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Classroom Technologies | Feature

Tackling Whiteboard Adoption Challenges

A Georgia school district is using a hosted solution, mentoring, and professional development to get its teachers up to speed with collaborative classroom technology.

City Schools of Decatur in Georgia began outfitting all of its classrooms with interactive whiteboards about six years ago, but it wasn't until recently that the district turned to technology to make sure teachers were actively using the equipment during class.

"Our teachers loved the boards," said Heather Borowski, the district's instructional technology coordinator, "but they found it was time-consuming to create the content necessary to utilize the technology."

Not wanting to see the investment it made in whiteboards for all of its K-5 classrooms go to waste, the district rolled out the initiative by having teachers apply for the boards. "Teachers basically let us know whether they wanted the technology or not," said Borowski. The early adopters not only got their hands on the whiteboards first, she said, but they also served as models for the rest of the school's staff.

Teacher Challenges
"Over time, more and more teachers wanted the boards because they saw their colleagues using them and wished to have access to the same resources," Borowski explained. But once the whiteboards were installed--sometimes covering entire walls and leaving no room for traditional dry erase boards--that initial momentum slowed significantly.

"We started to see that considerable time was needed to create the interactive whiteboard lessons," said Borowski, whose team first addressed the issue by holding day-long instructional sessions and after school instruction for teachers district-wide. Instructors got hands-on lessons in how to use the equipment and the associated lesson-building software.

The challenges persisted, as evidenced by the frustrated comments Borowski received on her year-end "technology integration" teacher surveys. "Over the last few years, the surveys revealed that even though teachers liked their interactive whiteboards," said Borowski, "they didn't have enough time to create lessons for them."

And while teachers didn't go back to their "old ways" of teaching (and, in many cases, couldn't because their dry erase boards were gone), Borowski said lessons weren't as robust as they could have been if the instructors had the resources necessary to adequately prepare whiteboard-based lesson plans.

With its own internal resources exhausted, the district began looking around last summer for digital resources that could help teachers actually use their interactive whiteboards to teach math to the K-5 students.

Lesson Planning and Collaboration in the Cloud
"We needed something that aligned with Georgia Department of Education standards, and that wasn't too 'arcade gamey' in nature," said Borowski. "We wanted a simple, standard way for teachers to use the technology without having to go through an entirely new learning process to get there."

After watching several vendor presentations and attending the Georgia Educational Technology Conference, Borowski worked with the district's instructional services committee, curriculum director and associate superintendent to wade through the options and find something that would meet their teachers' needs.

The team found what it was looking for in a digital, K-6 math curriculum that incorporates interactive whiteboard teaching. Known as CINCH Mathematics (from McGraw-Hill), the cloud-based solution enables curriculum planning, lesson design and assessments.

Using the program, teachers can prepare their own lessons and also collaborate with one another. Students use it for evaluations and extra math practice. The program, which was rolled out for the 2010-2011 school year, hasn't caught on across the entire K-5 teacher population yet, but Borowski said she's hopeful.

"We're hearing that some know about the resource but don't know how to use it," she said, "while others say lesson prep is much easier, and that they no longer have to spend time creating flip charts from scratch."

To get more teachers on board with the whiteboard curriculum, Borowski said its top advocates formed "Team Cinch," a group of teachers across grade levels and district schools who helps with implementation and professional development. The team also created standardized, grade-specific materials and populated the program, giving teachers access to ready-made lessons, said Borowski.

"We have two teachers from each grade level who serve as mentors and who go back to their schools and re-deliver what they learned during our team meetings," Borowski said. When school begins this fall, the group will kick into gear by serving as "teacher leaders," who work with instructors one-on-one to get them up to speed on the program. "They'll be training this summer for that push in the fall," said Borowski.

With its whiteboard challenges nearly solved, the district is now developing a mobile computing strategy that will put handheld computing devices--likely iPads--into the hands of its 2,500 students. The new initiative could also find the district using CINCH as a digital textbook content delivery solution for those devices, although Borowski said the district "is still discussing its options and exploring the available opportunities."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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