Interactive Whiteboards

Teachers are using interactive whiteboards in numerous creative ways to improve education delivery. Fortunately, manufacturers provide thorough training to get teachers up and running in no time flat.

Gone are the days of chalkboards. Yep, no more squeaky chalk, dirty erasers, and omnipresent chalk dust. They’ve been replaced by technology — interactive whiteboards, to be specific.

An interactive whiteboard looks like a dry-erase board and can even be used as one. But it’s so much more than that when in interactive mode. To be sure, every manufacturer’s whiteboard boasts features that are different from its competitors’, but here are some similarities to give an idea of how powerful a teaching tool a whiteboard can be.

  • When connected to a computer, Websites can be displayed on whiteboards. When connected to a DVD player, or if a DVD is loaded into the computer, movies (or just clips) can be shown on them. Lessons can be created in such applications as Word and PowerPoint and projected onto the screen.
  • Whiteboards are equipped with intuitive and easy-to-use software. For example, the Interwrite Board by Columbia, MD-based Interwrite Learning comes with Interwrite Workspace, which includes thousands of images and resources to create interactive lessons. The Intelliboard (I-Board) from Mongtomeryville, PA-based Numonics uses Easiteach Studio, whole-class-teaching software that provides a range of cross-curricular teaching tools. The SMART Board from Calgary, Alberta-based SMART Technologies is equipped with software that allows teachers to create interactive content with more than 6,600 learning objects or add interactivity to lessons with customizable lesson activities.
  • In addition, whiteboards are equipped with softkeys that can be programmed to launch favorite Websites, applications, and files. Teachers can highlight or make notes over any program. Then they can save and print lessons and notations for review and even e-mail them to absent students.
  • With all this power, it’s no wonder that teachers are continually finding creative ways to use the whiteboards to not only deliver lessons, but to truly change the way education is delivered in the classroom. In all likelihood, what the teachers conceive is a dream-come-true for students.

1. Success for Students with Mild Learning Disabilities

“We have to have one of these,” thought teacher Rick Lay, the first time he saw a demonstration of a Numonics interactive whiteboard. Get one he did, and he now uses it daily in his classroom of students with learning disabilities at John Marshall High School in Richmond, VA.

Lay desired to maximize the whiteboard’s effectiveness. He found so many ways to incorporate the whiteboard that it is now the central component for delivering instruction.

For example, the whiteboard is used for both large- and small-group instruction. By connecting it to a document camera, it is used to introduce the activities for each period of the day, which Lay says has greatly improved classroom organization. Then the writing (annotation) tool is accessed to deliver daily education in such areas as spelling, check writing, cardinal numbers, and job applications. He saves the annotations he makes directly so that he can play them back when needed to reinforce a specific concept. “It’s a nice feature for recalling the activities we’ve done,” he stresses.

Another way Lay uses the whiteboard is to access specific applications to deliver instruction, including Word, RM Easiteach, PowerPoint, Sherston Art, and more. He explains: “Our students have trouble decoding words. I type their spelling words into the computer, transfer them to Easiteach, and review them on the whiteboard. From that, we can print study sheets for independent work.”

A third way that Lay uses the whiteboard is to access interactive Websites for both small- and large-group instruction. Some of the specific subjects he’s covered in this area include math, time, money, cursive writing, health, and maps. One he appreciates is Unitedstreaming, a digital video-on-demand service from Discovery Education. “We call up videos on such topics as job interviews, job applications, and checking,” he says. “Accessing interactive Websites saves money that would be spent on curriculum, and there are hundreds from which to choose.”

2. Success for Autistic Students

At Kettering Middle School in Ohio, Carol Flaherty, speech-language pathologist, and Jennifer Wilcox, intervention specialist, have used the SMART Board for a little more than a year to enhance special education for students with autism or autism-like behaviors.

Wilcox has set up a program on the whiteboard that mocks up the students’ daily planner. “We manipulate the words on it so they can put order to their daily schedule,” she says. “It puts the order in their mind as well as on the schedule, and it doesn’t require fine motor skills.”

Another way the whiteboard is used in Wilcox’s classroom is to read an online newspaper designed for special education students. “The students read it on the whiteboard,” she says. “They manipulate certain words by circling and underlining them in different colors for comprehension.”

The newspaper lesson comes with games, which are completed on the whiteboard so students don’t have to worry about cardboard game pieces becoming lost or damaged. Even better is that non-comprehending students watch and follow the lead of comprehending students, thus learning from social cues.

Once a week, Flaherty presents a half-hour speech lesson to four of the students using the whiteboard. She likes the fact that the students get out of their seats to approach and interact with the whiteboard, using body language to communicate, which is important for autistic children. For example, they give one another high fives on the way up and make eye contact on the way back.

Both teachers say that the students’ response to the whiteboard has been impressive. Even students they didn’t believe would be engageable are using it. “When students get a correct answer, you can see their pride,” says Flaherty. “It’s shown in their posture, which you wouldn’t see if they were seated, and in their faces as they make eye contact with one another.”

3. Success for Students with Low Test Scores

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the folks at eMINTS National Center must be blushing, because administrators at Granite School District in Salt Lake City, UT, have copied the eMINTS professional development program. Created by educators for educators, eMINTS stands for enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies.

At Granite, teachers who join the program invest 200 hours of training on their own time through two years, learning about technology tools and “best teaching” practices. When done, each teacher receives a laptop, projector, big screen, color laser printer, scanner, digital camera, one computer for every two students, and two to three Interwrite school pads.

The Interwrite school pad includes Interwrite software and gives the teacher the ability to teach interactive lessons from anywhere in the classroom and may be passed to students. It can be used with the Interwrite whiteboard or to project computer images on any surface to create an interactive whiteboard.

The goal of the Granite program is to provide an interactive learning environment that raises test scores, engages students in learning, and helps them become life-long learners. In addition, the district wants teachers to be technologically literate, notes Instructional Technology Specialist Shauna Jensen.

With 60 elementary, 16 junior high and ten high schools, the district has a huge challenge on its hands to get eMINTS into every school so, for now, the program is limited to elementary schools. It is already up and running in 11 schools having the lowest test scores. “We already show improvement in all of our language arts, math, and science scores,” says Jensen, who can’t imagine working without her Interwrite school pad. “The difference is statistically significant in some grade levels in some subjects.”

Two benefits Jensen sees are behavior improvement and the creation of a student-centered learning environment. “Classroom attendance problems have diminished, and there are less referrals to the office,” she observes. “The students take control of the presentation and the lesson. The Interwrite school pad, specifically, is their favorite thing.”

How do teachers take this technology, new to them, and get it up and running in the classroom? Through training. Just like a whiteboard’s features vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so, too, does training. Still, it’s plentiful, and manufacturers offer a number of options.

Real-time web-based training is common, and both Numonics and Interwrite offer it free. In fact, Interwrite offers different types and levels of web-based training, depending on the need, and it’s set up so the trainer goes through a specific agenda, ending with a Q&A session.

After Lay completed Numonics’ web-based training, which provided a better understanding of the whiteboard’s major features, his students were also trained, as he wanted them to be able to control the whiteboard. “The learning curve was no greater for them than it was for me or the classroom aide,” he says.

In person training is also common. Flaherty and Wilcox participated in a group training that included some of the district’s high school teachers who had also received a SMART Board. “It was pretty much communicating the flashier aspects of the whiteboard,” says Flaherty. “It gave us targets to aim for because computer literacy is a constant struggle for all of us.”

A third type of training, professional development, is more about how to effectively teach using the whiteboard and its tools. Interwrite offers a half-day and full-day class. In addition, Interwrite offers a train-the-trainer class, structured with beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels.

Whiteboard manufacturers also offer online tutorials, which provide immediate training and assistance because they’re available on demand. “I probably spend half an hour per week online because there’s so much information there,” says Flaherty.

Interactive whiteboards are transforming classroom education because the technology engages students and allows teachers to be versatile and creative in their delivery. The differences between the whiteboards are not substantial enough to cause an administrator to lose sleep in making a purchasing decision. Review several brands, and choose the manufacturer you believe will give the best on-going customer service and the model with which your teachers feel most comfortable.