For former special needs teacher Ian Bean, interactive whiteboards proved a multi-sensory goldmine for his classes. Dorothy Walker reports
"The interactive whiteboard is the biggest step forward since the blackboard," says Ian Bean. "It engages, it motivates, it aids retention - for the children I work with, there are a thousand things it can do."
Ian recently joined IT supplier Inclusive Technology, as an advisory teacher working with schools to support learners with special needs. He made a name for himself as ICT teacher at Priory Woods special school in Middlesbrough, where his creativity with whiteboards inspired his pupils, many with severe and profound learning difficulties.
Ian tells of the day he decided to link a video camera to his whiteboard, so youngsters would catch sight of themselves as they came into the classroom. "One girl, who wouldn't take part in anything, suddenly caught sight of her face on the board. She began to move around, watching herself from different angles, then brought other children over so she could look at them, too.
"It was absolutely fantastic, and we helped her to build on the experience.
She worked with video clips and photos, making stories on the board. She took home a video camera to film her family, and added a soundtrack. Now she's interacting with a whole range of things. A simple exercise with the whiteboard and camera provided the way through to that child."
His preference is for boards that children can use with their fingers, rather than having to get to grips with an electronic stylus. "Touch is intuitive, and moving items around with their hands helps children model things and engages whole-body learning. You can do early literacy mark-making work, as you would with children who use a pencil, but do it on a huge scale, using fingers and whole-arm movements.
"Even when it's used purely as a display device the board is wonderful because learners can immerse themselves in huge patterns, colours and moving pictures. And it is a fantastic assessment tool. It makes it easier to assess how children scan moving objects, because the tiny eye movements they would make on a computer become huge movements of the head when they use the whiteboard."
Photography played a major role in the children's success with the board.
"Digital cameras revolutionised the way I taught," says Ian. "So often, children are hampered by their poor literacy skills. But give them a digital camera and it opens up a whole new world. We could pop their pictures up on the board, discuss the merits of different photographs and use them to create our own whiteboard activities."
For a week the pupils transformed their classroom into a mini TV studio, recording events with a video camera connected to the board. "For many, holding the camera while trying to close one eye and frame a scene was a real chore," explains Ian. "But when the view through the lens was transformed into a 6ft by 4ft image on the board, the whole class became involved in the filming. That is one of the real keys - the whiteboard engages everyone."
Classes often filmed everyday activities such as tea-making, and edited the footage together on the whiteboard, putting scenes in the right order. "We would have discussions about whether we had to put the teabags in the cups before or after we filled the kettle. It was a personalised learning experience, because it was a pupil, not an anonymous person from a software company, who was making the tea," says Ian.
However, he warns that there are minor difficulties to be overcome when incorporating whiteboards into classroom life. One is the perennial problem of users casting their shadow on the board - especially children who do not realise it is their own shadow that is obscuring the image.
"We used to do a lovely exercise drawing around our own shadow. The children would think: hang on, that is me! And they would start to put together their own strategies for coping with the problem," says Ian.
Pupils who use wheelchairs can find it difficult to get close to the board, and Ian would love to see manufacturers come up with an adjustable system to cater for the entire age range he used to teach, fromfoundation-stagers to six-foot- teenagers.
Winner of the Government technology agency Becta's ICT in Practice award in 2002, Ian developed much of his whiteboard practice through collaboration with colleagues at Priory Woods, although Becta's online communities also proved invaluable. His advice to fellow professionals: "Try out a board. As soon as you have a go you'll see the potential."
* Projector and whiteboard should be permanently mounted
* Take time to explore the software supplied
* Be creative - you can do so much more with the board than it says on the box
* Experiment with the packages in your cupboard
* Tiny adjustments to software can make a big difference KEY TECHNOLOGIES
* SMART Board www.steljes.co.uk
* Sony Mavica digital camera www.economatics.co.uk
* Movie Creator by Digital Blue. Tiny video camera with software www.taglearning.com
* Ulead Video Studio 8. Child-friendly software, ideal for collaborative videoediting exercises.
* Priory Woods School www.priorywoods.middlesbrough.sch.uk
* SEN Teacher www.senteacher.org
* Becta ICT Advice www.ictadvice.org.uk
* The Review Project http:thereviewproject.org
* SMART Education http:smarteducation.canterbury.ac.ukclassroom-resourcesinteractive-websi tes