The words “interactive whiteboard” or “smartboard” have been tossed around in school board meetings and classrooms frequently for the better part of a decade, but only in the past few years have these modernized chalkboards really caught on in actual classrooms.
No longer a fledging technology, interactive whiteboards are appearing in more and more classrooms, as teachers seek to engage kids and teach them using this vibrant and active technology.
So, what are they?
Understanding an IWB
An interactive whiteboard (one popular brand is Smartboard) is a large, interactive display that is connected to a computer. Users can control it with instruments such as a stylus or pen, or in some cases, even fingers. It offers a way to manage learning information on a large scale.
Basically, the device takes the concept of a basic chalkboard or whiteboard and allows users to manipulate the displayed information – without rewriting and erasing. For instance, in some cases, equations can be dragged and dropped in new places or otherwise rearranged. But the interactive whiteboard’s power goes far beyond this simple math example.
Opening up Creativity
Betsy Weigle, a fourth-grade teacher and district Smartboard trainer from Washington state, said that interactive whiteboards offer an opportunity for students to “gain hands-on experience with the curriculum if a teacher implements usage correctly. However, truly getting technology into the hands of students (which should always be the primary goal) means more than allowing them to manipulate images designed by the teacher.”
Over the past year, Weigle has used student assignments that involve creating Smart lessons and related activities. “After a brief overview using my classroom computers, I send them home with a USB bracelet provided by the vendor that contains the design software. The creativity of the projects I get back is amazing! Students have added not only images, but sounds (sometimes their own voices) and have even drawn in their own cultural influences,” said Weigle.
In South Carolina, a fourth-grade class made creative use of the interactive whiteboard technology with an arts-integrated lesson called “My Contribution to the Circle Unbroken.”
Teaching artist Lisa Rentz worked with a classroom teacher on the group story-writing experience. Students read the book Circle Unbroken and then used it as inspiration for an original group story. “[The teacher] and I used the Smartboard to take notes, viewable by all, of the students' ideas, words and decisions, as we went through the story-writing process-- brainstorming, developing characters, commencing the plot, dialogue and word choice,” said Rentz.
Because the notes were on the interactive whiteboard, they were able to save them, print them and use them for outlines and handouts. “The Smartboard pages were printed out every day as the story grew. Each night I typed up everything for handouts the next day, and then resumed with the board until the conclusion of the story, which the students wrote individually,” said Rentz.
Above all, interactive whiteboards are a way to enrich and enhance curriculum for students. The technology brings lessons alive in a way that wasn’t possible 20 years ago. At Saint Pious X Catholic School in Greensboro, North Carolina, 17 interactive whiteboards are being used across subjects including math, science, history and foreign languages. “The school has incorporated the use of Discovery Education streaming, an online service that brings lessons into the classroom with the Smartboard technology. Teachers also use the Smartboard for technology demonstrations, collaborating on class projects, and games,” said a spokesman for the school.