-2nd grade web based math program this winter. The focus is on developing number sense and algebraic reasoning as foundational math concepts for 5-8 year olds. My classroom has 10 different home languages and is economically and academically diverse. These children spent 2 weeks after school every day for an hour testing this program and they were so totally engaged there wasn't a sound in the school lab. The program's ability to analyze student strengths and weaknesses in a particular concept controls the length of time, practice format, and number of practice options. The children can move throughout numerous formats and settings at will. Assessments are embedded within the program but a child will never sense an assessment is in progress. Another element I appreciate for a classroom setting is the fact that my 24 children are totally unaware of their progress in relation to their neighbors. The negative competition is gone but a desire to try new things leads them to compete with themselves. This program was designed for home use. Being web based, modifications are made without the need to repurchase software or an upgrade. Parents get weekly e-mails on what their child has been doing, progress made, and things to do while "on the run". I can see how much time they are using the program both at home and at school. The report section also shows what skills the children had on their initial assessment and what skills they have gained since that point. It was a great document to share at spring conferences with my parents. I don't work for the company and I'm not paid to share my experiences but if technology and math games appeal to your children you really should check out Dream Box Learning info@dreambox.com . Sara Daniels sara@dreambox.com is VP for marketing and Lou Gray is their CEO. They respond to e-mailed questions and the content has been developed with a team of National Board Certified teachers.

Jennifer Bates's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I completely agree with you on student participation. My school does not have Smart Boards, but love any technology used in the classroom. I could teach the same lesson with technology then without, and my students are much more likely to get involved in the one with technology. I am hoping my district will invest in them soon. I have teacher friends in other states that have them and love using them.

Even though my students love technology, I do feel that it is important to have a balance in the classroom.

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