Interactive Whiteboards | News

How Mobile Devices Are Saving IWBs

Three schools tell how they're combining tablets and clickers with interactive whiteboards to engage students on multiple levels.

If your school has invested in interactive whiteboards, only to have them quickly overshadowed by digital and mobile presentation options, you're not alone. In K-12 districts nationwide, educators are seeking ways to make IWBs a flexible and engaging part of a 21st century classroom environment.

At McAdory Middle School in McCalla, AL, Promethean IWBs grace the walls of every classroom. According to Amanda Dykes, a sixth-grade technology and science teacher and technology representative, "When they built our school three years ago, they put whiteboards in all of the classrooms." This well-intentioned move actually created some immediate challenges for teachers who suddenly found themselves having to meld those IWBs with the school's bring your own device (BYOD) initiative.

"It wasn't an easy transition," said Dykes, "but teachers were accustomed to using whiteboards and students love mobile technology. We knew we had to come up with a way to combine the two." According to Dykes, the middle school's students bring an array of tablets and mobile phones to class every day. To complement the BYOD program, teachers also have access to netbooks and laptop computers. Exactly where the IWBs and the mobile devices intersect depends on the specific lesson.

"I can put lesson materials on the whiteboards, show videos and send different slides right to my students' tablets [using the free app ClassFlow Student]," said Dykes. When students are working on projects as a class or in teams, she distributes research links, quizzes, graphic organizers and other materials that show Dykes which students are "getting" the material and which ones need additional instruction. "I basically just push the material out and they respond back to me," she said.

When those responses come back, Dykes puts them up on the whiteboard for further discussion. She says the method works much better than the chalkboards of old, where one student at a time approached the mammoth green board to work through a problem or answer a question. "With this system, everyone sends in their work at once and we can all look at it," said Dykes. Students' names are typically replaced with numbers, and Dykes uses a dual monitor to tell who submitted which answers.

The final piece of the puzzle is an ActivBoard that allows Dykes to project images onto the whiteboard. Students can respond out loud or by using their own phones and tablets. And despite the younger generation's affinity for devices, Dykes said that many opt to use the IWB instead. She concluded that being able to offer up a variety of collaboration tools has helped improve student engagement in the classroom. "It's at the point where my students really want to respond because they have so many different ways to voice their answers and opinions," Dykes said. "So where some still like getting up in front of the class and going to the whiteboard, many others prefer to stay out of the spotlight and use their own tablets and phones."

 
Teacher Amanda Dykes shares her secrets to classroom management in a BYOD environment.
 

From Chalkboards to Smart Classrooms
Once Troy Community Consolidated School District in Plainfield, IL, installed overlays that turned its chalkboards into IWBs, director of information services Ron Sarver began exploring how to combine the new additions with existing classroom technology. He found his answer at Mimio, which makes clickers that connect to teacher desktops and can be used in conjunction with IWBs. The underlying goal, said Sarver, was to begin turning Troy's traditional classrooms into "smart classrooms."

"Phase I involved converting chalkboards into IWBs, and Phase II centered on connecting students and teachers to those IWBs," said Sarver. Using the system, teachers can bring up overlays, Web pages, slides and other materials that are in turn projected onto the whiteboards. On their laptops, teachers can annotate and illustrate the information, and students then interact with the materials using Mimio devices and widgets.

In a typical math class, for example, Sarver said pupils might be asked to solve problems by selecting a balloon or bubble that they click on to reveal their answers. To break down more complicated concepts — such as long division — teachers can save the process in steps, create Flash videos to illustrate those steps and then publish those videos to their sites.

"Students can go back and refer to the videos later and see how the long division is performed on a specific problem," said Sarver, who said he sees improved student engagement as one of the biggest benefits of his school's combination of IWBs and student devices. He added, "It's also beneficial for teachers, who can throw lessons together pretty quickly up on the board as needed, rather than having to preplan and draw everything out."

And while Troy CCSD isn't currently using tablets and smartphones in conjunction with its whiteboards, Sarver said he envisions a time in the near future when classrooms are equipped with fewer wires and more mobile devices.
Getting there would require a retrofit of the institution's existing wired projectors, he noted, and the addition of either student-owned or school-owned devices. "Once that's done, we'll be able to go in the mobile/wireless direction," he said.

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IWB + Tablet = Engagement
At Mountain Park Elementary in Roswell, GA, fourth-grade teacher Ebony Flowers combines interactive whiteboards with mobile devices and laptops to not only display lesson content, but also to ensure that all students in her BYOD classroom are participating. Flowers said, "I prefer to take a hands-on approach to learning to ensure that the attention of every student in my classroom is captivated, and that each one has a meaningful experience that will last a lifetime instead of just for a week."

She noted that while the traditional IWB is useful for displaying basic content, the devices allow all her students to constantly participate in classroom activities.

Recently, Flowers added a new element to her IWB and mobile device strategy when she started using Kuno tablets in her lessons. Designed for education, the tablets let her communicate and connect with all students in the class using a flipped learning approach.

When paired with programs provided by Promethean (such as ClassFlow), the Kuno tablets allow Flowers to gather real-time feedback and deliver lessons to her students who can, she said, "respond, react and relate to classroom content."

According to Flowers, improved student engagement has been the biggest benefit of her school's combination of interactive whiteboards and tablets. Instead of her having "to do backflips to keep my students engaged," she noted, "they are willing and motivated to learn with the technological tools at their fingertips."

'Let's Find Out if the Students Are Really Learning This'
Looking ahead, Dykes said she sees a time when her school's mobile-whiteboard connection plays a key role in formative assessments.

"We have a graphic organizer that allows students to input multiple choice or true/false answers," she said. "I'd like to start leveraging that capability. As teachers, sometimes we get so caught up in creating and teaching with slide shows that we overlook the 'let's find out if the students are really learning this' aspect of teaching."

Ultimately, Dykes said that being able to effectively blend mobile devices with IWBs helps schools make good use of technology that might otherwise become obsolete.

"In many middle schools, a disconnect exists between the devices and the whiteboards, with the latter basically becoming $3,000 projectors," she pointed out. "With some preplanning and creativity, schools can close that gap and develop a process that not only leverages technology but also keeps students better engaged in class."

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