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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."

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Mary's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

That does sound frustrating. I think that it is one thing to decide a school district is going to implement technology but quite another to completely follow through and make sure that all parties are equipt to do so. I think it's great that you are taking initiative to educate yourself, though!

Mary's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In today's society it seems unrealistic and almost irresponsible not to incorporate technology into schools and classrooms. I do agree that there needs to be a balance. Nicolas talked about how much his students enyoed working with the Smart Boards and I think that often times using technology is an exciting change of pace for many students. I can imagine that it must be frustrating as Ashlee pointed out when you are not given adequate training/resources to sufficiently implement different forms of technology in your classroom, though.

Carrye DeCrane's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a substitute teacher. Sometimes I am caught on an assignment in a classroom with unfamiliar technology. I've completed my teacher preparation work only last summer so you'd think I would be totally up on all the new toys! But here's the amazing thing: the regular classroom teachers who have fully integrated the Smart Boards do not shy away from leaving lessons for the sub that use this tool. What I am finding is that the regular classroom teacher is either leaving detailed directions or a handy student assistant to step me through the process. Through my various assignments, I am being introduced to new and different uses for the technology that I had not learned in college. The applications for different subjects outside my content area are helpful, too. I am getting plenty of ideas about not only what does work but what might work. My request to you all is not to shy away from putting your best lessons out there for the subs, especially if there is a sub you work with regularly and trust not to blow up your equipment. It has been a really valuable and varied experience. You probably don't realize that your technology and your classroom is a resource to more than just your own students.

Corinne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is my fifth year teaching, but only my second year at my current school. I was so impressed when I learned that this school had a Smartboard in every classroom, but I quickly learned that not many teachers knew how to effectively use it. This past summer, I took a training course through my district. I learned many new things and shared them with my department at the beginning of the school year. Unfortunately, I know that most of them still do not use the board for anything more than a convenient power point screen. It is very frustrating to know that the school invested so much money in this technology but does not hold anyone accountable for using it. While the training course that I took was very helpful, it was also basic. My school could benefit so much from short, frequent training courses. I think that the method you suggested sounds very effective -- teach one tool/technique, check that it is being incorportated, then teach another tool. I also think that sharing ideas with other teachers is important. I think a big component in learning to use a Smartboard to its full potential is to see how others are incorporating it into their classrooms. I think that if my school invested more time in this type of training, they would see a big payoff for their technology investment.

Corinne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Marzano states three factors that must be in place in order to make instruction using interactive white boards effective. I think that the second and third factors, which emphasize using this technology as a way to administer formative assessments and then use the information gathered to drive instruction, are often forgotten. In the interactive white board training sessions that I have attended, the focus is on learning the "bells and whistles" as Marzano called them. I read two articles here on the Edutopia web site regarding interactive white boards, and they also focused on the "wow" factor rather than on how to incorporate this technoloy into sound instructional practices. It sounds to me like Marzano is stressing that interactive white boards can make instruction interesting for students, but it should also be used as a tool to help educators to create quick and effective formative assessments. The board alone is no magic solution. I think it is important for schools to consider this when providing training for interactive white boards. It is important for teachers to learn all of the capabilities of the board, but lets not forget that education is more than a flashy show. Schools need to provide training that addresses all three of Marzano's requirements for successful use of the interactive board.

Carman Daddario's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I, too, was very interested in possibly purchasing the Mimio for my classroom. My home school purchased 12 SmartBoards for next year, but because our fifth grade has been relocated to a local middle school due to overcrowding, I am one of the unfortunate ones who will not receive a SmartBoard. After doing some research, you may want to ask for a grant from your school or county, especially on a teachers salary! The smallest Mimio board (67" x 48") goes for about $1,000. That is strictly for the board alone and doesn't include any of the accessories to really help you make the most out of your time with your students. You can find some more info about prices and all the parts to go with a Mimio board at Edutopia. Hope this helps!

MIchelle Mitchell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think this research is very inspiring. I do agree that technology should be used on a regular basis and it does hold a great amount of interest for students. I am wondering though, what about the costs and availability of resources? I know that resources at my school are very limited in the area of technology and with increasing budget deficits, is there a means to getting the tools?

Stacie Lassiter's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After reading many of the responses to this topic, I became quite jealous! You all are so fortunate to have the interactive white boards in your classrooms. The only technology I have in my classroom is a computer which is for my personal use. There are no interactive white boards in my school. Just a bunch of overhead projectors with burned our bulbs! I agree that it will definitely enthuse students in the classroom, but I wish I could experience this first hand. I saw a couple different responses discussing grants that could possibly get myself, or another teacher in my school, one of these boards. If anyone knows of somewhere that I might be able to find out a way I could try and get these incorporated within my school, please let me know. Thanks!

Heather WolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

...a world where using technology isn't engaging because it's an "exciting change of pace" but because we all use it as a common language. Thanks for your comments. Check back again!
-Heather WG

Ashley Coughlin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I recently obtained a whole lot of technology in a very short amount of time. In the two years I have been teaching, our school added projectors to every room, digital visualizers, smart boards, and CPS remotes. Needless to say, I was a bit overwhemled. But I took it one step at a time. We haven't been offered much staff development on the equipment (besides instructions on how to use it). My greatest resource has been the internet. There are so many ideas and pre-made lessons that have worked great and allowed me to get my feet wet. The worse thing I could do is not prepare myself with the equipment and end up confusing my students and lose their interest.

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