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Blog posts and Twitter conversations have sparked passionate discussions about interactive whiteboards in the classroom over the past few weeks.
Some educators say they're a waste of money that could have been used on personal computing devices.
"I understand the arguments against these things," said Doug Johnson, director of media and technology at Mankato Area Public Schools in Minnesota. "They are an investment, and if the proper training and the proper use isn't expected of them, they are expensive computer screens. But isn't that true of any technology?"
Other educators say their students like interacting with the boards as they're learning.
But regardless of what people think of them, school districts across the country have interactive whiteboards in their classrooms. And they want educators to use them to enhance instruction.
Find out what two districts and one school are doing to support educators as they teach with interactive whiteboards.
Whether you're buying 500 tablets or interactive whiteboards, your initiative will fail if you don't have a professional development plan, said Kyle Pace, instructional technology specialist at Lee’s Summit School District in Missouri, a SMART board showcase district.
In his district, the Instructional Technology Department requires teachers to go through a school year of personalized, one-on-one professional development when they get an interactive whiteboard. Instructional technology specialists meet with teachers in their classrooms regularly and build upon what they learned during previous sessions.
"My ultimate goal is for them to feel as comfortable as possible creating some of those activities or even teaching their students how to create some engaging learning activities for the rest of the class to enjoy," Pace said. "That's even better."
Sometimes the district gives the boards to teachers who don't really want them. While they're not happy about it, they still have to go through the professional development. But when teachers aren't open to trying to use them, that's frustrating and makes Pace's job more difficult.
He wants to say to them, "You've been given this great tech in your classroom, and you're not even willing to try and see how it can change your instruction for the better."
During conversations throughout the year, he reminds teachers that the interactive whiteboards aren't just there for them to teach from. Students should interact with the board as much if not more than their teachers.
While their boards only allow one student to interact with it at a time, teachers can use a wireless or tablet device alongside it for other students. The newer boards do support multiple students.
At Heritage Middle School, a part of Volusia County Schools, every academic teacher has a Mobi mobile interactive whiteboard this year. Instead of being stuck up front, teachers can move while they're still teaching and hand the whiteboards to students, said Kristy Kuches, academic coach at the Florida school.
Some teachers who don't know how to use the boards effectively yet like to sit or stand still. And that's not the point, Kuches said.
Usually these teachers complain about student engagement and discipline issues, so Kuches sends them to another class to observe teachers who use the boards effectively. If they're not comfortable watching someone else, she models a lesson for them in their class.
"Normally once they see the difference when you're mobile, then they're sold," Kuches said. "It's worth getting up and exercising a little."
While they're teaching on the move, they check on students who are struggling or acting up. Just standing next to them solves many problems with student engagement and discipline.
In grade level teams, teachers create and share lessons. And while they're putting in their time up front to create them, they'll get that time back tenfold because they won't have to recreate them the next year or grade them this year.
On the boards, science teachers have their classes do virtual labs that would be too dangerous for sixth-graders to physically do. Using a feature on the board, a math teacher had students figure out how many apples were in bags.
If the equation was 4x + 9 =11, the 9 and 11 represented apples, and the 4 represented lunch bags. The students had to balance the items on the scale as they solved for the variable "x." That was probably the best use of the board, Kuches said.
"Before you know it, they're doing two-step equations like it's nothing."
In Mankato Area Public Schools, teachers work together in grade or subject-level teams to create a district-wide repository of lessons. Because these lessons take a long time to build, teachers are better off splitting up the work, Johnson said. And by using activities on the software that comes with the board, educators are creating a multimedia experience.
The key to this tool is interactivity, he said. While having interactive whiteboards doesn't guarantee that teaching will be more interactive, they can help teachers who already like a more interactive classroom experience.
Almost five years ago, the district decided to put an interactive whiteboard, mounted projector and speakers in all classrooms. It also hired a media specialist and dedicated SMART board trainer to conduct classes and help create the lesson repository.
Each year, 20 percent of teachers received the technology in their classes after they went through an application process. In the application, teachers shared ideas of how they would use the tools and how willing they were to participate in four hours of training.
Going forward, Mankato Area Public Schools is creating a set of expectations for technology use that will become part of a teacher evaluation form. This evaluation process will help the district see whether teachers are using the Charlotte Danielson Framework for teaching. And if they are, the district wants to know if they're taking advantage of the technology they have available to them.
"What we're looking for is good teaching here, we're not really looking for good technology use. We're looking for good teaching that happens to use technology."
Two recent blog posts on interactive whiteboards:
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