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A class of its own

Teaching classification and variation, Helen Bell personalises her use of the whiteboard

My school has recently installed a number of RM Classboard interactive whiteboards along with InterWrite software. I have found that these pieces of equipment have dramatically altered my teaching style for the better. My lessons have a faster pace and are more dynamic, while still maintaining a high standard of classroom management. They also allow students to have more ownership of the lesson and activities.

As part of the departmental development plan I have updated the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority unit 7D, Variation and Classification. To use the new technology effectively, I created a number of resources to use with an interactive whiteboard. The first stage of this was to produce PowerPoint and Word documents containing all of the standard notes I would like the students to have.

The unit is divided into two main sections, variation and classification.

To introduce variation and to include some skills required for Sc1 work, I have started the section by looking and data on different characteristics.

I collect data on a number of characteristics of the class, for instance, eye colour and height, and input this onto a spreadsheet. This is then projected on to the screen for all of the pupils to see. Using Excel I can then quickly produce graphs for pupils to look at and analyse. Pupils can then be asked to add labels, such as units. I have also created a number of graphs including errors, which the pupils can be asked to highlight.

Another way this could be developed is as a "spot the difference"

competition with the rest of the class judging which graph is correct. They can also compare graphs side by side for variation, examining bar charts, line graphs and scatter graphs. This helps incorporate more SC1-type work into this section. This whole-class work on graphs helps the pupils produce more precise graphs themselves later.

For the section on classification I have developed a kind of interactive card sort which is used as a whole-class activity. In its simplest form I have a page of a Publisher document divided into two columns, the heading of one is "Vertebrates" and the other "Invertebrates". There are also various pictures of animals on the page. Pupils are then asked to approach the board and drag a picture into the appropriate column. I have also produced tables for other levels of classification (mammals fishreptiles; insects molluscs), which allows me to increase the complexity of the divisions easily.

Other activities I have used include:

* A diagram of an insect which pupils are asked to label.

* Close DARTs to be copied, which can then have the words filled in, either by me or the pupils. (DARTS are Directed Activities Relating to Text, which are where you present pupils with notes with some of the words are missing so they have to fill them in.) For revision of the whole unit I have used an interactive quiz created on PowerPoint, using a grid of 12 squares, each hyper-linked to a picture or a question. Pupils can physically get up and pick which squarequestions they want, increasing their participation. This quiz can be easily modified for the level of the class and questions can be differentiated for individuals, especially if the squares reveal pictures or prompts rather than actual questions.

Interactive whiteboards have allowed me to incorporate more visual and kinaesthetic aspects of learning into my lessons. Obviously, a number of the examples here can be easily adapted for other topics at all key stages.

For example, chemical equations can be produced in a similar way to the classification card sort and pupils can be asked to rearrange the equations, placing products and reactants on the correct side of the arrow.

Any new technology is going to have flaws and I will not deny that interactive whiteboards and digital projectors are not without theirs. It is always helpful to have a back-up, as technology is not perfect but overall the advantage of having this equipment in my classroom is immense and the feedback from the pupils has been very positive - for example, they have said that activities such as sorting animals in to groups has made them really think about the reasons for this grouping, rather than just learning what group a particular animal is in.

As we have not had the technology long, and I have only recently developed the resources, most of the staff have not used them. So far, a number of colleagues have given me positive feedback about the ideas used.

lFor more on whiteboards and software www.rm.comleaProducts for Word, Publisher, PowerPoint, Excel

Helen Bell teaches biology and psychology at Helsby High School, Cheshire

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