Crystal clear

Stuart Roper finds interactive whiteboards can add a Wow! factor to history lessons and improve understanding

Lots of schools are blessed with brilliant ICT facilities. A tour of any school by a parent may leave them feeling that they missed out on these resources during their own education. Explaining how my interactive whiteboard works to visiting parents can follow similar lines of conversations I had with my grandfather: one afternoon was spent convincing him that for a fax to work the paper does not need to pass through the telephone line.

What is concerning is whether this technology is employed to improve learning. I recall the sketch from Monty Python's film The Meaning of Life set in a hospital. News circulates of the hospital administrator's imminent arrival and all the most technologically advanced machines are wheeled in (including the machine that goes "ping!"). Everything looks great but they have forgotten about the patient. The challenge for me was always to use the wow! factor that interactive whiteboard technology can bring but also use it as a way of deepening students' understanding of history.

History teachers engage students through the power of pictures and appreciate the quality of image that an interactive whiteboard brings. How though can whiteboard technology become truly interactive?

Our students at key stage 3 look at the Victorians through the eyes of the 1851 Great Exhibition. Could technology actually take the students inside the Crystal Palace and begin to stimulate their thinking?

On a PowerPoint file I placed a picture of the floor plan of the palace.

Students were to search the building for the locations that answered (among other things): * Where was the latest form of transport?

* Where could you catch a glimpse of the British Empire?

* Find something that few people had used before.

Checking their own copies of the floor plan, students came forward to look for the answers on the whiteboard. Each correct spot had been given a hyperlink (see right). The correct spot was identified as the cursor turned to a hand (just as it does on a link in a web page). Pressing on the link took students to a picture of the most modern locomotives on display, treated them to a rendition of "Rule Britannia" or, most memorably, allowed them to hear the sound of someone "spending a penny" (the phrase was first popularised because of the public toilets at the exhibition).

Students' understanding was then developed through questioning. They were asked, How did the steam train allow six million people to visit the Great Exhibition? Why did Britain rule the waves? Why were the toilets such an incredible invention?

Next lesson the students were busy interacting with the board again. I placed a picture in a file, this time showing the inside of the building.

The figures drawn in the picture could be made to "ask questions" by students pressing a sound recording I had made inside a small speech bubble. It was then up to the students to "become" someone standing next to the questioners and record an answer to their question. The end product was a selection of conversations that could have taken place on May 1, when the exhibition opened.

Interactive whiteboards do give history a wow! factor (they impress and go "ping!"). The quality of good old-fashioned writing that was the end product of our enquiry proved that it also helps create a deep understanding of history. Student Joanna Dymel, in her essay, wrote: "The Great Exhibition tells us the Victorians were inventive, ambitious risk takers, sitting at the top of the world yet behind the Exhibition lay a much darker side where people lived in poverty and worked hard at very young ages."

How to create a hyperlink in a PowerPoint document Click and drag a shape over the area in a picture you want to link to another file. Click on Slide Show and click on Action settings. In the dialogue box that appears highlight the Hyperlink to option. By pressing on the scroll down arrow, you are presented with options of linking to another PowerPoint slide or any file. Choose where you want the link to take you and now watch as a slide show.The trick now is to hide the link. Do this by using the drawing toolbar. The shape needs to have no fill colour and no line. This means it is there as a link but hidden.

How to create a sound recording in a PowerPoint document You will need an inexpensive microphone plugged into your computer to do this. Click on Insert. Click on Movies and Sounds. Click on Record Sound. A dialogue box appears that allows you to record your own voice. After recording, click OK and a speaker icon will appear in your file. Run as a slide show and click on the icon for playback.

* A floor plan of Crystal Palace can be seen on the Victoria and Albert Museum's site at:

Stuart Roper is a history teacher at Holyrood Community School, Somerset

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