Board work, not boring

9th May 2003 at 01:00
Ever more schools are buying electronic whiteboards, but what can you do with them? Primary teacher Lee Carson has some ideas

The children were all very impressed when our new class interactive whiteboard, from Smart Technologies, arrived and was attached to the wall. Having decided in unison that it was "cool", their first question was unexpectedly a bit of a stumper. "What does it do?"

All I knew was that they had looked useful at the Scottish Education and Teaching with Technology show, being demonstrated by keen salespeople. Now I suddenly had the responsibility of turning this expensive piece of hardware into a justifiable teaching tool, with my headteacher looking eagerly over my shoulder all the while.

I began by using it simply as a screen for a projector connected to a laptop. Even without using the board's interactivity, having the ability to project material made an immediate difference.

I made some presentations of the multiplication tables (mainly for the sake of reminding myself how to do it) and ran them in the background during maths time.

It didn't take me long to realise the influence it was having. If any of the children happened to gaze around the room in a moment of reduced attention, they invariably looked to what was happening on the screen. It was bright! It was colourful! And it was changing! What's more, under their breath some of the children were saying the tables.

Capitalising on this, I turned it into a game to be played at the beginning of each maths set. I played the animated show and the children took turns to race the computer: if they finished saying the table before it had all come up on the screen, they won. It was motivation in a way I couldn't manage with the blackboard.

I used presentations to organise the children's day and present them with tasks. We went online to look at websites together; they helped us to discuss world news events and to find pictures to illustrate class readers.

The ability to display from the laptop helped to improve teaching information and communications technology too. Instead of having to wait to use the school's computer suite at our set time each week, I was able to demonstrate the lesson in the classroom beforehand, thus giving the children the maximum possible computer time.

The school uses the site to let the pupils build web pages, share work with one another and communicate with other schools worldwide. In class I am able to visit the pupils' pages so that we can congratulate them on the content or make suggestions for improvement.

I was aware that, at first, I wasn't using the board's interactivity to its fullest, but help was at hand. There is an increasing amount of software being designed with interactive whiteboards in mind. Games with big buttons and minimal typing and games that involve grouping and dragging objects all lend themselves to the board's abilities.

Maths is an area of the curriculum where things have been transformed. I was lucky enough to be given an evaluation copy of Bulletpoint Presentations' CD-Rom of maths games. It combines the fun of demonstrating something on the board with good-looking computer graphics and a hint of competition.

One game involves spinning a number wheel and placing the resulting digits into order to get the highest possible number. Soon the children were explaining to each other where to put high and lower numbers and even the chances of certain numbers appearing.

Another game involves choosing a number from a grid without allowing your opponent to choose a higher neighbouring number. The children were sometimes thinking three or four moves ahead.

Because the whole class was involved, discussion and debate led to ideas and theories being shared in a way that does not happen when the children are on individual computers.

The board comes with Smart Notebook, a software facility for writing on to slides using four pens and the touch-sensitive board. It means web pages can be annotated and highlighted and notes can be made by hand, converted to text and added to documents.

As the teacher responsible for the school's website, I began to add pages with specific teaching in mind. Some show examples of writing to demonstrate levels A-E in a number of styles. When teaching writing now, I can call up the relevant web page and use the special pens to draw attention to the relevant area for the lesson.

I have drawn diagrams with blank labels. The children can write in the labels, print the screen, then reload the blank diagram for the next group.

With seven classrooms now equipped with interactive boards, all the time we are finding new ways to use them. Some staff members have started to devise their own software, using simple drawing packages in Primary 1 to design matching and grouping activities. Groups of children can work at the board to do these.

The interactive boards have quickly become part of our daily life. When building work forced my class to the huts, I managed to smuggle along my laptop and projector. Using a white wall as a screen, I was explaining a task and instinctively reached for an interactive whiteboard pen tray that wasn't there and scraped my fingers on the wall.

Lee Carson teaches at Queensferry Primary, Edinburgh

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