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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

Rita Marczak's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I fo feel the same way about the interactive white boards in the classroom. The only technology I have and for which I am grateful is four computers (three for my students) and an overhead projector which I also let my students use and two CD players. You see I teach preschool and although I only touch on technology I think the boards would be an asset to any room. Thank you for the update on grants, I will be looking into it.

Neil's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I must admit that, after reading the above and some of the responses, I really miss my interactive whiteboard. My previous school had one in almost every classroom, but my current school has yet to move along the technological path. There is a rumor that we may get one or two in the near future. In a number of classrooms, the "newest" piece of technology is the light switch! Teachers here are resistant to change, which will make it more challenging to bring in new ideas. If anyone has more quantitative data on the benefits of interactive whiteboards, I would love to hear from you. I could then pass this along to the powers that be and start dragging the school along into the 21st century.
I agree with the comments Corrine made regarding the training. The "wow" factor is important, especially to the people who fund the purchases, but, as educators, we need to know the nuts and bolts of how to apply this to our lessons. This is where the majority of programs fail, whether in technology or some other area. We need to be trained to get the most out of the tools we have at our disposal. Also, in relation to the overuse of technology, we must remember that we can, and should, use it as a "normal" whiteboard as well.

Teresa Sumner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I recently applied for and was granted one of 15 projectors/slate boards (I don't even know the correct name for them, sorry). I have very high hopes of using this new technology to engage my first graders in a way that they've never been exposed to. However, once the "stuff" was installed, I was left without any training and told to just "run with it." Being young, and not intimidated by technology, I believe my system feels we can just train ourselves. But I feel that we are, in a way, being cheated out of using the technology to its fullest potential. I have found a wealth of powerpoint presentations on the internet, and I've made some of my own, but surely there is more to it than that. I was astounded by the research on the gain in test scores in classrooms with technology.

Scott's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Does anyone know an email system that is easy for a district to monitor student activity? My district is so worried about liability that they don't let students use a school email and it really frustrates many of the staff.

Jeremy Smith's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There are many aspects of technology that are not utilized in the classroom. Some of this responsibility is the teacher's inefficiency while some of it is due to the school district itself. One of the problems with new technology that pertains to the district and not the teacher is that the school does not fully purchase the equipment. They may just buy an interactive whiteboard but leave out the "clickers" or other tools to help make this device more effective. Another aspect was mentioned above. The school district does not support adequate training for the equipment purchased. Due to the cost of training staff, they feel that introductory training is sufficient. I do agree that technology is a great tool in the classroom but it is underutilized and many times partially used.

Becky266's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that classs rooms that have Smart Boards due have a high scores than class rooms that do not. I have seen the change in the class rooms behavior and enjoyment of lessons that makes the students learn more. Also, the test scores on benchmark test have gone up too.

Brittany Littlefield's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I was fortunate enough to have been trained to use the Whiteboard/Smartboard in one of my college courses. During my student teaching, the Smartboard served as a very effective educational tool for my 5th grade students. Their regular teacher did not know how to use the Smartboard, so when I began incorporating this new technology into their lessons, the students attention span and progress increased dramatically. Students are used to fast-paced, interactive media/video tools at home with their video game systems, computers, etc., so I found that incorporate this kind of new technology into the classroom really held their interest! Many of my students stayed after school with me to learn more about the Smartboard and how it works!

Heather Streb's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am fortunate to work within many classroom settings throughout the day being a Special Educator. The math class that I co-teach in has an interactive whiteboard. I have enjoyed seeing the progress my students have made in math with the use of the whiteboard. The students' behavior and interest in math class has increased as the year has progressed. It is a great feeling to see my students excited and motivated in math with the use of the interactive whiteboard.

Barb's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Teresa,
I, too, was told the same thing when my Promethean Board was installed, with one small difference, "There are training tools on the internet..." I used the bare basics of my board until the math department had a professional development session lead by math teachers who used it appropriately in their classrooms. I learned so much that day and can now use my board to effectively deliver instruction. If there is someone in your school who has been using the board and has learned some ins and outs, you should try seeking him or her out and questioning everything he or she knows. I have found that is the only way to learn all of those neat little 'tricks' some people use. I wish you the best of luck with that.
I was equally astounded by the research regarding test scores! I hope that one day I am able to find that 'sweet spot' in my classroom.
Barb

Beth C. 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I consider myself very lucky to be in a district that equips each classroom with a vast amount of technology (teacher computer station with document camera and audio system hooked up to a projector with a mimio board and a laptop cart with laptops assigned to each student throughout the year). Although we have had multiple trainings on how to use the technology, we haven't gotten a lot of suggestions, lessons, and real applications for our classrooms. In the 3 years of experience I've had with this equipment, I have found some exciting ways to use the technology, but the ideas mostly came from word of mouth. I never used the internet to find new uses, and I am encouraged by other responses having luck with that. Or the ideas came from diving in and attempting new things with my students. Being a relatively "new" teacher, I am sure that I am more open to experimenting with technology than other more experienced teachers in my district. I wonder the amount of money wasted on not providing additional support on the technology for teachers.

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