When students work with virtual manipulatives, there’s a sense of heightened anticipation, engagement and even a little bit of magic in the room.
Many of today’s classrooms are filled with technology, but one piece that can help teachers and students bring new life to a lesson is the interactive whiteboard and the teaching manipulatives that it makes possible.
There are numerous whiteboard manufacturers — Epson and PolyVision among them. Each whiteboard solution has advantages and disadvantages, but all have the ability to enhance curriculum, increase student achievement and allow learning activities not imaginable in a traditional classroom environment.
Do you wish your interactive whiteboards felt “magical” in the classroom? Here are five practices to help get the most out of these devices.
Some technology coordinators don’t consider interactive whiteboards as part of their overall technology plan, arguing that these are teacher-centric devices and only serve to help a teacher lecture in the front of a classroom as students watch. Used properly, students — not teachers — should be working at interactive whiteboards throughout the school day.
In his book Brain Rules, neuroscientist Dr. John Medina reports that physically active students absorb more information than students sitting at their desks all day. One of the best things that teachers can do to help students grasp new information is to get them out of their chairs, working at whiteboards and using the boards’ virtual manipulatives.
Many interactive whiteboards allow multiple users or input devices to interact with the board simultaneously, so develop lessons and projects to take advantage of this capability. Here are a few possibilities:
- Divide students into two groups and have them race to solve a puzzle.
- Let multiple students work together to construct an object.
- Solve math problems in a relay fashion, with students handing off the pen to one another.
Make It a Teacher’s Tool Too
Although interactive whiteboards should be used to involve students in lessons, there also are times when it makes sense to gather a class and focus on a central point for a short lecture or demonstration.
Teachers who lecture frequently might be hesitant to build interactive lessons into their curricula because they worry that they will lose control of the classroom. But that needn’t be the case.
Interactive whiteboards can enhance lectures when teachers use them to check students’ understanding. For instance, after a five-minute lecture, a teacher can easily create three slides to check for basic comprehension, asking random students to step up to the board to re-create the object just explained, match countries to their proper flags or put the correct science lab safety equipment on a human dummy.
If teachers conduct such checks often during a lesson, students become more attentive, lessons become more meaningful, and the instructor retains full control of the classroom environment.
One of the advantages of using interactive whiteboard software is the ability to work on multiple tasks.
For example, a teacher can play a video clip on the left side of the board and ask students to check off vocabulary words on the right side while the video plays. During the video, teachers can easily take snapshots of the screen to capture critical moments, and students can take turns at the board writing notes about what they’re viewing.
Interactive whiteboards make something as simple as showing a video much more interactive than traditional lessons in which videos are used to supplement classroom instruction.
Take Small Steps
“I don’t have the time to move all of my PowerPoint slides to a new format that I am still uncomfortable with.” That’s a common lament from teachers who have created lesson materials in Microsoft PowerPoint and wonder about the value of converting them for use on a whiteboard.
The good news? It’s not necessary to toss all those PowerPoint lessons and lectures. If those lessons worked well in the past, they can still be used without the need to convert them into interactive whiteboard files. In fact, some tasks in PowerPoint are easier to accomplish than through use of whiteboard software because PowerPoint is a mature, refined product.
Even better news: Some teachers have materials in PowerPoint because textbook publishers provided an “instructor resource CD” to accompany the text being used in the classroom. Today, publishers provide additional material to be used with interactive whiteboards — and that’s a first step toward using whiteboard-authoring software on a daily basis.
The critical question to ask when designing lessons is, “What can your whiteboard software do that PowerPoint cannot?” Once a teacher has that answer, he or she can begin to identify and create meaningful, interactive lessons.
Expect This to Take Time
Remember sending out that first e-mail or adding your first friend on Facebook? It took time to figure out how to write on a Facebook wall, to figure out what that “cc” field in an e-mail window meant, to figure out how to attach a file. Today, most teachers perform these tasks easily. Why? They’ve been practicing a little bit every day.
Interactive whiteboards and the accompanying software are no different. To effectively use these tools, teachers need to use their interactive whiteboards every day — even if for only a few minutes or as part of a larger lesson. In time, working with the devices and the software will become a routine part of lesson planning.
If interactive whiteboard technology is in your classroom, your students are waiting for — and expecting — the magic.