Saturday, April 10, 2010

Teachers teaching with SMART Boards

In my last post I talked about a learning team I facilitated for school principals.  Well, I also facilitated a team of K-5 teachers last year in their journey to figure out how to use SMART boards.  This was a great experience for me to have with classroom teachers learning a new and powerful technology.

SMART boards are interactive white boards (IWB) or devices that allow the user to touch the white board and manipulate objects, text, and various software tools.  It is best to mount the IWB on the wall with an LCD projector arm built in.  This way it is always available and properly aligned and calibrated – which reduces setup time and frustration for the teacher.  Then use a laptop (or desktop) on a cart to connect to the IWB.  Software on the laptop controls the IWB’s functions.

Schools have embraced IWB’s all around the world.  I believe Alberta, CA has a goal to put an IWB in every classroom in every school and is well on its way to achieving this.

imageMy team’s research goal was
“We would like to use SmartBoards as a tool to enhance teaching and student learning”
They have four questions they sought to answer
1. How do we operate the SmartBoard program? (all the functions)
2. What on-line resources are available and how do we access and use them?
3. How do we create our own lessons?
4. Do SmartBoards improve teaching and student learning?
I presented their story at CUEBC’s October 2009 conference, you can view the full presentation here if you like.  Meet the teachers in this story…

Learning Team Introductions

My initial thoughts about SMART boards were that they weren’t necessarily the best use of scarce funding in schools.  But as I worked through the year with this group and then subsequently visited classrooms this year in other schools, I’m convinced otherwise.

Students checking themselves in to class

One of the things that impressed me about this group of teachers was their dedication and willingness to try new things.  They invested a tremendous amount of personal time and went through a lot of frustration trying to learn the technology.  Their aim of course was to learn how to apply it to their teaching and to support their student’s learning.

Dave Sands, the principal, talks about his teachers and their learning

At each learning team meeting we carved out 5-minutes for each person to write what they’re worried about, wondering about, etc.  Check out this wordle of their five minute writes. 
Isn’t it interesting how “time” jumps out.  They worried about how much time it was taking to learn this and wondered if they’d have enough time to apply its use in their classrooms with kids.  I remember one teacher sharing how she went home, did the family stuff with dinner, playing with kids, etc.  Then after the kids went to bed she would hit the couch with her laptop and start researching SMART board lessons, trying them out, see which ones might be good starting points for her to use.  Often this would take her past midnight.

Teachers share the learning journey they went on

They accomplished a variety of things towards meeting their goals.  Initially they had to get over the hurdle of the technology itself.  Dealing with setup, things going wrong, what the possibilities are, etc.  Then they moved onto specific application to their classrooms, their students, and their chosen subject / activities.

Teachers share the results of their research

One of their key goals was to improve student learning.  After one year, most did not think they had realized this goal.  But, they were all looking forward to pushing on towards this ultimate aim.  They felt they had just got started and needed to build on what they had learned.  During the year many went through what I like to call “the pit of despair” but all came through the other side willing and excited to keep on going.

Teachers share advice for others interested in SMART Boards

This slide summarizes what I learned from this experience.  I admire these teachers for their dedication to learn.  Not all teachers in my experience like to invest the time to learn, rather there are those that are content with teaching the same lessons and content the same way year after year.  My observation is that the time and energy invested in learning and adapting was well worth it for these teachers!

I was told once by a person who works for SMART that 50% of IWB’s sold in the world are used as glorified white boards.  I would suggest that the reason is some schools install these tools and don’t invest in staff learning.  The stages of adoption for a SMART Board are (1) expensive display device, (2) an enhancement for the teacher / more engaging for students, and (3) a learning tool for students.  Teachers that involve students in using the IWB to participate in learning, share their learning, and perhaps help teach, will have reached the stage that a SMART Board should take them to.

What do you think?  Are these tools worth the expense?  Do they really improve student learning?  How so?  Are your schools implementing IWB’s?  Feel free to share your experiences and ideas here.