Breath of life
Ask Nick Lamb how an interactive whiteboard can help breathe life into a lesson and he is sure to mention the animated lungs. The lungs in question appear in an image that he projects on to a white-shirted student standing in front of the board. They demonstrate very clearly how humans draw breath - and for Lamb, they also serve to illustrate the versatility of the whiteboard, "an amazingly powerful tool".
An assistant principal of Kingshurst City Technology College (CTC) in Birmingham, Lamb is responsible for ICT in three schools in south-east England. Kings College in Guildford and Kings International College in Camberley both belong to the Kingshurst Federation of Schools and are run by 3E's Enterprises, the commercial arm of Kingshurst CTC. The firm is also managing the creation of Bexley Business Academy in Kent, a new city academy designed to equip students for business and enterprise.
"We believe in interactive whiteboards a great deal," says Lamb. So much so that at Bexley - a showpiece glass and steel building designed by Lord Foster, and due for completion next autumn - a board is being incorporated into every one of the futuristic teaching spaces as the walls go up.
The boards are SMARTboards, supplied by distributor Steljes and chosen on the basis of a very simple exercise at Federation schools. Lamb says: "A whiteboard does the job, whichever model it is. We bought various boards, and monitored which was booked and used most. The SMARTboard came out top.
"Teachers find it the easiest to use, as they don't have to access menus to do straightforward things - if you want to write in red, you just pick up the red pen. And you can use a finger to move things around rather than having to rely on a special mouse pen."
But the way a board works is only one of the keys to success. A very early whiteboard user, Kingshurst CTC decided years ago that it was going to have to develop its own learning materials in order to get the most out of the technology. It created The Academy, a full-time team of software developers who work with teachers seconded from Federation Schools to create high-quality resources, some of which are sold on the open market. The Academy has become a major success in its own right.
Lamb says: "We began by writing snippets to meet individual needs. For example, a teacher might want to deliver fingerprinting on the board as part of forensic science. We would create that for delivery on the whiteboard and also for use on PCs and Apple machines. Material you write for a board will usually work for individual students too."
Science is a major focus and The Academy's Science Online is its most high-profile project. Now employed by 120 schools, Science Online is a complete course that uses whiteboards, PCs and palmtops to support the Intermediate GNVQ in science, which Kingshurst CTC has been teaching for eight years as an alternative to the GCSE.
Lamb says: "Kingshurst is an inner-city school with a mixed ability intake and all pupils do intermediate science. Last year, 99 per cent passed - that is the equivalent of four Cs or better at GCSE. Much is to do with our approach to education, but the interactivity we get with the whiteboard also makes an enormous difference."
The Science Online offering includes hands-on training in how to use the whiteboard, which Lamb considers essential. "Show a board to most teachers and they are very keen to use it. But if you don't catch them at the start, provide support and show them how to use learning material, their enthusiasm quickly wanes."
He says that on average a teacher takes around half an hour to get to grips with the mechanics of the SMARTboard, students a couple of minutes. But staff do need a day or two to gain confidence in the software and to practise delivery techniques such as standing to one side of the board to avoid casting a shadow on the display.
Lamb says: "They need to watch experienced practitioners at work, so that they can stand there calmly, coolly and with no stutters or sticking points which get in the way of the lesson."
Lamb says he hears about many schools where a whiteboard has been installed in a room and simply abandoned as no one has been trained in its use. "I get very upset when I hear people saying that boards are not good value. The cost of installing a board can add up, but it isn't an enormous amount considering you are turning a classroom into a complete learning environment. Of course, if you are not going to use it, then it will be a complete waste of money."
Benefits of a whiteboard
* Brings alive subjects such as science and technology.
* Focus for foreign language videoconferences with schools abroad.
* Imagery appeals to students who find it difficult to relate to text.
* Professional medium which eases students' qualms about presenting to peers.
* Teachers can begin exploring the SMARTboard without having to find their way around menus.
Equipment and contacts
Nick Lamb recommends installing a board and projector permanently in a classroom, having it properly mounted and aligned rather than trying to make the equipment portable. "Teachers have no time to set it all up before a lesson. They are much happier just to swap rooms. A projector will cost around pound;2,000 and the choice depends on the ambient lighting in the room. Discuss your needs with a good supplier who understands this."
SMARTboards cost between pound;795 and pound;1,495, depending on size
SMART. BETT stand G40. Supplied by Steljes. Tel: 08000 151603. www.steljes.co.uk
Developed at a cost of pound;500,000, Science Online is a computer-based teaching package designed by teachers for use in schools and further education colleges and training. Demonstration days are held regularly in Birmingham.
pound;2,995 per school per annum, including support
Tel: 0121 788 1001. www.sciencelessons.co.uk.