Performance art

5th November 2004 at 00:00
Pete Roythorne finds out how technology can enhance the classroom experience and give teachers a free rein to be more creative

"Hard work and long days," says Jonathan Boyle, deputy head of Walsall Academy in Birmingham, when asked how he became conversant in the use of interactive whiteboards and the other technologies thatsurround him at the school.

"It's hard to imagine teaching without the interactivity of the whiteboards," he continues. "I never used chalk, I've always used some sort of projection technology. Even when I was at my previous school (WalsallAcademy's sister school Thomas Telford) I had the school projector and was using it with a whiteboard."

Walsall Academy has around 60 interactive whiteboards throughout the school, and they are an integral part of the school's teaching. The academy uses the online curriculum and this lends itself perfectly to the interactive whiteboards.

"I can't imagine what life would be like without the interactive whiteboards," says Jonathan. "I don't know how else we'd be able to communicate the online curriculum."

For the students, the transition to learning via the whiteboards is far from being an alien concept. "They're used to watching big-screen TVs at home, so they're not threatened by it; if anything it's enhancing their learning experience. This way we're communicating with the kids in a language they're familiar with," he says.

Most lessons start with the students being introduced to the topic they're studying on the whiteboards. "We can show them the exercises they need to do, using video bites, audio and text on the boards before they go back to their workstations to continue the assignment at their own pace," Jonathan explains. "The whiteboards make it easier for us to perform in front of the kids, it allows us to transform a mundane topic into an exciting lesson."

All the teachers at the academy use whiteboards and there's a sense of openness and sharing throughout the school. This is helped by the fact that in some of the classrooms huge glass walls render the learning areas open for all to see what's going on.

On top of this the teachers have a session every week, after normal school hours, dedicated to learning and understanding new technologies.This is part of the teachers' professional development programme. There are also regular school meetings and demonstrations using the whiteboards, so teachers have ample opportunity to share good practice and pick up tips.

"We also bring in teachers from outside, to help spread our technology skills," explains Jonathan. "Recently we had 13 staff from local schools come for a day's training on the online curriculum. They all went away having learnt something new about the technology and gained useful teaching techniques."

When pressed on the subject of resources to help other teachers struggling with whiteboards and projection technologies, Jonathan professes to being completely self-taught. "There weren't many resources about when I was starting off. At Thomas Telford the head would come up to me and say, 'Boyley, you know about these things, can you do a demonstration on this whiteboard?' I'd then have to go away and find out how to do what he wanted."

Jonathan suggests teachers take an inquisitive approach and shouldn't be afraid to go off and try out things. "The more mistakes you make and the more corners you back yourself into with software, the more you learn," he explains. "I've got myself into some terrible problems, but I've worked out how to get out of them. This means I can pass on what I know to other teachers and hopefully save them the pain and sleepless nights."

He is also quick to add that you should always be upbeat about the information you're passing on. However hard it may have been for you, you're making things a lot easier for others. "They don't need to know what you've been through to get there," he explains.

As Jonathan relates the story of having breakfast with his wife and kids on the dining room table, while sitting in front of two laptops he'd linked together, you realise he's blessed with an incredibly supportive family.

How does he feel about juggling the hard work of learning new technologies withhaving a life? Jonathan's answer is simple: "If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't do it."

TEACHING TIPS

* Become a slick performer when using the whiteboard.

* Practise using applications via the whiteboard; there's a great difference between using a mouse to draw an image and trying to use the same tools with your hands

* Organise your seating carefully and, change the mood to captivate students

* Sometimes you have to return to the mouse, so make sure you can move from the board to your chair without tripping over

* To make your whiteboard really interactive include your students in demonstrations

KEY TECHNOLOGIES

* Sony Mavica digital camera Economatics www.economatics.co.uk

* Ranger Software A fabulous product to support students over the network. Once alerted to a problem the administrator can sort it out or offer guidance to the student remotely on the whiteboard.

Sentinel Products www.rangersuite.com

* Studio DV Excellent video editing package. The interactive DVD menu functions are ideal for whiteboards RM www.rm.com

* A mini video camera Good for displaying close-up work to the whole class"

* Camtasia desktop recording software Records demonstrations at the whiteboard with narration www.techsmith.com

WEBSITES

* Brainpop Source of free material www.brainpop.com

* How everyday things are made Useful videos for DT http:manufacturing.stanford.ed

* The Review Project Home of The Good Guide to Interactive Whiteboards www.thereviewproject.org

* E-Riding.netWhiteboard resourceswww.eriding.netICT

* SMARTboardTraining material and downloadable toolswww.smartboard.co.uk

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