Interactive whiteboards can become white elephants or glorified blackboards unless teachers are given support and training in how to use them. But thanks to the Interactive Whiteboard Pilot, all UKschools will soon have access to both via a website.
Headlands primary in York is in one of 30 "associate LEAs" that have been using the pilot materials. Headteacher Mike Schofield believes that the whiteboards' vivid visual images sharpen children's thinking. And because the children use images to explain their thought processes, teachers can assess them better.
Take spotlighting, one of the many techniques explored in the pilot.
Pupils' attention is fixed on the image of an eye within a small area of the whiteboard. It looks rather sinister. The Headlands teacher asks them how they would describe it. "Nasty", "evil", "hard" come the replies. The teacher enlarges the spotlight slowly, revealing more and more of a figure, which is ultimately shown to be a Viking warrior.
The language elicited along the way includes "bristles", "sharp teeth", "yelling", "charging like a bull" and "breath like garbage". The teacher writes the words on the whiteboard around the expanding picture.
The class goes on to do a writing session on the topic of Vikings. Again, this is carried out on the whiteboard, which enables text to be highlighted and manipulated easily.
In one maths class at the school, the board is being used for trigonometry; the teacher changes an equilateral triangle into a right-angled triangle at the swish of the whiteboard pen. Children can contribute to what's going on on the board using A5-sized laptop units. "I don't know a better way of pushing understanding of shape," says Mr Schofield.
Elsewhere, children are using the whiteboard and laptop equipment to explore division. With prompting from the teacher, they help a monster gulp down 12 wasps, two at a time at first and later five at a time until they arrive at the concept of a number being divisible by another.
Other techniques include showing a video and then stills from it to reinforce key facts and to ask questions. Children can also devise captions for the stills and prioritise the pictures. Should the teacher want to go on the internet, he or she can do so without losing momentum and show the results on the whiteboard.
At other times whiteboards are used simply to store information from a lesson; the teacher can show it at the beginning of the next lesson to refresh children's memories. Sound, too, can be added. Headland teachers are fond of using the James Bond theme tune when they spotlight a number or other piece of information.
Headlands has Promethean interactive whiteboards in seven of its 10 classrooms. Mr Schofield says they are used for long periods in a high proportion of lessons and that they make planning and organising resources much easier. Parallel classes are now building up shared banks of resources which, says teacher Sue Holroyd, "was hard work initially, but now I find I'm not planning as much - just amending and tweaking". Deputy head Sue Atkinson adds: "I now have all my resources at my fingertips for every lesson."
* The Interactive Whiteboard Pilot started in September 2002, concentrating on Years 5 and 6 in six local authorities. The 2003-04 focus is on Years 2 and 3 in five LEAs. In addition, 30 "associate LEAs" are using the pilot materials. From April, all LEAs and schools will have access to advice and materials on the currently restricted website www.ictpilots.org.uk