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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

Katherine Lively's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our school is holding a fundraiser to collect enough money to buy a smartboard for each grade level. The Title 1 schools in our district have several smartboards in their schools, however we are not a a Title 1 school and don't receive extra funding to buy extra technology. Our district provides lots of great training, but I don't have access to a smartboard yet. Hopefully our fundraiser will be a success and I will be able to try out this great technology. All of the lessons and research I have read about here are encouraging!

Trina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I waited patiently for a year and a half for my smart board, and while I waited, was encouraged to take a graduate-level course in how to incorporate it into my classroom as an instructional tool. I'm so glad that I took that class, as I learned things that I never would have on my own. It was also wonderful when my smart board finally arrived, that I was comfortable with it, knew what to do if something unexpected happened, like the projector got bumped out of line, and had some lessons already prepared from the course. If any teachers have interactive whiteboards and access to a district-funded course like this, I strongly recommend taking the opportunity to make the most out of a fantastic teaching tool!

LaToya's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Smart Boards are very effective in the classroom. I completely agree with Robert Marzano. I had the opportunity to teach with and without the Smart Board in my classroom this year. I was amazed to see the impact it made on my students. My first graders really enjoy getting actively involved in my lessons. However, I feel like first graders still need to use hand-on materials. Smart Boards are very covinent, and they make teaching very easy., but a mixture of new technology and "old-school" techniques makes a more effective classroom.

Rod Encina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I also agree with you and Robert Marzano about the effectiveness of the smartboards in the classroom. My 8th grade students can't get enough of it and I'm running out of creative ways to use it. It's true that a school needs to not only supply it but have some kind of training or inservice dedicated to it for the teacher. It will become a more valuable tool to the students if the teacher is a master of this technology. I do want to add that I couldn't agree with you more when you mention a mixture of new technology and "old School" techniques make a more effective classroom.

Ryan Cameron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I completely agree that Smart Boards can be a very effective teaching tool. The school district that I teach in has Smart Boards in every classroom. When they are used by teacher they can keep students actively engaged in the learning process. The problem that I see is that many of our teachers only use them as a white board and not for their intended purposes. We have these great pieces of equipment and not the proper training on how to use them. I only wish that all of our teachers could see the potential Smart Boards have in the learning process.

Mark Andriesse's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Save your money! The whiteboard is a big mouse pad that can be completely replaced with a $10 mouse. In fact, a mouse is better because there are no wires to trip over, the students can sit in a comfy chair as they come up, they don't need to stand in front of other students-blocking their view, the list goes on. Districts could save thousands of dollars by trashing this overpriced mouse pad. That being said, ActivStudio is a great program that can be used to its full effect without the board. The ActivVotes are also cool but they do not tell you that the whiteboard itself is totally unnecessary if you want to vote or use ActivStudio. The board exists only for the pen. In fact, they are developing software now so that you can make your own Interactive white board using a Wii remote control and an infrared pen at a cost of about $50-- or $10 if you already own a Wii. The pen is cool but not as cool when you put the adjective $3000 in front of it (As in "I thought that buying a $3000 pen made sense at the time...). A mouse is pretty cool too. They also make a personal tablet that works with Activstudio and that can completely replace the behemoth whiteboard for a fraction of the cost, space, and inconvenience. Schools should invest in the tablets, the votes and projectors. You can give every teacher a tablet for the cost of just a few boards. People are so quick to jump on the band wagon. The interactive whiteboard will be a dinosaur in no time as soon as people figure out what it is. The software is great but the system is junk and I hope people catch on before we bankrupt ourselves on these hulking piles of plastic that are simply tech-for-tech's-sake.

Heather WolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There are always ways to work in technology. Yes, you can get the activotes with a hub and the software and just use them on a regular board. Yes, tablets would be awesome. But it takes jumping in with two feet an committing to the philosophies for people to figure out how to integrate the technology in different ways. If people hadn't bought into the Whiteboards and had waited around for some mythical $50 technology breakthrough, we'd be waiting for so long, the achievement gap would have widened even more. You can't fault schools for investing in the future. There is always something around the corner, cheaper, smaller, better. We cannot chronically wait for the next chapter in technology, or we'll always be waiting. Ed Tech is like renovating San Francisco's Bay Bridge: you start at one end, and by the time you get to the other, you need to start upgrading the beginning again. But what happens if you don't continue that sweeping pendulum of upgrading? It dissolves. As would our students' futures. Thanks for the comments and for making us all think.
-Heather WG

Dian Price's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

During my training for Reading Coach we were told that the curriculum didn't teach or reach children, that's the teacher's job. It is the same way with this new tool. Smartboards are only an advantage if they are used by someone who knows what they are doing and used as a method to the means. Technology doesn't make you a good teacher using technology just may though. I would be interested to know more about the Wii/Smartboard replacement idea/project discussed in the first post response.

stephen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is the first time I have looked at EDUTOPIA, and then I read this article and WOW!! I am just astounded...and very ticked off. I have taught in two very large urban school districts. Baltimore and Orlando. And up to now I still have not seen a smartboard in any school I taught in or visited in either of these cities. So I have to wonder what utopian society or wonderland all of the teachers who have posted here teach in. You are talking smartboards and I barely have an overhead projector that works. Talk about utopia and equality in education!!! I have seen these boards a couple of years ago when I interviewed for some positions at some private schools. THey certainly added a whole new dimension to the classroom. I saw how they allowed for a lot of student interaction...I wonder though if students would get too caught up in the wow of it and not really get the objective of the learning. But what wows me more are the number of teachers who have written about using or having the boards at there school and I know there are probably too many places that don't. In these two areas they are thinking of closing schools and laying of lots of teachers. How will they ever have room for smartboards?

stephen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Katie, do you teach in Orlando? Do you teach for OCPS? Why doesn't your school purchase them? or OCPS, if you work for them?

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