21st Century Learning | Feature
Learning to Love the Interactive Whiteboard
- By Bridget McCrea
When Holly Rocchetti started teaching fifth grade at Mount Vernon Community School in Alexandria, VA, about six years ago, she relied heavily on textbooks, Xeroxed handouts, and a chalkboard. These traditional methods may have worked at the time, but over the next few years they gave way to an array of technology-based educational solutions. Among them is a SMART Board interactive whiteboard (aka, “smart board”) that Rocchetti uses to teach across all subjects.
Rocchetti used her first smart board two years ago while working at a city charter school that had bought several of them with an educational grant. “I immediately saw how it kept students engaged and on task, I was sold on using it,” she explained. “They were involved, out of their seats, and wanting to learn more. It was life-changing.”
When she accepted a position at Mount Vernon Community School in 2012, Rocchetti began looking for ways to get a smart board for her classroom. As luck would have it, the school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) obtained one that she uses on a daily basis. Rocchetti, who has used both SMART Boards and Promethean interactive whiteboards, connects the equipment to document readers that are located at the front of her classroom. Using that setup, Rocchetti can display handwritten student work on a large screen and/or utilize the smart board as a large, touch-screen display.
Ubiquitous Tech Tool
Rocchetti said she uses the interactive whiteboard in various ways. Every morning, she creates a PowerPoint presentation containing her class agenda for the day. “It’s up and visible as soon as my students walk into class,” said Rocchetti, “so everyone knows immediately what the deal is for the day.”
After posting the day’s objective on the smart board, Rocchetti reviews it with her class and then makes assignments, shows YouTube videos, or gets students working collaboratively on projects. Her interactive reading program, for example, revolves around students “coming up and writing on the board,” says Rocchetti, who can then save that work for future assessment.
Rocchetti said the smart board is particularly helpful when teaching math and science points. For example, she can show math problems on the smart board and encourage students to manipulate the numbers, move the shapes, and attempt the calculations. Rocchetti takes the same approach with science. Using Internet research and videos, for example, she can more effectively articulate biology, chemistry, and physics topics that aren’t always easy to convey using traditional textbooks.
Rocchetti said the interactive tech tool has improved the way her pupils tackle difficult problems. “It’s not like a chalkboard that gets erased. I can keep all of that work and use it for reinforcement.” She said keeping students engaged has also become easier. “In the past we had to be more creative—particularly when lessons revolved around textbooks,” she explained. “There’s something to say about using books—and we are still using pens and paper—but when you add technology to the mix, the whole educational experience changes.”
Rocchetti said the interactive whiteboard has been especially useful for her institution’s significant English Language Learner population. “Just today we were look at the root word of ‘sealing’ something,” said Rocchetti, who initially tried to explain the concept by comparing it to the “licking” of an envelope before mailing it. “The class looked at me like I was crazy.” To get her point across, Rocchetti fired up her smart board, Googled the word “seal,” and showed the class—through images and a concise web definition—exactly what she was talking about. “They got it instantly,” she said.
The same approach worked during a recent class lesson about King Tut. “When I realized that they didn’t get what I was talking about,” said Rocchetti, “I used the smart board to show my class a three-minute video about Egypt, pyramids, and mummies. It grabbed the students’ attention and got them engaged almost instantly.”
Learning From Other Teachers
Rocchetti, whose other favorite classroom technology tools include iPads and Kindles, said the only challenges she has dealt with when using the interactive whiteboards were technical in nature. “Sometimes the machine doesn’t turn on and I have no idea why,” she said. “If a cord comes loose, for example, it shuts down the class for 10 minutes as I try to find out what the problem is.”
To other teachers who want to incorporate smart boards into their own classrooms, Rocchetti said it’s always good to have a backup plan in place, just in case the technology decides to act up. Keep an ample supply of textbooks, pencils, and paper on hand, she added, and always be ready to shift from a digital mindset and back to more traditional teaching methods.
Finally, Rocchetti advised educators to learn from one another during this age of technological experimentation. “There are a lot of tricks and tips out there that you can share with each other,” said Rocchetti, who recently learned from a peer how to more efficiently erase content on her smart board. “Vendors offer training, but it’s not always differentiated. Sometimes it’s better to learn from those who are already using the equipment or software.”