Heather Wolpert-Gawron

My new Interactive Whiteboard: Part I

By on August 11, 2008

Is the tale of the recent surge of Interactive Whiteboards a grade-B horror flick or a Cinderella story?  Are they the villain or the belle of the ball?  They’ve begun creeping into trendsetting classrooms, taking over precious wall space and sending those unfortunate overhead projectors of said classrooms to basement warehouses to gather dust alongside carousel slide projectors and the purpled-mimeograph machines of yesteryear.  Are they an inevitable given in tomorrow’s classroom or an expensive fad?  

These questions and many more are explored in today’s The Opening Bell.

I have just been granted the opportunity to be a pilot classroom in my district for use of the Promethean Interactive Whiteboard.  Tomorrow, in fact, I meet with the Promethean guys to determine where the board will be mounted.  The fact is, it will, most likely, be mounted on top of my current board, thus, bringing to light my first concern: how to make my cabinets (the only flat surfaces left on the walls of my classroom) a writing surface that isn’t interactive.

The NEA article ponders the pros and cons of these boards and explores just how effective they can be.  It seems obvious to me that if they are first given to teachers with little or no buy-in who keep it in their closet, the boards will be ineffective.  If the district distributes them with little or no training for the teachers, they will also be ineffective.  

As much as I am a huge proponent of technology in the classroom, I am not so arrogant as to believe that interesting technology trumps good teaching.  However, I do believe that for the most part, good teachers tend to be those who read the writing on the wall about the need to use technology in the classroom as a way to prepare their students for their own inevitable technology-rich futures.  Good teachers tend to be those who are open to learning new skills that might make their craft more engaging.  Good teachers tend to be those who don’t loose their own style while picking up new skills and tools of teaching.  

What is true, however, is that these boards, along with any new technology, come at a greater price than many districts are willing to pay.  When my district first researched these boards, we were advised the following from the Riverside Unified School District which successfully piloted and integrated the boards at every grade level and in every subject.  They said the following:

1. The equipment can’t run itself.  Teachers must learn to use it and schools must provide training for those teachers.

2. Districts must provide on site tech support for those using the boards.  As it is, teachers are going to need to always have a plan A and B for every lesson in which they plan to use the boards in order not to loose instructional time.  Decrease teacher frustration and inefficiency by providing on-site back up while the educators learn the new technology.

3. Support curriculum development.  Have curriculum developers that specialize in technology integration available so that the teachers have people to seek answers from.

4. Distribute the first wave of rollout amongst an entire department so that the workload of the learning curve is palatable and so that teachers are well supported by each other’s collaboration.

5. Provide common preps to allow for this collaboration time to occur on the clock.

6. Once a department is given the go-ahead, there are no nay-sayers allowed.  If the department is helping each other, and the school and district are committing, an individual teacher is not permitted to say “not me.”

That’s all well and good, but while I am really excited to get my board and start exploring with it, I am the only one in my department to get an Interactive Whiteboard.  We don’t have on-site support or on-site tech curriculum specialists.  Just me.  

However, I deeply believe that unless I jump into the technology pool at every presented opportunity, my own achievement gap can potentially get greater and greater.  That is, the gap between those who are comfortable with anything new and those are not gets wider with each rejected opportunity to learn; and knowing myself, I cannot afford to lose momentum in my own learning if I am to keep up with what I know I need to bring to the classroom to do my job well. 

So I’m excited.  I believe that my buy-in for the need to evolve in technology in the classroom can overcome a lot of bumps along the road.  I am late to this realization that tech is an educational given and that our job as teachers are as much about teaching our history as it is about preparing them for their future.

So I’m going to hang my Interactive Whiteboard over my old static one.  I’m going to go to Home Depot and get some material to cover my cabinets in order to write on the good old-fashioned way.  I’m going to sit at my desk at home and ponder which lessons in my hat will be the ones lucky enough to be morphed into some grander “Minority Report”-esque presentations.  And I’m going to jump into the deep end of the 21st Century classroom.

Check back in and I’ll update my progress and my relationship with this new technology. 



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  1. Mike Albert
    August 11, 2008

    After 1 year using an SMART interactive whiteboard in my 8th grade US History classroom, my feeing is that the whiteboard is definitely a “nice to have” part of my classroom. The kids enjoy coming up to the board to annotate political cartoons, photographs, maps and primary source documents. I also use the board with “Inspiration” software and have the students categorize and classify historic ideas and people. It becomes one more tool in creating an engaging classroom and encouraging collaboration among students.

    Smartboards were purchased as part of an ETT grant in our district for Science and Math teachers, but I am the only history teacher using them. I thought that the 6 points from Riverside were well stated — in fact, they would apply to any new resource, including non-technology ones. Too many of the initiatives we try in education fail, not because the ideas are deficient, but simply from flawed execution.

  2. heather
    August 12, 2008

    Absolutely right that Riverside’s points could be used for anything new. But the fact remains, however, that pioneering new technology is rarely supported so across the board. So along with a learning curve, many tech pioneers have to go at it alone. Having said that, however, I am selfish in my desire to be in the first wave of anything. I like enjoying my job and learning things when they are in their infancy is a hell of a lot easier than being in the final few, kicking and screaming my way to inevitability.

    Do you have any advice in how not to use the Interactive board like an awesome overhead? I feel like every tendency I have has me overlaying and annotating on top of text and I’m looking for advice on how to integrate it in a new way. Any thoughts?

    It’s always good to hear from you, Mike. Hope your summer went well.
    aka Tweenteacher

  3. leesepea
    August 13, 2008

    A few years ago, I was one of the first teachers on my campus to get a SmartBoard and I can’t tell you how much I love it (or how frustrated I am when it’s not working!). Students are so used to getting their information via a television set or a computer screen that the interactive aspect of this technology is priceless. More students are excited about coming up to the board to “show their work” because it gives them a chance to play with it.

    My advice is to play with the software that comes with your board as much as possible. You may find some templates or flash media you can incorporate so you’re not just using as a glorified overhead projector. Also, find out if you can import PowerPoint slideshows to your board’s software (with the SmartBoard stuff, you can). Do yourself a favor and make a master copy of whatever lesson you are using and a second copy that you will write on/interact with during class. This way you can save the second copy with the class’ work on it so they can go back and revisit what they’ve done and you still have a master copy you can use for another class period or even next year. Also take into account the fact that you will be spending ALOT more time with your back to the class while you’re writing on it – unlike the overhead projector, you can’t set it up so that you’re facing the kids and writing on a flat surface so you can see them and your writing shows up on a projected image behind you – so be prepared for a shift in your classroom management.

    Good luck! Play with it as much as you can before the kids come in – several teachers on our campus still don’t know how to use theirs because they are afraid to look technologically unskilled in front of their classes – and realize that there is a learning curve for everything. It will take a minimum of six months before it begins to feel like this technology is a seamless part of your classroom teaching.

  4. Tweenteacher
    August 14, 2008

    What great advice! Thanks for your time and comments. I’ll update periodically here on my progress so check back to see how this student is doing.
    Take care and thanks again for your thoughtful advice.
    aka Tweenteacher

  5. karen
    August 23, 2008

    I got a projecttor and one of those moveable mime things. I lve my projector but dont use the mimio much… come visit us on tctvnz.blogspot.com

  6. tweenteacher
    August 24, 2008

    Wow, I loved the website and your video on greetings for your “inclusion” week. Congrats on such great tech integration.
    aka Tweenteacher

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