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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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Angela Andriesse's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I completely agree with your last statement. My school just acquired 11 new smart boards, but had to surplus 17 teachers. Unfortunately, people often forget that the most valuable resource in a classroom is an effective teacher--not an expensive piece of technology that will be obsolete the minute the next hot thing comes on the market.

Peter Dawson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am an elementary school administrator. I was directed here by a post I made on the Smart Board Revolution Ning, in which I asked for help in receiving data on Smartboard use in classrooms. I am looking for information on how people use the SB in their classroom, what inservice/training they have received, how their district supports them in implementing the SB, how many SBs their district has, etc.

I was intrigued by the results of Marzano's research and, on a subjective level, can agree with his findings. In our area (Ontario, Canada) our school district has invested a great deal of time and money into seeing that SBs are implemented appropriately. We currently have over 1800 SBs in a school district that is the 3rd largest in Ontario, so ensuring that technology of this magnitude is used properly is a huge concern. We have a system that allows teachers to share lessons internally so that beginning users have access to pre-made lessons which support them while they learn the software.

I'd be interested to hear from others as to their experiences with the implementation of the SB in both their district and their classroom. You can contact me directly at:

Tom Maxwell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have had a Smartboard in my room for several years. They do not automatically come with the voting system (at least they didn't when I got mine) so don't assume you will get that component of the technology.

After using it in my 7th math classroom I am really underwhelmed with it. Yes it is cool! And yes it does get an immediate rise out of the students. But as cautioned, it soon just becomes another tool in the classroom. The interactive tools in the Smart software are OK but similar tools can be found on the Internet in the form of Java Applets. Even without a SmartBoard the Smart software can be used with just a projector and a mouse or Airliner type portable tablet.

So here is why I don't think they are really worth the money:

1) Most of the functions and features can be performed with just a projector/screen and a mouse.

2) If permanently installed it significantly impacts your options in laying out your classroom.

3) If not permanently installed it takes up considerable floor and wall space.

4) It is bulky and it is easy to trip over the support legs and disturb the calibration.

5) There is a learning curve as far as pointing, clicking, dragging, etc. By the time 140 students get up to speed and don't play around with it laughing and giggling, the first semester is already over. In other words, it is a novelty for the students and they don't really see it as a learning tool.

6) Most of the time I use it as a demonstration tool rather than a 1 child interactive tool. I simply don't have the time for 25-30 students in every period to come up to the board one at a time to click on an icon or drag a box into a graphic organizer. I would rather send 6-8 students to the chalkboard or use individual dry erase board and have all 30 students work 4 or 5 math problems. Look at some the videos on this site. 1 student using 1 laptop with 1 temp probe or Ph probe.

7) Again the learning curve -- usage is a bit bulky. Students are not real good at standing to the side so they can see the projection while applying the correct pressure to write legibly on the board.

8) There are some factors with the software that makes it hard to distinguish a press and drag from a click. Hence when you sometimes want to press and drag, you get a selection box. It can be annoying.

I think as a tool it is Ok but certainly not the greatest thing since sliced bread. I would like to see some activities or lessons that couldn't be completed in less costly ways. A lot of teachers rave about these boards but then when pressed for details about how the board is being used, it usually boils down to an expensive projection screen. I think we sometimes get excited over our ability to use technology rather than by what it does for our students.

I would rather see an Intuos or Airliner type portable tablet built into each desk along with a voting system. I would like the teacher to be able to have the ability to choose which student is connected to the projector at any given moment. "OK students, let's see how Johnny set up his spreadsheet for this activity," click! Or better yet, give each student a laptop networked via teacher presentation software that allows the teacher's desktop to be projected onto the students laptop. If we make these stylus type PCs students can view the demonstration/PP and add their notes right on the screen. This type of tool is already being used in many businesses and to some degree during the webinars on this sight.

OK so you can't afford to give every student a laptop (I am not sure why)so put one on every desk so a student can come in, sit down, login and have the entire world at his/her fingertips. There is software that allows the teacher to capture the student's screen and disable the keyboard and mouse while the teacher is talking. Then when it is the student's turn to work, control is given back to the student.

My problem with technology in general is that we use it for technology's sake. Most schools send their students to a computer lab twice a year to get a technology grade for the gradebook. This is nonsense and ineffective. Technology should be a tool that students use every day to create deliverable products. It should be totally integrated into the daily lives of our students. We simply cannot become proficient in technology if every student is not using it every day.

The SmartBoard is a very expensive tool that brings very little value to students in the classroom. Its functions can be performed better and more cheaply with other solutions.

Of course, I am open to convincing. Send me an activity or lesson that simply cannot be done without the board and I'll be open to reconsideration. I don't mean to be negative but I worked in technology for 30 years before teaching and I know how it can be effectively used for learning. I just get so frustrated when I see so much money being poured into technology without any consideration about how it is going to help students learn and make the teacher's job easier. Right now it is just more work for the teachers.

Eileen Tresansky's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am lucky enough to work at a school that has just gotten a smartboard. The problem is it is only set up in one room and only 2 teachers at this point have access to it. Plus, only 3 have had training in how to use it but do not. It seems we are spending a lot of money on something that should be available for most of us if "technology is the way to go." There must be other options out there for us to try.

Inger Wegener's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am involved in a project that is purchasing and placing interactive white boards in secondary career and technical education programs. The intent is first to engage students in learning through the use of technology, followed closely by improving the techncial skill/technical literacy of students. Our ultimate goal is to have students experience technology as its own educational content area; to encourage them to consider education and training for occupations that rely heavily on technology. It is a tactic to motivate the students of today, and create the workers of the future.

As a result, there is a tremendous ongoing demand for professional development on the interactive white board technology. We recognize that training on how to use the features of the board alone will not expand or enhance its use within all areas of the curriculum. Therefore our professional development plan for the upcoming school year includes white board user groups and professional learning communities. We are looking forward to the many unique and innovative teaching experiences that our teachers will be developing.

Jay's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I found it interesting about Marzano's study on teacher gains with smart boards. It is nice when someone actually puts together a study to prove such gains. Lately, I always see new ideas and changes put in place with school systems. Some guru comes up with a book of what they did, but there is not enough evidence and you will see new changes in a year or two.

Our school has adopted Promethean boards last year, and we are receiving training. Yes, it is a great tool and the students like the use of it in the classroom.

However, teachers still need to teach and use the boards as an asset to their teaching, not just a filler in the classroom.

Brandy Rainey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is interesting that someone has done some kind of research on this topic of interactive whiteboards. My students seem to really like using them. They all can see the material and it is better than just a powerpoint. I can remember when if you used a powerpoint in teaching you were so creative. Now you must spend a lot more time on finding fun engaging things for students to learn with. They are right when people say it is just a tool not the entire lesson. Will we ever be able to keep up with the students and how fast they learn technology? Will anyone ever know? We will just have to try. By the time we get the money to give these oportunities to the masses there will be something greater and better out there!

Barbara Ryczek's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

HI Jay,
I too am going to be getting a promethean board this fall and I am very excited about incorporating it into my teaching. I was wondering what sort of training you are receiving. We had a few sessions with three teachers in our school who currently have a promethean board in their classroom. I feel as though I have only hit the tip of the iceburg. Did you do the online training from the promethean website? I have heard mixed reviews. Do you know of any other good resources?

Erika Wells's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am entering my 2nd year teaching mathematics in a 6th grade classroom. This year I am lucky enough to get the following in my classroom: Promethean Board, webcam, ActivSlate, ActivExpressions, laptop, along with other technology. I agree with most of what everyone has said above. Even though technology is great and should be used when available, I believe that teachers still are the core of the classroom.
I am excited to use the new tools in my classroom. I think that not only will my students participate and stay interested in their studies more, but I believe that the ActivExpressions will also help me with assessment as well. If the above really is true, then I hope that my test scores along with my students attitudes and knowledge of math soar through the roof.

Allison Hogeman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


What is the difference between whiteboards, smart boards, and Promethean boards? My school is looking into getting some in our new addition to our building, but i'd like to know how they compare. I wasn't sure if it was just different manufacturers, different levels of complexity, etc. Anyone know?


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