Mr P's SMART Board

One teacher's record of the implementation of a SMART Board Interactive whiteboard into a primary school classroom. For links see the Simply Science FURL. For science education try Simply Science site. For ICT check out My Other Blog. For one with the lot then go to my Suprglu archive.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Out Of The Mouth Of .......

Sometimes, (if you listen well enough), the children we work with give you some really telling insights into how to teach them. Today I was let into a really neat notion. We had in our morning chats begun talking about veins in plants which led to a discussion on veins in animals and then to hearts and circulation etc. Over recess I quickly located a number of Flash animations of the human heart in action. As with most animations, each only showed part of the process so I deemed it prudent to have a look at a number of such animations. It was in the process of viewing them that one of the students piped up that this particular one was not right because all the chambers were contracting and relaxing together as opposed to the previous one where there was an up and down pattern. Instantly, (well sort of instantly :) I realized that here was the real teaching point of this exercise. Straight away I switched from me being the "teacher" explaining what was happening to allowing the children to learn by commenting on and contrasting the ways in which each of the animations differed. Soon the children were deriving their own questions and answering amongst themselves. Maybe this is one of the more enabling aspects of the IWB, that we can together explore a range of alternate learning experiences side by side and contrast and critically examine each for what they have to offer and what they choose to omit.

As well as teaching, I am also trying to achieve my Masters in Education. Tonight when I went to my usual Tuesday class I was pleasantly informed that next term my supervisor and two others of her colleagues from Uni were coming all the way down the highway to check out our SMART Boards in action.

Oh as we were working away today, the principal came past showing a prospective family through the school. They looked most impressed when they came past with the board in full display. (Maybe I should rig up a system whereby the boss can let me know when he is on the "show the school" visits so we can "wow" some more parents :).

Monday, May 30, 2005

Back At The Coalface

At last the hearing has returned and I no longer have an excuse to stay at home so it's back to the classroom and checking out what the children have been doing since I have been away. First thing on the agenda was to catch up on the stories that they have been publishing. Alas some of the children had taken advantage of the nicer nature of the replacement teachers who have been filling in for me this last two weeks. The stories have become a little lax with some dodgey punctuation and some other errors appearing in their final draft work where none should be. Normally this would have meant some quite tedious one-on-one repetitive work, explaining to individuals how to go about remedying this. Aha but not so with the IWB. We soon had poor H's work up on the board for all to see. A caution to all that his was not the only piece of work that had these problems was enough to get a bit more focus on the piece. Soon we were explaining the in and outs of using the "invisible" characters in Word to show us where there were too many spaces, where "Enter" had been used where it shouldn't plus revealing a number of other features which would help make their otherwise interesting stories that little bit more intelligible. Overall the SMART Board provided some excellent productivity gains with an otherwise 2-3 hours of individual instruction being replaced by fifteen minutes in sit, (that is not allowing for the vagaries of some of my little darling's memories in remembering and applying what we had covered).

Friday, May 27, 2005

We've Done Well

Though I am still not officially back at work, my Principal and I went up to a School Leader's seminar this week conducted by IWBnet at Penleigh and Essendon Gramar School in Melbourne. It was interesting to note that the numbers attending were so in excess of the anticipated audience that all the places available were taken.

As part of the day we got to check out some other whiteboard manufacturers as well as some of the software associated with IWB's. We also got to have a look around the school and hear of their experiences. As with us, they were most enthusiastic users of the technology and the teachers involved were excellent ambassadors, not only for the school but also for the technology. They did have some cautionary experiences that they were able to share with the audience. P&EGS have also installed SMART Boards. They however paid for contractors to install their IWB's including associated hardware such as Jet controllers to control the projector and sound systems. Having used the IWB's they now considered this to be largely redundant expenditure and will not be going to such extremes in future installations.

They had also decided in two rooms to go cold turkey and have only the IWB as the sole board space for the classroom. The teachers suggested that this was not such a good idea as they would have liked a small space at least on which to record notes/messages that would be there as a reminder for the whole of the day. Overall for us it was really heartening to find out that we were at least up with the leaders in the adoption of IWB's and that we had made some good decisions in our choice of board and the manner in which we are proceeding with there installation.

One interesting reminder to come out of our discussions during the day was the importance of the digital camera, not only to record events but also to be used to capture student work to throw up on the IWB. Often such work is larger in size than a scanner however with today's higher resolution cameras capturing such work is much easier. Of course once you have the work on display it is very easy to use it to make teaching points and also save in digital portfolios.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Greatly Enhanced Presentation

Despite my infirmity, (I can only still partially hear at best), I went along to the Conference and made sure that I sat up the front of sessions I attended. Arriving at the conference I was more than pleased to find, as promised by Jeremy, my SMART Board ready in the room I was to present in. I shouldn't have been worried at all as I had had a number of conversations with both Jeremy and the folks delivering the board since the arrangements for the loan were made. (Their service has been most impressive indeed.)

As I had some spare time at lunchtime I offered to do a sort of intro to the SMARTBoard for any other delegates who were interested. A dozen or so people came up to the room and we had a quick intro to how it sets up and works. Most of the attendees were secondary teachers who went away most impressed with the capabilities of interactive whiteboards.

In the display area there was another IWB distributor displaying the board they had for sale. That product was pretty interesting too and the demonstrator was busy most of the time. It seems IWB's may be about to make an impact in our system.

As to the session I presented, it went very well. The SMARTBoard certainly did make it that much easier to present with as I was always facing the audience and they could see all the moves I was making. (My presentation is full of hyperlinks and embedded objects so participants could see everything as it unfolded as well as where it came from.) The display of interactives is superb especially as I took the plugin speakers.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

An Offer To Good To Refuse

This weekend I am to present a session at the Annual ICTEV conference. On Wednesday I received my first copy of the interactivewhiteboard news from In the newsletter it was mentioned that Electroboard were willing to provide a SMART Board to conference presenters. As I am also going to present sessions later in the year at a couple of science teacher's conferences I sent off an email enquiring about the possibility of a board for these. Cheekily I also mentioned the ICTEV conference. Imagine my surprise when next morning in my Inbox was an email with attached loan agreement for the conference on the Saturday. This was followed up by a phone call to me from Jeremy, the account manager at ElectroBoard seeking to make sure that they could deliver a board to the conference for me to use. Suffice to say i will now have a board with which to better present my session, (I was very impressed).

Oh the session is titled ICT and Science. You can view an online version at my Simply Science Site at

Oh Dear I'm Sick

Just when everything is setup to really run with the SMART Board I get struck by the dreaded flu. The worst part is that I can barely hear and working in a classroom environment is basically impossible. Alas I have had to take sick leave.

Unfortunately timing is everything and this week is Education Week and on Thursday we were to have an open session. Because I knew that a number of children would have parents, and grandparents visiting at this time, and that they would be expecting to show off the board I asked the relief teacher is she wouldn't mind if I came up to school and we sort of did a tag team for the last hour. She readily agreed and again it was interesting watching the adult reactions to the board. There was a lot of wowing at first but then again there was a general reluctance to actually engage with the board when given the chance to write etc. The children were very eager though to take over and as they guided their adult company in the use of the board they showed that they had a very good grasp of how to operate it, (much better in some cases than I had actually thought. Maybe I should take more of a back seat more often just to see what the children really can do?).

At home I had decided to "interactivate" a new strategy game. Though I could have used the SMART Notebook I decided this time to make it in Flash. The advantage with Flash is that through the use of action buttons you can automatically reset the board to starting positions. In addition I find it just a little easier to draw.

The game was again very successful this time the children actually a little reluctant to leave the board to play the paper version.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Happy OHS at Last

Come Friday, (why then I ask), just as everyone else is heading down for the weekly debrief, into my room come the technicians smiling broadly. "We think we've got it." was the chorus. Straight away they proceeded to unroll extensions and cabling and began moving desktops computers around the room. Soon we had whiteboard connections, well sort of. We could get the laptop to operate the board via the switch box but the desktop proved another matter altogether. A few minutes spent on the SMART site and we had the reason. It seems that the SMART Board is configured to work out of USB Port 1 only. A re-arrange of the cables and we had the desktop functioning too. Next for the big test, going via the switch box and doing a switch over.

This trial provided a really interesting outcome. With the laptop connected via the switch, we were able to get the green board indicator light on which meant it was receiving. The only problem was that the movements of the pen on the board didn't leave the normal pen impression. Instead the cursor on the desktop was careering around the screen mimicking the pen on the board. Whilst rather comical it was not quite the result expected. With a scratch of the head the techo mumbled something about another male-female cable and set off back to the office. Thirty minutes or so later, with everyone else having now gone home for the weekend, this extra cable proved the solution and we had a switching setup that enables us to move between a desktop and my laptop.

This was important because it meant that I could still do work on my laptop out of school and use it at will. It also meant that I then didn't have to worry about students inadvertently or otherwise accessing or changing material on my laptop. It also gave us a point from which children could then easily access their work to quickly show to the class.

Along the way I also had my laptop configured for the wireless setup that the school has just installed. This was good because it freed up a data point that the relocated desktop could now access.

Suggesting the use of a wireless keyboard with the board as has been suggested in some of the reading I have done, proved once again problematic. It seems that having a number of wireless devices such as keyboards in a school setup such as ours can lead to interference between devices. The suggestion was that it might cause more problems that it solved. As a result it looks like this idea is on the backburner.

Now all we need are the speakers set which look like they also require switching device. Ah well bit by bit we are getting things together. Thank goodness we haven't tried to do everything at once.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Council Impressions

As the school has invested quite a significant amount of money in the SMART Boards it is always prudent to keep the School Council informed on the use of the infra-structure they authorise. With this in mind I was asked to attend and do a short 15 minute presentation for the Council Meeting tonight. It's amazing though how somehow time flies when you are having fun showing off. Some 30 minutes into the quarter hour slot I finally stopped talking long enough to take questions. Of course there was the question of durability as well as how the children enjoyed it. Interestingly there was a general reluctance by council members to actually come out and write on the board. Overall thought there were lots of smiling faces of approval from the council members as they left.

There was however also one very pertinent question asked by one member as he was leaving. He wondered if many of the things I had shown eg the interactives, Flash stories, some of the work and the like, could not have been done just as easily with a data projector and desk-top. In doing things this way we would be cutting out the cost, (at around $5000), of the boards. This of course would mean that we could then afford to put a data projector in almost all of the rooms instead of only the four boards.

In many ways he had a point, especially with some of the activities I had chosen to demonstrate. A quite valid argument could well be mounted in this way. In thinking on it later I did consider that maybe I had missed an opportunity to make a greater point perhaps because of the nature of the demonstration. The presentation was very static, me talking while they listened. This contrasts with the whiteboard teaching situations I have experienced so far have which have been more dynamic and involved with children as well as myself working via the board. Even with a projector the logistics of moving to and from the board are much easier and child friendly than doing the same via a desk top keyboard.

The more data projectors suggestion also didn't take into account the teacher position in the class and that the board allowed me to be in front of the class at all times. Thus I could take into account those often critical facial and other indicators of student engagement. (If we had only the desk-top computer to work from I would have been positioned behind the children.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Sorry About That

Mid afternoon today we were busy working away, (this time without the board accompaniment when I noticed the Principal walking past in the company of two other gentlemen. Knowing that our Prin was showing a couple of neighbouring Prins around I volunteered to "show off" the whiteboard. As we weren't totally connected the Prins left with a view to coming back shortly. Unfortunately this co-incided with my change over time for the senior soccer, (see "Brave Colleagues" below). Of course the Prins had not made it back before I had to go. Fortunately the aforementioned "Brave" Senior colleague was able to do a great little sell on the board when the Prins did return some ten minutes after I left.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Clozed Correction

We had been doing a cloze exercise as one of our reading group rotations this week when I hit upon the perfect way to go through the correction/analysis of responses, why not the board. This was easy as I had a digital copy of the passage so it was a simple matter of throwing it up onto the board and the entering all possible alternatives into the spots where the words had been removed from, on the board. Much nicer that simply listing the alternative words on the board and then checking back to the passage for the context as the contest was already there.

Memo to the future, make sure as much of my work is kept in digital form so that we can throw it up on the board. Last week we had done a "torn story" activity where a passage had been disassembled and needed to be put back in order. Damn we could have gone throught the correction of that on the board with the passages in separate blocks. Doing that in the Notebook format would have allowed children to slide them around and rearrange them however we liked.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Decomposing Interactively

As many teachers can relate teaching subtraction with trading can be a lot of fun, not. Some kids just don't seem to be able to catch what is going on. Again demonstrations on the floor with Multi-based Arithmetic Blocks is okay for most but for the children whose attention wanders just that little bit, (read for that the ones who have trouble latching onto what is happening), it is often not as effective as one might hope. As this was the topic of the moment it was great to remember that I had seen some MAB interactives at the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives For Interactive Mathematics, (wow what a title) at A quick connect to the internet and a Java update later, (the interactives are written in javascript), and we were on the go.

Boy did the use of the board make a huge difference. All at once everybody was involved, especially when the blocks decomposed. Even better was the fact that the blocks were colour coded so that we could talk about the top number, (or minuend for the technically inclined mathematicians) as being the number you had that you could give away. The number being subtracted, (subtrahend, yeah I looked the term up....) was red. Therefore when we went to work in our books we did our examples in these colours and the confusions in the main disappeared as all the children knew that it was the blue they had to give away and the red they were to give.

There was one minor irritation and that was that the interactive didn't actually record the decomposition and trading just the way we like to show in our classes. Though the computation shown could be overwritten on the board with the pens, each time the screen was refreshed for the following step this annotation/recording disappeared and had to be replaced which was a potential distraction.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Brave Colleagues

Each week, because I have some previous experience in the area, I take senior soccer for an hour. This means a swap with one of the other senior teachers who comes into my room to take my grade 3/4's. Having already been in for the intro session with her class, Mrs N was brave and forward enough to ask that if I set the board up, could she use it with my kid's assistance. This has been the start of a neat little professional arrangement as Mrs N has now not only continued to use the board with my class but has also enquired about further using it with her class when mine are out of the room.

Another day we were out of the room for 2 hours checking bikes. Another colleague who has had experience with boards in another setting was offered the room. She took it for the whole 120 minutes and loved it. No need for a guided tour from me at all.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Interesting observation from one of the Prep teachers not long after having been in our room for the intro session. Seems they went back to their room where they were about to use the Overhead Projector to do some work on a large sheet of butcher's paper on the wall. One child passed the comment that "Hey we've got a smartboard too, just like Mr P's"

Prior to the session the class teacher enquired if we could use an interactive from that she had been using in class to teach time. Seeing the clocks on the "Big Screen" was great for the children. We also has an experiment with the clock in the SMART Notebook which proved quite easy to use.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Other Uses

It has been really interesting having other classes come into the room to access the whiteboard when my class have been out of the room. The preps, (reception) class in particular seem to take to it really easily. Again the standard patter involves a talk about the projector and about not looking into the bright light, then safety around the board before showing them, (usually on some unsuspecting child's forehead), that the pens don't actually make a mark in the normal sense though on the board they create magic. Then it's onto exploring some of the attributes of the board eg the display of Flash interactives or thinking tools to something else hopefully related to their class work. In this way I hope that we are providing a sort of PD for the teachers as well.

This morning the Art teacher came in and enquired if there was any way that we could display digital images of the children on the board so that they could draw and shade around their projected image with pencil to have the sketchings of a large portrait. With a minimum experimentation we found images on the network and projected them onto some large sheets of paper blu-tacked to the board. 15 minutes later our test child had a very life-like torso portrait to work with. Result one happy Art teacher and we became a wandering class for the sessions that she has with the extension art group as they "draw" their portraits. A totally unexpected use for the board indeed.

On another occasion a visiting Canadian student teacher from another room enquired if he could use the board to run a PowerPoint presentation that he had made for his class. A quick show and do explanation and he was away, as of course was my class as we offered to vacate so he could use our room. (My children are becoming well practiced in packing up to decamp :)