Meet Whiteboard Wendy

1st November 2002 at 00:00
Dorothy Walker talks to a pioneer of interactive whiteboard teaching and sees how the technology gives primary maths lessons a whole-class, inclusive feel.

The smiling frog says: "Guess my missing numbers!" and the children at Yerbury Primary School are only too happy to oblige. They set to work, eagerly making their first foray into one of the most challenging areas of mathematics. Thanks to their skilled teacher - and some help from a high-tech whiteboard - what might otherwise be a tricky lesson promises to go down a treat.

Wendy Hick is teaching Year 6 at Yerbury, in London's Islington, and today's lesson focuses on solving mathematical puzzles and explaining and predicting number patterns and relationships. "It is very challenging to teach," admits Wendy. "But the interactive whiteboard makes it a lot easier."

All eyes are on the big board, which displays everything that happens on the classroom computer. The children are well-versed in working with the whiteboard and sharing maths activities with the whole class. They write, they draw, and they know how to make cartoons and captions. Angles and fractions appear as if by magic.

The friendly frog's job is to introduce the concept of number patterns - a taster to the lesson. The children's task is to work out the missing numbers in the last two of a series of five circles that appear beside the frog on the board. Each circle should contain a sequence of three numbers, and the number pattern is the same in every circle. Add two to a number to arrive at the next number in the sequence. The children jot down their answers on their own individual whiteboards, which are non-computerised, wipe-clean boards they keep at their sides. Wendy asks to see the answers and selects one pupil to come to the whiteboard and fill in the missing numbers.

The main activity continues the exploration of sequences, using a drawing exercise as a lead-in to some serious algebra. On the board is a cross comprising of five squares. The idea is to develop a sequence of bigger and bigger crosses, each with four more squares than its predecessor. The second cross has nine squares, the third thirteen, and so on. Children come up and model the exercise on the board, drawing squares on the arms of the crosses. The class then divides into groups to develop the theme.

"I love this activity because children of all abilities can participate," says Wendy. "Some go off and continue to draw the squares on graph paper, and if they can just say: 'That's funny, I am adding four every time', that's great."

Others manage to complete a table, mapping the sequence number of each cross against its total of squares: one and five, two and nine, three and 13. Wendy says: "I ask them if they can see a relationship between the numbers and I challenge the very able children, saying: 'Do we need to keep drawing the crosses and tables or can we find a way of predicting how many squares will be on the hundredth cross? Can you find a rule?' Their rule might be 'times four plus one'. I might say: 'Could we put a letter in there? We could make it 4n+1, where "n" is the sequence number of the cross.' I have to take it very gradually, as we are moving from the concrete to the abstract."

The children's investigation usually spans two lessons and Wendy might work with one of the groups on the whiteboard, prompting them with questions. At the end, everyone comes together and children document their findings - crosses, tables, rules - on the board for class discussion. "You can save everything they have done and build on it in a future lesson," says Wendy.

"The whiteboard is fantastic for teaching maths. Because things are visual, children find lessons much easier to understand and it has done a lot to raise standards," she says.

"I notice that those in the lower ability groups or with special needs perform particularly well. If you are using a blackboard or flip chart to explain a mathematical concept, and they are not getting it, then you tend to rub out and start writing again, and much of the focus is on your handwriting. With the whiteboard you can just flip back and review material, presenting them with the same visual image every time. That is a huge benefit."

She says that lessons are also much pacier. "Instead of looking down at a page of notes, you use the board to prompt you, so there are no interruptions in the flow of the lesson."

The software Wendy uses for the lesson is RM's Easiteach Maths, a versatile teaching tool developed for use with interactive whiteboards. "It is a brilliant bank of resources that saves precious preparation time, but doesn't take over your lesson."

Wendy was one of the first teachers in north Islington schools to employ interactive whiteboards - a pioneer in a project by North Islington Education Action Zone (EAZ) to evaluate how interactive teaching could raise standards in maths. She now teaches part-time at Yerbury, spending two days a week with the EAZ, creating whiteboard resources and helping spread good practice. Such is her skill with the technology that colleagues call her "Whiteboard Wendy".

"The other day I had to do a lesson without a whiteboard. Even though I planned very carefully, I still felt it would have been much better with a board," she says.

DEVELOPING INTERACTIVE TEACHING INITIATIVE

The Developing Interactive Teaching initiative has been running for two years in North Islington Education Action Zone and all the EAZ's 20 schools are now involved. The decision to try out interactive whiteboards stemmed from teachers' enthusiasm for the Easiteach Maths software, which is used in all the primary schools.

Lynda Maple, EAZ numeracy consultant, says: "We are finding that children are achieving much more highly than anticipated. They are motivated and engaged, in fact, I have not experienced a single lesson where they have been off-task.

"Teachers have been freed up to interact more with the children and there is much more talk going on in maths than ever before. When one child demonstrates on the board, the others are very willing to participate."

Every teacher receives training and support. "At first it takes time to experiment, but within half a term, planning time decreases dramatically," says Lynda.

"You can print off worksheets showing exactly what is on the board, so children aren't being asked to make a leap in understanding. And it is easy to review earlier lessons - ideal support for the numeracy strategy, which involves revisiting topics throughout the year."

USEFUL ICT RESOURCES

ACTIVboard from Promethean

North Islington Education Action Zone chose Promethean's interactive whiteboard, because teachers liked ACTIVstudio, the software supplied with the boards.

"I use ACTIVstudio to create flip-chart-style presentations, and its facilities for shape and space are particularly useful for maths," says Wendy Hick.

Price: from pound;1,295 for the board, to pound;3,995 for a package, including board, projector and installation.

Tel: 0870 2413194 www.promethean.co.uk Easiteach Maths

Interactive teaching software for whole-class maths teaching, together with an online collection of activities which support the National Numeracy Strategy, and which can be downloaded for use in the classroom.

Software tools include number grids, number lines, place-value cards, graphs, picture resources and a function machine which pupils can use to test out their ideas.

Each of the online activities is accompanied by teaching notes. Price: pound;195.

Tel: 08709 200200 www.rm.com Using ICT to Support Maths in Primary Schools

This is a series of free training resources produced by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) to help teachers use ICT to support the National Numeracy Strategy. It includes:

* a video of ICT in action in classrooms.

* a professional development guide.

* a book of sample lessons.

* an accompanying range of software on CD-Rom.

* a software user-guide.

* a guide to using ICT for data handling and presentations for staff training.

"A lot of teachers aren't aware of this material. The CD-Rom is very useful - there is a huge range of different programs for key stages 1 and 2," says Wendy.

The resources can be ordered individually from Prolog, the DfES suppliers. Reference code for the CD-Rom: 2672002.

Tel: 0845 602 2260 Email: dfes@prolog.uk.com QCA Testbase: Qualification and Curriculum

Software containing all national test questions for maths, English and science at KS1, KS2 and KS3.

"I use Easiteach first to review a concept we have done before, then I bring up a QCATestbase question on the board," says Wendy. "Because I have the whiteboard, I can model how to answer a question, which is brilliant. When children receive exam papers, they see them as really 'official', and they don't feel they own them," she says.

"I show them that they really need to be jotting and scribbling on them, to show their workings.

"The children take turns to come to the board and show the class how they would answer a question.

"If I do this every day in the revision period before SATs, they really get used to it."

Price: pound;40 plus VAT per subject for new users pound;20 plus VAT per subject as an update for existing users.

Tel: 0870 900 0402 www.testbase.co.uk National Numeracy Strategy website

News, features and numeracy resources.

"They produce unit plans for teachers and I have used the new interactive teaching resources the National Numeracy Strategy is developing," says Wendy.

www.standards.dfee.gov.uknumeracy

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