By Starrla Cray
McLEOD, CARVER, WRIGHT COUNTIES, MN Remember the “old days,” when teachers used blackboards and chalk?
Not long ago, the thought of using an interactive whiteboard to write equations, show Internet video clips, or electronically save lesson plans was far-off future technology.
Within the past few years, however, the multi-functional devices have become commonplace in many local schools.
“We have one in every elementary classroom, and one in all but three high school classrooms,” Holy Trinity Schools Principal Bill Tschida said.
An interactive whiteboard is a large display that connects to a computer and a projector, providing a way to show students anything that can be presented on a computer’s desktop, such as websites and educational software. In addition, lessons can be saved and posted online for review at a later time.
Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Middle School Principal Jim Schimelpfenig calls the boards “extremely well worth it.”
“The research supports the use of these in the classroom for increased student learning,” he said. HLWW Middle School has six of them so far, in addition to some at the elementary and high schools.
“My goal is to keep adding each year,” Schimelpfenig said.
There are several brands of interactive whiteboard technology, but many local districts prefer SMART boards.
“With SMART, you can touch them with any device,” said Matt McClintock, technology coordinator at Mayer Lutheran High School. “I can write with my finger if I want to. Others, you have to use a special pen.”
Mayer Lutheran currently has a total of 11 interactive whiteboards, four of which are the SMART brand. The school tried the Promethean brand at first, but ended up returning them.
“One annoyance was the pens made this awful noise, like quiet chalk against a chalkboard,” McClintock said. The SMART brand was a better fit, offering crisper images and touch-screen capability.
No matter what the brand, however, local districts are excited about the lesson-enhancement possibilities the boards provide.
HLWW’s first two boards were purchased for young special education children, but the technology can be utilized at any grade level, for almost any subject.
This school year at HLWW, the boards are being used in Chad Gagnon’s sixth grade math class, Kim Looman’s eighth grade language arts class, Valerie Haldy’s fifth grade science class, and Travis Eldred’s seventh grade social studies class.
“All of the students at least have exposure to it on a daily basis,” Schimelpfenig said.
According to an article from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, research has shown that interactive whiteboards have the potential to increase student learning if used effectively.
One feature that was found to be helpful was a handheld “learner-response device,” in which each student enters responses to questions. The percentage of students providing the correct answer is then immediately displayed on the board in a bar graph or pie chart.
Graphics and other visual aids, such as YouTube video clips or Google Earth images, also increased student achievement, according to the study.
The third feature was “reinforcing” applications, which include dragging and dropping correct answers into specific locations, acknowledging correct answers with virtual applause, and uncovering information hidden under objects.
At Mayer Lutheran, the Spanish classes enjoy using the interactive whiteboards to learn vocabulary words.
The boards are a time-saver, according to McClintock, because they allow teachers to prepare lessons in advance, instead of writing problems on the board during class.
Because the lessons are saved, students also have opportunities for re-teaching.
“If a student has a question about something taught five minutes ago, you can just go back four ‘slides,’” McClintock explained.
Many classrooms have an interactive whiteboard front and center of the room, with two smaller traditional whiteboards on the sides.
“Down the line, I can’t imagine every room not having interactive whiteboards,” McClintock said.
Lester Prairie School District also utilizes interactive technology. The boards are used in Helen Koktan’s early childhood education preschool class, Cathy Houg and Kelly Kramer’s sixth grade classes, Jane Roth’s first and second grade class, Lacy Schramm’s social studies class, and Michael Bjork’s science class.
Watertown-Mayer School District hasn’t purchased interactive whiteboards yet, and it is currently deciding if and how to implement this technology.
“We have a K through 12 technology plan, and interactive whiteboards are certainly a part of that,” said Nick Guertin, director of teaching and learning. “We’re also looking at other tools, such as notebook computers for each student.”
Part of the reason for the delay is funding, as well as timing, according to Guertin.
“Even in the last five years, the technology has evolved so much,” he said. “What makes sense today, in two to three years can be outdated.”
Each SMART board (including the projector) ranges from $3,000 to $4,000, Schimelpfenig said. The price is lower than it was a few years ago, but the boards are still a fairly sizeable investment.
“We’re looking for grant opportunities, but we haven’t been able to access any at this time,” Schimelpfenig said, explaining that HLWW has paid for the boards through its general fund.
Some of Holy Trinity’s boards were purchased through donations, but six of the older models were given to the school at no cost, through the Minnesota Independent School Forum’s relationship with 3M.
To learn more about SMART technology, go to www.smarttech.com.