Dorothy Walker finds Palmer's Cross Primary in the Midlands embracing whiteboard technology, while Campbell School in Dagenham prefers something a whole lot bigger
They might not use their interactive whiteboard for PE, but in every other lesson Ken Wycherley's pupils can be found jumping for joy at the treats the whiteboard holds in store. "The board is wonderful," says the energetic Wycherley, echoing their enthusiasm.
Wycherley is Year 6 teacher and ICT co-ordinator at Palmer's Cross Primary in Wolverhampton. Every morning before his class arrives, he searches the internet for new learning material and the results are inspirational.
Activities on the board feature in every lesson. When it is time for maths, a volunteer will come up to the front and draw angles or help the class generate fractions. Budding plant biologists try to explaining photosynthesis with the help of step-by-step cartoons. A discussion on World War II is brought to life with wartime newsreel footage, the sound of air-raid sirens booming round the classroom. And as they prepare for a story-writing session, pupils can watch their favourite authors explaining how not to lose the plot. "We even use the whiteboard for art," says Wycherley. "We are doing Monet at the moment, and I've just pulled some of his work off the internet to display in class."
All schools in Wolverhampton are linked to a high-speed broadband communications network, thanks to a local authority initiative. It was this far-sighted move which prompted Palmer's Cross to install interactive whiteboards in every classroom, to make the most of the rich resources available.
"With broadband, you can use high-quality, streaming video direct from the internet," says Wycherley. "Lots of people are now creating this kind of content, and we wanted it in our school. So last autumn we replaced blackboards with whiteboards."
The school makes extensive use of Espresso, the educational media channel that brings together curriculum resources from TV, newspapers and the web. "Espresso has a wealth of video material," says Wycherley, "including current affairs items with special commentaries aimed at primary children. Everything is linked back to the curriculum and I can see it all at a glance in Espresso's staffroom section."
Espresso looks as if it is working on the web, but information is actually stored on a school computer for high-speed retrieval. Weekly updates are sent over the network to Palmer's Cross by the LEA, which subscribes to the service.
The school's whiteboards are IE Pro Digital models from Wolverhampton supplier Interactive Education (IE). Wycherley says: "We chose them not only because local support was available, but also because IE are now creating learning materials for use with the board. Other whiteboard suppliers didn't seem so strong on that front."
The first offering from IE's new Curriculum Resources Division is Getting the Point, a series of learning and teaching resources due for completion early next year. It will cover the entire curriculum for key stages 1-4.
The feel of the IE board also appealed. "The surface is nice and hard, and you do everything with an electronic pen," explains Wycherley, "With some you can use your finger as a mouse, but that doesn't feel right to me."
The boards employ digital technology, which IE says is unique in this country. "Some boards rely on pressure to send a signal to the computer - you press with a pen or finger, and the action brings the surface into contact with another, sub-surface layer, triggering the electronics that are built into the board," says IE's Richard Morris. "But our boards have a rigid surface, and you use an electronic pen to transmit electromagnetic signals via the board to the computer. Essentially the technology is in the pen, not the board - and it is much cheaper to replace a pen than a board. What's more, the rigid surface makes the board much more resistant to damage from knocks or sharp objects."
The boards feature "softkeys", 20 on-screen keys that can be used to do things such as highlighting, annotating or opening a web page, and which individual teachers can adapt to their own needs. IE provided initial training for Palmer's Cross staff, and Wycherley has followed up with a series of sessions on how to get the most of out of Espresso and the resources he finds on his early-morning trawls of the net.
"Teachers just don't have time to wade through all the material out there," he says. "My aim is to provide lots of examples of interactive activities they can do with their children, and encourage them to try things out."
Wycherley admits that he is still on a "big learning curve", and is currently experimenting with the colour schemes he uses on the board. "Some colour combinations work well, others less so. When you are writing, a white background can be too glaring. My current favourite is yellow writing on a black board."
RESOURCES AND CONTACTS
IE Pro Digital interactive whiteboards cost between pounds1195 and pounds1395, depending on size. Interactive Education: www.interactive-education.co.uk; 01902.824161.
Espresso Education: www.espresso.co.uk; 0208.237.1200
Wolverhampton Grid for Learning: http:granada.wolverhampton.gov.uk
WYCHERLEY'S TOP WEBSITES
BrainPOP: American source of movies which help explain science and technology concepts. Subscription-based, but teachers may use two free clips a day. www.brainpop.com
ICTeachers: wealth of free resources created and tested by teachers around the country. www.icteachers.co.uk
BBC RevisionWise: games, activities, fun facts and quizzes to help with SATs preparation. www.bbc.co.ukeducationrevisewise
Channel4 Bookbox: top children's authors talk about their work and offer writing tips. www.channel4.co.uklearningprimary.html
Makes the most of the investment in broadband Showcase for stimulating, video-rich resources Board acts as exciting activity centre in almost every lesson Interactive websites can be employed with confidence Supplier-sourced learning materials will complement board