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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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Jima Dunigan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The last two years our district invested heavily in the large white rolling white boards. Truly these are amazing interactive tools, putting many applications and hardware into one focal lesson point. The large whiteboard has negatives. First, it is very large and takes up considerable wall space. It sits too low on the floor and the projector is usually on a tall cart and the presenter or student also stands too tall thereby blocking the view of many in the class. The whiteboard has to be calibrated to the projector and software each time. If it is accidentally moved, it has to be calibrated again. This is time consuming. The cost of a white board is also a negative.

However, this year, the district started purchansing a small handheld interactive "chalkboard". This chalkboard is probably 16 ounces, has all the features of a whiteboard, is completely wireless, and is mobile. Whereas the older whiteboards have to be calibrated with the projector and application, this one does not. Any blank spot on the wall will do and none of the interactive features are lost because the stylus attached to the chalkboard writes electronically and directly on the surface of the chalkboard. The surface projection can be much larger than on the constraints of the size of the whiteboard. No feature is lost on the handheld chalkboard, just some of the confinements.

I hope this helps.
Jima Dunigan

Linda's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Oh my. Am I the only person who does not get it? Only 5 hours training for my smart board and I am totally overwhelmed. Sure, maybe it is great, but I do not see how. I have to redo every single lesson since my chalkboard is gone, the overhead is under a desk and gets pulled out when something goes wrong with the S Board.

My writing looks terrible on the board. I spend much too much time just typing up things that used to take half the time. Interactive? How do you all have time to create all that stuff? Find all that stuff? I feel like an idiot and have a pain in my chest every day worrying about making this thing work.

Any advice?

marilyn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello Linda,

What I have been doing with some of my work is scanning it into the program. That has helped with the time issue but I to am a novice.

Constance Patterson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Linda, you are not the only one. I feel the same way you do. I have a smartboard and one of my students had to help me set it up. With my family duties, schooling, and afterschool duties, I don't even have time to check my email much less search for activities for the smartboard. I have a colleague who is in his first year of teaching and all he does is stay on the internet looking for ideas. He puts everything on there from the objectives, daily warm up, the agenda for the day, etc. All of this information, I put on my dry erase board. I asked him if he didn't have anything else to do. He said no,it was just him and being new around our area he didn't have any friends yet. I jokingly told him he made me sick. Being the nice person that he is, he comes to my room and helps me out the smartboard. THANK GOD!! So, I am also open up to any advice.

Annie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I completely can understand how you can be overwhelmed with the smart board... but remember small steps. It should be an integrated part of the lesson you planned on doing on the smart board, not something new or different. Instead of taking the time to write it on the white board, why not put it in on a slide that you can save day to day? I find the whole process SAVES me time rather than creates more work. If it created more work no teacher would want one. I save the slides (presentations), reuse and adapt them for each different prep I have, and print them out for students who are absent. I hand out modified presentations for the ESL students so they do not have to write all the information. I save the power points (presentations) from year to year so I do not keep a plan book. I embed video and photos so I never have to search for that book in the library with the great photo of ?? or search for the out of date video and a VCR that never seems to work.

I took a job without one for a few months and it was so difficult to go back to the traditional ways of teaching.

I hope you are inspired,

Kayleigh's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Go to the Smartboard website. They have great tutorial videos as well as lesson plans!

Gail Tanner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Interactive whiteboards, like any new technology, take time to learn. And who has time during the school year? My advice is to just use it as a chalkboard for now. Get comfortable with the basic features and don't worry about trying to make every lesson an interactive extravaganza. If you do have some "spare time", check out the pre-made lessons at (Click on education, then "educator resources" at the top of the page) There are many basic lessons already put together for you. It does get better with time.

Doug Schmidt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our district invested heavily in technology last year and many of our teachers received Smartboards in their classrooms. As tech coordinator in my elementary bldg., this is what I saw. Our teachers had the summer to prepare after a day long training session. Start small fins a daily activity that you can use it with and gradually build into it. The board doesn't have to be used for everything just like your previous chalkboard or white board wasn't used for everything. Many of the teachers use it for attendance and lunch count as a way for the students to interact with it in the morning. Also it is used for morning meeting. Start with some routine items then start slowly incorporating one area at a time, maybe start with math, then when you feel comfortable add writing. Don't over stress yourself with doing it all at once. No one should expect a change overnight. work at your comfort level to implement. Once you lower your stress it will be easier for you to be creative and look for novel ways to implement the board into your teaching style.

Brenda Craige's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Linda - I feel your pain, but there are so many resources available for you to use that you don't even have to be thinking about creating new lessons yet. The true power of the Smart Board comes from your students being up there working at the board rather than your writing on the board for them. Check all the wonderful lessons available at, under Education, Notebook Lesson Activities. You can search for lessons either by grade level and subject, or by curriculum standards for your state. Or Google the topic you need to teach plus the words "smart board lesson" and you'll find thousands of teacher-created and shared lessons. For text that you want to put on the board, rather than writing it all on or typing it up, if the information is available electronically, you can import it or copy and paste it into a Smart Notebook file. If it's available only in hard copy, you could scan it into a Word document or a Smart Notebook file. But I would suggest questioning the need for writing a lot of text on the board - does it amount to just projecting traditional worksheets? There are templates in the Lesson Activity Toolkit that make it really easy to set up engaging, interactive experiences for your students using your own content - terminology, vocabulary, fact sets, etc. Plus once you have them created and saved to your computer you can use them over and over again, both in review with current students and next year when you teach that same lesson again. Good luck!

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