Imagine the Possibilities

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One district’s innovative use of interactivewhiteboards demonstrates technology’s abilityto fulfill any vision educators have for it.

Geoffrey H. FletcherINTERACTIVE WHITEBOARDS are forkids in our district.”

Ann McMullen, executive director of educational technology at Klein Independent School District in Texas, spoke these words at last month’s School Technology Summit on K-12 Digital Content in Washington, DC, and they were revolutionary to many of us in the audience. Actually, the entire gathering, co-sponsored by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), was revolutionary, bringing together traditional textbook publishers and digital content“publishers” to discuss contentand its distribution with school districtand state technology directors.

But I was struck by McMullen’s comments about interactive whiteboards. Some educators, particularly those who are advocates of constructivism and full technology integration, have been less than excited about interactive whiteboards because they think whiteboards reinforce the old model of the dictatorial teacher standing at the head of the class, controlling the information, dispensing pearls of wisdom. Rather, the constructivists believe, kids should be working in small groups, solving realworld problems. What McMullen and the folks at Klein ISD have done is turned the conventional use of interactive whiteboards on its head and used this relatively simple technology to change instruction so the focus of classroom activity is on the students.

About three years ago, Klein launched a systematic and systemic program that put students in small groups the majority of the time. The district started with grades 5 and 6 the first year and expanded up and down the grade levels by one grade each year. The key, as always, was professional development and support from the principal. Every teacher received hours of training. Throughout, trainers modeled the behavior they expected teachers and students to exhibit.

Each week, Klein ISD principals ask their teachers to write into their lesson plans which technologies they are going to use during the week. It gets the teachers to think about using technology— and to realize that the principals’ expectations are real.

Teachers still use the interactive whiteboards for demonstrations, introductions to units, and the like, but they also capture that information and put it on their websites so students can review it. It’s becoming much more common in Klein classrooms to see a small group of students clustered around the interactive whiteboard, another group using textbooks and other print materials, and a third using the five or six computers in the room to create projects or do research.

“It has been a tremendous tool for transition,” says McMullen. “Every teacher is not there yet, but we are seeing a lot of positive change.” Some classes are racing ahead, such as the eighth-grade social studies class in which the kids are creating lessons, posting them on the server, then teaching them to their classmates.

What McMullen and her staff have done is taken a tool generally used by teachers as a lecture aid and reimagined it in a way aligned with the ideals of 21st-century instruction, namely, to put the students front and center in their own education. With technology, the problem is never with the device, but how it’s applied. If a segment of educators see interactive whiteboards as old-school, it is only because they haven’t conceived of new ways to use them. Thankfully, Klein USD has.

—Geoffrey H. Fletcher, Editorial director

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2006 issue of THE Journal.

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