Interactive Whiteboards

Schools and educators today are faced with an enormous challenge — how to connect with students who don’t know life without video games, the Internet and iPods. Many years ago, the premise of going up to the front of the classroom to write on the blackboard was enough to get students to pay attention. This generation of students expects more. They watch their favorite television shows in high-definition and get answers to their questions in a split second on an Internet search engine. Schools and educators around the world have started to harness high-tech teaching tools to bridge the digital divide and make sure students are engaged and excited about what they are learning in the classroom.

One of the most popular high-tech teaching tools available to schools is the interactive whiteboard. Interactive whiteboards take a high-tech product students are already familiar with — a computer — and combine it with teachers’ lessons to make learning interactive. An interactive whiteboard can be an electromagnetic or touch-sensitive board that allows teachers to conduct interactive lessons from any resource on their computer. Using an interactive pen or their finger, teachers can control how the lesson is displayed on the screen and add notes, images, and even audio/video files to make it more engaging for today’s students.

Many schools have installed interactive whiteboards in classrooms to help teachers better facilitate their lessons and engage the entire classroom. Since this is still a fairly new technology, some schools are unfamiliar with all of the advantages an interactive whiteboard can bring to their classrooms. Understanding how to leverage this powerful teaching tool can provide schools with one of the most effective ways to connect with and educate today’s students.

Make Classroom Participation Fun

Interactive whiteboards are ideal platforms for improving class participation. Because of the interactivity of the whiteboards, students are excited and eager to be called on to demonstrate their knowledge of the lesson in front of the entire class. Students who are normally bored in a typical classroom setting are more inclined to pay attention to the teacher and the subject matter being taught because they want to use the interactive whiteboard

As Tony Ross, a physics teacher at a school in Northern Ireland who uses an interactive whiteboard notes,“The whiteboard is good because you can get students who normally would not have come up to the blackboard, to come up and add something to a diagram, for example, because they like using the board.”

The collaboration from interactive whiteboard-driven classroom participation also benefits students.

“Children are no longer afraid to be wrong,” says Northern Ireland’s Carrickfergus School principal Ken Irwin about the interactive whiteboards they installed in their classrooms.“They realize that other students can add in their own thoughts and comments. So, one student can learn from the other.”

Use Visuals to Enhance Lessons

With interactive whiteboards, teachers no longer need to spend time during class drawing complicated graphics or diagrams that take away from the time he or she could devote to more beneficial tasks, like one-on-one personal instruction and interaction with the students.

Jill Barnes, a fourth grade math teacher at J.P. Ryon Elementary School in Waldorf, MD, uses her interactive whiteboard to show Websites with pictures of famous buildings to teach shapes and angles.

Another instructor at that school, Christa Witmer, recently used an interactive whiteboard to teach her third graders a lesson in geography.

“The kids were able to pick the penguins and name them and put them on the map. The more you personalize it and make it their own, the more they learn.”

Witmer also enjoys having a large screen to help all of her students see what she is discussing. Before the interactive whiteboard, she used to teach addition by demonstrating with tiny blocks in front of the classroom. Now she can use large electronic images to give better visuals to her class when teaching addition.

When teaching her class about pandas, Witmer used the interactive whiteboard to connect to the Washington, DC National Zoo’s Website and let her class watch the pandas on the “Panda Cam.”

Appeal to Different Learning Styles

Another advantage of an interactive whiteboard is the ability it gives educators to create lessons that support different learning styles. Teachers can take anything a computer can operate, like video clips, audio files, and Websites, and incorporate it into their lessons by playing or displaying the items for the entire class to view.

For example, if a teacher is conducting a lesson on storms, he or she could integrate digital photographs of thunderstorms, snowstorms, tornados, and hurricanes; show video footage of storms and then go to a Website; like The Weather Channel’s, and see a live radar of the weather in their city. The multimedia capabilities grab students’ attention and make lessons much more fun and engaging for them.

Andrew Atkinson, a technology teacher at a Northern Ireland school, believes being able to reach a diverse set of learners is the real benefit of an interactive whiteboard.

“Because this is a multimedia system, you can design lessons that allow you to use animations, video, color, and sound; each one of those appealing to the different learning styles of students,” says Atkinson.

Special Software Enhances Lessons With Notetaking Abilities and More

Interactive whiteboards paired with manufacturer-specific software give educators access to a number of tools to enhance their lessons. These software programs often contain annotation tools, image galleries, and background templates, like maps and grids.

One such feature in these software programs gives teachers and students the ability to instantaneously add their own notes to the lessons for the entire classroom to view. The lessons with the notes can be saved and printed out for students to take home and review, emailed to students, and posted to the teacher’s Website.

With this feature, teachers can transform their classrooms into more productive and interactive environments by allowing students to listen and more actively participate, instead of focusing on taking their own notes. Additionally, if a child is sick and has to stay home from school, the teacher can print copies of the day’s lessons, complete with notes, for the child to learn what material was reviewed that day.

Judy Price, an algebra teacher at West Middle School in Tullahoma, TN, frequently takes advantage of the software that came with her whiteboard to enhance her lessons.

“I can use the annotation tools to put formulas on the board or use the grid page feature to plot the growth and decay,” says Price. “In addition, because all of the notes are saved within the software, I can go back and use the image file and easily review yesterday’s lesson.”

Rob Meissner is the vice president of marketing of GTCO CalComp; manufacturer of whiteboards and software related to educational presentation products.. He can be reached at or at 410-381-6688.