Smart boards accelerate technology use in the classroom

A Boulevard fourth grade scientist reviews data using the Smart Board. Photo by Jackie Elvfin.

“I’ve been a teacher for a long time, and I am comfortable with chalk. When I found the whiteboard in my room this fall, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it,” said Belinda Farrow, a kindergarten teacher at Boulevard elementary school.

“Now I can’t imagine how I got along without it,” beamed the excited teacher.

This has been a learning year for the Boulevard staff as they’ve explored the ins and outs of using an interactive white board. The new technology is one more demand on scarce time, but one that Principal Larry Swoope thinks the staff has found valuable. As he put it, “Boulevard has embraced Smart Boards.” Peak into any classroom and you are likely to see them in use. His explanation: teacher-to-teacher support.

Smart Board is the brand name for equipment that links a large 6½-foot wide by 5-foot tall white board with a computer and an LCD projector. The combination creates a portal -- the entry point -- by which a teacher can bring the information and educational activities found in cyberspace into the classroom for everyone to see on the big white “window.” This includes teacher-made materials and a wealth of Web-based resources that are making blackboards and movie projectors obsolete. The soft-coated surface is sensitive to touch and allows for interaction with the contents projected on the surface. This makes the board especially inviting to students who can manipulate information with the simple touch of the finger.

Farrow uses her Smart Board an average of 15-20 times a day to take attendance, introduce major concepts, model class work, reinforce ideas or skills and as a center for independent student work. She uses it to create her own games and instructional materials and to access a broad range of lessons that teachers throughout the world share on instructional websites. It’s good for every part of the curriculum and the interactive dimension is exciting.

Technology can be intimidating, and its introduction can be a turn-off. What is easy to the experienced user can leave new learners confused. For technology to become a useful instructional resource, teachers must know how it works, what it can do and how to incorporate it into their classroom routines. All this requires time and creativity. Without the right support, and evidence that it is worth their personal investment, it can be a nonstarter.

Teachers have been the key to Farrow’s conversion from resister to advocate. The turning point came in the fall when Lisa Evans, her counterpart at Gearity School, volunteered to help Boulevard’s kindergarten team. They left the session with a disk full of Evans’s favorite Smart Board resources. “This made me feel brave enough to start to find my own," said Farrow.

Consistent guidance and interaction with her colleagues in the primary wing -- Tina Reynolds, Christine Snowden and Lauren Eaton -- has shortened Farrow’s learning curve and kept her motivated. The four teachers frequently collaborate, looking to each other for teaching strategies, advice, feedback and encouragement. Their proximity makes it easy to get quick solutions to a pressing detail, share excitement about a new resource or discuss effective strategies.

Time is critical. It takes a lot of it to sift through the vast possibilities that are just a click away -- if you know where to look. It takes an even greater investment to transform this potential into a fluid and effective extension of a teacher’s routine. Like so much of teaching, effective use of technology to advance instructional goals will take shape over time. Farrow is over the first hurdle -- she has discovered the Smart Board’s value and is starting to make it hers.

Joe Micheller, the district’s director of special programs and compliance, and a strong advocate and driving force for integrating technology into instruction, knows that technology is not a silver bullet. “It’s just a tool.” But it can be a very powerful tool in the hands of a thoughtful teacher, and is an appropriate support for 21st-century learning.

Two years ago, Smart Boards were introduced into a handful of classrooms in each elementary school. This year they became standard operating equipment in every Boulevard classroom and in the three middle schools. By the end of the year all of the elementary buildings will be fully equipped and the learning curve will begin for hundreds of teachers.

As the CH-UH school district integrates up-to-date technology into the classroom, teachers will determine if the tool reaches its potential. If Boulevard’s experience holds up across the district, it will be teacher collaboration that will help teachers embrace the technology and make it an effective resource for their teaching. As Farrow sees it, “by working as teams and partners, we can overcome our reservations and achieve comfort and even confidence.”

Susie Kaeser has been a resident of Cleveland Heights for more than 30 years. She is the former director of Reaching Heights and a current board member of the Home Repair Resource Center.

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Volume 4, Issue 3, Posted 10:31 AM, 03.01.2011