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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

A Clean Slate: Interactive Whiteboard Makes Lessons Snazzy

There's no reason to be bored with this new kind of board.
Douglas Cruickshank
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Interactive-whiteboard aficionado Sue Holland.

Credit: Elena Dorfman

Do you fit one of these scenarios? You've acquired an interactive whiteboard for your classroom, or you're about to. It's been installed, or it soon will be. You've attended a workshop on using the board or gone through an online tutorial, or a colleague has shown you the basics. Now what? How do you and your students make the most of this grand gadget?

Recently, during a morning prep period, Sue Holland, an energetic seventh-grade science teacher at Miller Creek Middle School, in San Rafael, California, answered that question and several others. Holland, a semifinalist for the 2005 California Teacher of the Year award, has been teaching for thirty-four years. This is the third year she's used an interactive whiteboard in her classroom and her enthusiasm is unrestrained. "It's very powerful learning," she says, "very powerful learning!"

Several companies market interactive whiteboards, including Hitachi, Panasonic, Mimio, Interwrite, Promethean, and Smart Technologies, which makes Smart Board, the brand Holland uses.

"Just creating lessons is so fun," Holland says. "I used to sit with the old plan book and write, 'I'm going to do this and this.' But with the Smart Board, you get to design your lesson plans using their tools. You can be as creative as you want to be.”

Credit: Elena Dorfman

And Holland has done just that. “I can insert links to the Internet, or go right to a streaming video on the Web,” she explains. “During a lesson, if a student asks, 'What about this?' I can say, 'Let's take a look' and go online to view it, instead of just talking about it. Eighty percent of us are visual learners -- I do all my lessons now as Smart Board lessons, which is cool."

And Holland isn’t the only one who thinks it's cool. The students use the board in a variety of ways, too, individually and in groups. "I just stand back, and the kids are engaged,” she explains. "For example, we study diseases of the human body in seventh grade. The kids will research a disease, create a PowerPoint presentation, and then share it with the class. They can change their presentation while standing at the board, or write on the board if someone asks a question."

The board can be just as beneficial when applied to math, history, art, physical education, or any other subject. "The software comes with K-12 curriculum built into it," Holland says. "Any software you can put on your laptop can be used with your Smart Board."

Has she had any problems with the board?

"It's technology!" Holland says with a laugh. "Sometimes it will just do something strange. But I love technology, even when it doesn't work."

Accessing Web-based software (such as Google Earth) and other Web resources further expands the potential for using interactive whiteboards in class. Indeed, the list of possibilities is endless. Here are just a few:

  • Digital storytelling.
  • Creating, viewing, and annotating student PowerPoint and multimedia presentations in real time.
  • Showing streamed or downloaded videos.
  • Using online map and satellite imagery to teach geography.
  • Displaying artwork or online museum presentations.
  • Demonstrating moviemaking techniques.
  • Viewing and analyzing competitive sports and physical education activities.
  • Teaching students how to conduct research on the Internet.
  • Working collaboratively on writing and editing exercises, math lessons, and science experiments.
  • Instructing the class on the use of a software program, keyboarding techniques, and other computer skills.

"Anybody can use it -- it’s limitless," Holland says. "Unless the students are engaged in a project at their desks or they're taking a test, we use the board throughout the day, even if I just show them a short video. I use it all the time!"

Douglas Cruickshank is the former editor of Edutopia.org.

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How can educators, students, schools, and communities go green? Find additional resources about sustainability, conservation, and other earth-friendly practices and curricula on Edutopia's Environment Education page.

Comments (53)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Derek Ortiz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is my first ever post on a blog site like this, so please forgive me if I don't go into much detail. I don't know really what to expect from this post.
Personally I think that smart boards are a great resource, but can't be used for every lesson. I would like to think of them as a way for students to feel involved and interested the particular lesson, but if you find yourself using it in every lesson it will just become bland. Students will eventually become saturated with the "WOW" effect from technology and it will just become another boring learning tool in the class.
I'm not in any way against the use of smart boards, but they need to be used sparingly. If they aren't it won't be as fun for the students, thus making them less enjoyable for the students.

Kristy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I recently wrote and will be receiving a grant to purchase an interactive whiteboard. My principal is leaning toward the Promethean system, which is very expensive. It definitley has a lot of bells & whistles but we all know technology equipment is outdated by the time we take it out of the box. If anyone has an opinion about the best bang for the buck for an interactive whiteboard in the classroom, I'd be happy to hear from you.

Al's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I use the Notebook software with my Smartboard to teach all my lessons. It takes more careful planning, but the presentation is more engaging and varied than what I did on the old chalkboard. I especially like the ability to link slides to the internet and other files on the server.

Sarah K's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I know with Smart Board and Promethean, you can download lessons that teachers have already made. How does this work with the Polyvision board...I just got one and am unsure how to find lessons that are made for that board. Thanks!

Nancy Sturm's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Sarah. If you can contact me I can put you in touch with a PV Education Consultant who will be able to work with you on getting you the lessons you need. My email is nsturm@polyvision.com.
Thanks so much and I look foward to hearing from you:)
Have a great Friday.

Joe's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have been looking for really good software to use with the whiteboard, there is not that much high quality software out there. Although one piece of software I did find, and found it very good to use with the Interactive Whiteboard is Know Your USA for teaching all about the states.

We use the software that came with the Smart board, or I create lessons with PowerPoint. Also I often visit wikipedia to get really good photos to bring my ppt presentations to life.

One tool I use more and more is Google Earth, this is great for my class, and works really well.

Mark Ford's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I come from a tech background, including four years as the webmaster for a TV station, so you may be a little surprised to hear my take on "Smart" boards. I think they're interesting, and maybe I would even want one in my room if my school district didn't require that it come with 65 hours (literally) of training which completely ignores my technology background. But I have to say, I'm doing just fine with the white boards I have. I shoot everything we do (concept maps, lessons, even the lesson plans) using my cell phone camera and keep it on a flash drive. This "digital archive" can be accessed by students and forms a handy scrapbook of the year. I have an LCD projector in my room, but I find that I use my 22" flat panel monitor much more often. I just wish folks could see that there are times when pencil and paper really are the appropriate "21st century technology"... :)

Mark Ford's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm a techie and a gearhead - my Freshmen are surprised by some of the stuff I've done with my life over the years. But this is the truth - absolutely.

Toni's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I understand that you may be a little "put off" especially since your school district requires 65 hours of training.
All boards are not created equal! It is all about resources and the students.
Look at PROMEATHEAN Planet. It was made "BY TEACHER FOR TEACHERS" not the board room or a company who jumped on the wagon to make money.
Can your students go up to the 22" flat panel and use a working protractor, a ruler?
Just look and you will be hooked!

Toni's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Smart is a good board but look at PROMETHEAN Planet. If you want resources they partner with Brainpop and many others. The resources at PROMETHEAN are FREE

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