Friday, December 4, 2009

Interactive Whiteboards: Markers & Chalk Be Gone!

Interactive Whiteboards, often referred to by the brand name "SmartBoard", are the greatest thing since desks and notebooks in the world of education. When I first heard about them, I wasn't sure about them being more than a glorified projection screen. But, that was until I saw them in use. Now, I can't imagine classrooms without them.

One of the things that makes these SMART Boards so powerful is the SMART Notebook software that accompanies it. The first thing you should do is download the software and play around with it, although you'll need to get a license number from your school for the installation. There is a plethora of training materials that will help you get started on the Smart technologies site. To learn more about effective uses in the classroom, check out this great review of recent literature on the use of Interactive Whiteboards in education. Also, check out this profile of a district in Westchester using SmartBoards.

In addition to the standard tools that come "out of the box" with SMART Boards, there are a number of companies that are making tools and software that compliment the system. Check out TEQ's Education Resource Center for an assortment of complimentary tools and visualizers by Samsung. There are many manufacturers of these document cameras but the Samsung visualizer is one of the smallest. There are also "clickers" that work in conjunction with these interactive whiteboards. SMART Response and SMART Response LE (formerly Senteo) are available from SMART Technologies. These clickers provide a more interactive environment for students and allow teachers to assess student's prior knowledge or effectiveness of a lesson. Finally, it might be useful to consider a projector mount
(again, many manufacturers make these) if you have an older SMART Board without the projector built in. This will help ensure a safer and more effective classroom environment if your facility is capable of wiring the connected computer through the ceiling tiles or other concealed areas.

Finally, there is a reason that I chose to name this post "Interactive Whiteboards" rather than "SmartBoards." SMART technologies can be expensive which is a serious consideration for schools and districts with limited technology budgets. An alternative favorite of mine is the Wiimote Interactive Whiteboard that you can create yourself. If you check out Johnny Lee’s website he describes the project (Low-Cost Multi-point Interactive Whiteboards Using the Wiimote). I actually created a lesson plan for an engineering class around this where they make the pens themselves. However, if you don’t want to take the time or effort and are just looking for a cost-effective alternative to SmartBoards there are plenty of pens you can buy yourself. Penteractive sell pens and other accessories. sells software similar to SMART Notebook. There is actually a whole development community around this project so there is lots of exploration you do. Check out the Wiimote Project Forum for more information.

For our final project, my group has decided to present a multimedia strategy to the teachers at Cooke Center in the form of a SMART Notebook file. See a future post for information on how we created this file, how it can be shared with other teachers, and how it can be used to create interactive lessons.

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