Interactive Whiteboard System Creates 'Active Classrooms' for Rural Georgia School System
Our students live in a multimedia world. However, the technology that students enjoy in their lives outside of school makes it more difficult for teachers to capture their attention in the classroom with "old-fashioned" tools such as chalkboards, whiteboards and overhead projectors. In order to catch and keep students' attention, while improving student learning in the process, our district needed new and exciting technology to infuse into the curriculum.
The Thomaston-Upson County System (www.upson.k12.ga.us) in rural Georgia has more than 5,000 students enrolled at three elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. Although we had tried an array of technologies in the past, we had not yet found one that worked equally well for both teachers and students in the classroom. The problem with most technologies seemed to be the technology itself. While some technologies had a steep learning curve, others were difficult for teachers to integrate into their classroom instruction. In addition, other technologies failed to interest teachers and students once their initial excitement wore off.
Improving Traditional Teaching Methods
After trying several programs, we realized that the most important factor in improving student achievement was teacher instruction. So, in 2001, we initiated a plan to research new tools to assist teachers in improving upon more traditional methods of teaching; as a result, we decided to try an interactive whiteboard. Our instructional technology staff first saw a demonstration for a new product called the ACTIVboard Collaborative Classroom System from Promethean Corp. at an educational conference in 2002. The system includes the ACTIVboard interactive whiteboard; ACTIVstudio software, which offers teachers a library of image, background and annotation resources; ACTIVslate, an accessory that promotes real-time interaction by allowing teachers and students to direct and control the whiteboard from anywhere in the room; and ACTIVote, a wireless student peripheral that provides teachers with instant feedback from students.
The ACTIVstudio software, which transforms computers and projectors into highly interactive teaching, collaboration and presentation tools, really sold us on the product. It allows computer images from any software program or Web site to be projected onto a whiteboard where teachers and students can access, control and manipulate the program via the board's touch-sensitive surface. With the software, teachers can annotate in electronic ink over any PC application, Web page or image. They can also use the software's flip-chart feature in place of traditional whiteboards and chalkboards. In addition, teachers can save lessons, flip charts and notes to a disc.
Opening the Door to New Possibilities
Our original plan was to purchase one ACTIVboard system for each of the district's five schools. However, that plan quickly escalated to seven portable boards per school, and then to the current plan for one board permanently mounted in every classroom along with a Mitsubishi XGA projector mounted to the ceiling. In addition, each classroom's computer, cable TV, DVD player and VCR were run through the projector and onto the ACTIVboard, which put all of the technologies at the teachers' fingertips. We also saw the benefit of the collaborative effect of the system, which led us to purchase one ACTIVslate for each classroom and two sets of the ACTIVote wireless peripherals per grade level to be shared by adjacent classes.
Teachers easily adapt to the system because they do not have to redesign their existing lesson plans to incorporate the technology. Instead, the technology enhances their lesson plans with multimedia features and interactivity that captures students' attention and motivates them to learn. It also opens the door to new possibilities. In fact, a key benefit of the interactive whiteboard is that it more effectively allows teachers to incorporate the Internet into group instruction rather than trying to arrange 25 students around three or four small computer screens. Teachers also report that the system saves time since they no longer have to write lessons on the chalkboard or dry-erase whiteboard. Instead, they can prepare their lessons on their computer at home, e-mail the documents to themselves at school, and then project the lessons onto an electronic whiteboard.
Enhancing Instruction and Interactivity
Today, teachers use the system to enhance their instruction in a variety of ways. For example, to teach a lesson on landforms, one teacher projected a video onto an interactive whiteboard for the class to view. Worksheets with questions were then passed out, and the students were led on an Internet scavenger hunt to find the answers. To begin the hunt, the teacher projected a Microsoft Word document listing the questions with hyperlinks to the appropriate Web sites. As the class visited each site, students scanned the Web pages to find and record the answers on their worksheets.
Another teacher created a class game similar to the TV game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" in preparation for a test on the seven continents. The teacher created a list of questions with multiple-choice answers and projected it onto an interactive whiteboard. The student contestants then used the ACTIVslate to control the whiteboard from their seats and select the answers. If a student needed help, he or she could poll fellow classmates who used the ACTIVote to select the answer they thought was correct.
Teachers in all subject areas often use the ACTIVote to administer quizzes and tests to students because they can get instant results that tell them which areas students understood and which areas need to be readdressed. The enthusiastic response to the ACTIVboard system from our teachers has been wonderful. Even teachers who were previously uninspired to use technology have embraced this teaching solution — becoming some of the most enthusiastic users of the system. Students love the multimedia features and interactivity, which make learning more fun and exciting. Teachers report that students pay closer attention and have become more involved in class. In addition, parents are talking about the system because their children come home from school raving about it.
The excitement created by this new technology has changed the climate of our schools. Now, when teachers walk down the halls they see a noticeable difference in the energy and activity levels of their classrooms. Teachers are finally standing up and facilitating information, while students are moving back and forth from the interactive whiteboard to their desks or interacting from their desks using the wireless peripherals. We hear more of a dialogue between students and teachers, and see that students are more involved and motivated to learn. In addition, we now call our rooms "active classrooms" because that is what they have become.
— Mike Gatlin
Tips for Implementing an Interactive Whiteboard Into Your Classroom
Thomaston-Upson County was the first public school system in Georgia to install the ACTIVboard Collaborative Classroom System in each of its classrooms. Below are a few tips for implementing an interactive whiteboard into your classroom:
1. Think about your technology system. Make sure all of your technologies — electronic whiteboards, projectors, computers, VCRs and DVD players — will work together.
2. Permanently mount the interactive whiteboard in the classroom. This gives teachers a sense of ownership and encourages them to regularly incorporate the whiteboard in their lesson plans.
3. Impress upon teachers that an interactive whiteboard will not force them to change their lesson plans. On the contrary, it will simply enhance the lessons they already have with multimedia features, as well as open the door to new opportunities for learning and interactivity.
4. The choice of a projector will determine the interactive whiteboard's resolution. Spending a few extra dollars on a quality high-resolution projector up front will help make the most of your electronic whiteboard investment in the long run.
This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.