In some classrooms, interactive whiteboards go unused or are used as a place to hang posters and student work.
To make the most of the interactive whiteboards, experts suggest schools identify teachers who are excited about the technology as “early adopters” and make training relevant.
“The goal should be student-centered instruction, moving past using it as a glorified overhead projector,” said Shayla Rexrode, manager of education solutions for SMART Technologies, a whiteboard manufacturer.
John Mein, a sixth-grade language arts teacher in Kerrville, Texas, used to prepare students for vocabulary tests by having them make flash cards. Then he got an interactive whiteboard.
Now a typical vocab lesson starts with animated spiders dropping down from web strings. Next, pumpkins roll on-screen, and then witches and ghosts fly in. Mein’s class breaks into teams, and students take turns chucking Koosh balls and firing Nerf darts at the board. When one of them hits a spooky image, a question page pops up. If one team gets the wrong answer, the next team can swoop in to steal the points.
After class, Mein posts videos of the games to his blog and to YouTube so students can use them to study. “They love it,” Mein says. “They get on me if I don’t post the video.”
Meanwhile, some teachers in Mein’s district use their interactive whiteboards—which can cost up to thousands of dollars—as a place to hang posters. They’re not alone. A representative from a major interactive whiteboard manufacturer tells of the time she came into a school and found a board with student work stapled all over it. James Hollis, a former teacher who now trains educators on how to use interactive whiteboards, became acquainted with the technology when he found one of the boards sitting unused in a supply closet.
Even teachers who use the interactive whiteboards often don’t realize their full potential.
They’re content to simply scan in worksheets or show slides without incorporating the technology into lessons.
At their best, interactive whiteboards can get students out of their seats to lead their own learning. But, like all technology, the boards are only as good as the people using them. And the people using them are only as good as their training. There are ways to ensure that you’re giving your staff the tools they need to make the most out of your district’s investment.
Identify Your “Early Adopters”
“I’m a nerd,” says Hollis. “looking at how to use something new—doing the research and learning the software, that’s my bread and butter.”
Mein is the same way. “I absolutely love technology, so I’m one of those who will click on things. I’m not afraid to make a mistake, so I can learn what to do and what not to do.”
As an administrator, you can’t replicate that attitude in your other teachers, but you can leverage it. Before becoming an independent technology consultant, Hollis wrote grants to get more interactive whiteboards into his district and then trained other teachers on how to use them. Mein’s district sent him to get advanced training, and now he leads the district’s whiteboard PD sessions.
“I attend every one I can,” says Anita Kunz, a teacher in Mein’s district. “We don’t have much time as teachers to learn new techniques. Someone showing you something is so much faster than reading through pages and pages of information.”
Kunz says she was intimidated by her whiteboard at first. Without Mein’s guidance, she would only use the technology “minimally.” Now she raves about it.
“This will be my 30th year coming up, and we can get stale,” Kunz says. “It’s opened up a whole new ball game for me. I feel like I’ve done as much learning as the kids. It’s a great tool.”
“You’ll always find a core set of teachers who are really excited about the board and go out and find resources right away,” says Hollis. “You let other teachers see what they’re doing. That’s huge.”
And don’t forget that your district’s students may be more tech-savvy than their teachers. Shannon Kula, a consultant for whiteboard maker Promethean, says some districts assign teachers a “buddy” student to bring with them to PD sessions. “The students always remember the training,” she says.
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