Buying interactive whiteboards is about more than just the financial investment, as Pete Roythorne discovers at an East Sussex primary
Talking to Christine Terrey, deputy headteacher and ICT co-ordinator at Chyngton primary in East Sussex, her enthusiasm for technology and, in particular, interactive whiteboards is obvious. Take a tour of the 450-pupil school, and you are aware that this enthusiasm has spread to the whole school.
"We started with one board about 18 months ago, located centrally in our ICT suite," explains Christine. "There were plenty of opportunities for staff to use it and we did a lot of our training together. We were all so convinced by its impact on our classes that we now have 16 in the school - that's one in every classroom."
When the school decided to take this huge step, training, support and collaboration became the three watchwords for the staff. Interactive Education, the company that supplied the whiteboards, has been a good source of help. However, the bulk of the support has come from the staff themselves. Basic things such as creating easy-to-follow help sheets on how to connect the boards, trouble-shooting guides and the strong culture of sharing have enabled the teachers to establish whiteboards as a firmly embedded technology in their classrooms.
"We have an unofficial buddy system," explains Christine. "Everyone is divided into teams of two to three teachers, plus teaching assistants and other support staff. These teams come together at staff meetings to share their successes with whiteboards - this can be anything from getting the date on every new screen, to where to put the pen to make sure you don't forget to put it on charge."
Christine says that the teachers have all found this shared knowledge invaluable and that demonstrating things to other teachers has really helped develop everybody's skills. It's also been important to match the significant financial investment in whiteboards with time and opportunities to help teachers develop their technical skills. As a result, ICT development as been built into teachers' performance objectives.
"Software manipulation is the key to true interactivity with whiteboards," says Christine. "If you're using PowerPoint you're just doing a presentation.But once you start using the tools available in the whiteboard software - such as annotating, highlighting or the reveal function - it's then that your presentation becomes interactive."
This is when the learning benefits of the whiteboard shine through, and it's also why it's so important to allow staff the time to develop their skills with the tools available. "It's not just about showing people how to do things, it's important they have the follow-up and are given the opportunity to practise the skills they have learned," believes Christine The school is situated in a council estate and has a very mixed catchment area, but it is probably no coincidence that since the introduction of the whiteboards it has become the primary of choice in the local area; one that parents now fight to get their children into.
"The introduction of whiteboards has really enhanced our teaching," explains Christine. "Being able to demonstrate things graphically means we can help the children understand difficult and abstract topics such as fractions or negative numbers. The boards have transformed learning in the school."
Christine also believes that the boards have allowed teachers to exploit different learning styles. The content of lessons can easily include material for active, kinesthetic and auditory styles, without putting any children at a disadvantage because of their particular learning style. "The multi-sensory aspect is also fantastic for teaching four-year-olds," she adds.
Another major plus of the boards has been that they free teachers up to concentrate on teaching the children. "The ability to sit at the front of the class and face the children is the big advantage that whiteboards have over projectors; it gives us much more opportunity to really engage the children," says Christine. "Also, the ability to use moving images means you are able to focus on helping the children rather than constantly demonstrating."
Whether it be using packages such as Cambridge University Press's Penpals, creating your own content from resources such as Knowledge Box or adapting downloads from the web, the wealth of material and resources that are available means Christine and her fellow staff can really bring subjects to life.
But, if you want real proof of the benefits of this technology, a quick tour of the school shows that all the whiteboards are in use, and all the children engaged and enthusiastic to get involved. And that, surely, says it all.
* Make sure you have opportunities and time to experiment with the board to find out what it can do and gain confidence using it
* Effective training is gradual - a little, often. A buddy system where you learn together works well
* Include your teaching assistants in any training and make sure they have the chance to experiment too
* Remember that you don't have to learn all of the functions of the board to use it effectively. In the first instance there may not be much difference between using the board and a data projector - but as confidence grows, use will gradually bring in the many features of the boards KEY TECHNOLOGIES
* IE Pro Interactive Whiteboards www.daydreameducation.co.uk
* Interactive learning software - virtual learning software www.daydreameducation.co.uk
* SMART board and software www.smartboard.co.uk
* Knowledge Box Digital resources and lesson guideswww.uk.knowledgebox.com
* Spark Island Interactive maths, English and science products www.sparkisland.com
* SMARTboard supportwww.smarttech.comtrainingcenter
* Topmarks primary resources for interactive whiteboardswww.topmarks.co.uk
* Spark Island - literacy and numeracywww.sparkisland.com
* Electronic texts www.mape.org.ukactivitiesbigbooksindex.htm
* Interactive Whiteboard catalogue - advice on purchasing whiteboards http:whiteboards.becta.org.uk