Thursday, October 16, 2014

SMART Boards: Reflecting On My Visit To Summit View Elementary

As the TechLead at my school, I have been tasked with finding ways to use our Sharp Aquos flat panel touch screen TVs.  (From here on out, I'll call them our big screens or IWBs for Interactive White Boards.) We have a small collection of these big screens in our school - one each in our two computer labs and two science labs.  Sadly these are not being used to capacity, except maybe as projectors.  

My desire has been to find ways to intentionally use these big screens as creative and collaborative tools rather than showing what the teacher wants the students to see.  This has not been an easy quest, but I have been learning how to better use them as teaching tools.  

The classrooms at Summit View Elementary School in Independence, KY, are equipped with SMART Boards.  (One teacher I talked to said she has had hers for at least six years.)  I spent some time observing three teachers teaching with their IWBs and learned a lot. 

In my research over the last few months, one thing I've learned is to ignore the software included with the IWB. Let me debunk that myth right now.  I watched Ms. Sparks teach her third graders about different types of rocks, how they are formed and identified, all while using the SMART Notebook presentation that came with the board. Let me say that in a different way.  Not only did she use the software, she used the "canned" presentation (which she tinkered with to fit her tastes). And she did a masterful job at it. Her students were engaged, listening, and participating. I've taught that lesson before, and I did a great job by making it boring -- reading it from the book and talking about it. Nope. Ms. Sparks let the software make it exciting.  When the computer used animation to teach vocabulary (and show how the rocks are formed) every student was paying attention.  

I also spent time watching two different math lessons (Ms. Shumate in 1st grade and Ms. Suchanek in 2nd grade).  They used Houghton Mifflin's online teacher pages to assist them in teaching the lessons.  In both cases, students had manipulatives on their desks. The IWB was used to mimic what the students should have had on their desks. Students were chosen to go to the board and virtually put the manipulatives on the screen. Since the software was aligned with their books, they didn't have to change terminology or graphic organizers, making the process easy for the teachers.  The lessons seamlessly wove from IWB to manipulatives to (on one room) student white boards. This gave spark to more classroom conversation.  "Do you agree with Billy?"  

Overall, I came to the realization that the IWB was merely a tool in the teacher's toolbox.  It did not define them as teachers.  They still used Cuisenaire rods and base 10 blocks. They still used white boards.  They still lead the conversations and asked great questions. They still needed to dig deep into their classroom management skills and use their primary teacher voices and facial expressions.  I got the impression that the SMART Board isn't used every day, but it was the tool of choice for today.  

True, I didn't find a secret Web 2.0 formula to make IWBs the greatest tool to hit schools since iPads, but I did see that it can be a great tool to teach the basic building blocks of knowledge and skills.  And that's not a bad thing.  

A few extra things. 
  • Houghton Mifflin's interactive site can be found here. Sadly, it doesn't appear to be free. 
  • SMART Notebook's software can be found here. It, too, appears to need a subscription.  
  • Ms. Sparks downloaded SMART Notebook to her student computers, including the interactive presentations.  This gives students another chance to check out the info (and the cool animations). 
  • SMART Notebook had a number of "quizzes" (for lack of a better term) sprinkled throughout the presentation to check for understanding.  These included matching (drag the term to the right definition), putting a check in the right box, and dragging a word from one side of the screen to the other to see if your guess was correct. The students ate this up.  
  • Keep the kids on their toes.  Pull popsicle sticks to see who goes next.  Those kids were paying good attention so they would be able to use the board and/or answer the next question to come up.
  • It's not easy keeping kids' hands off manipulatives and watch someone else tap the IWB.  However, the teachers did a good job of keeping students focused.  
  • All the classrooms had overhead lights dimmed (half of room off) and two had lamps on around the room.  That made  it easier to see the screen and created a homie ambiance.  I liked it.  
  • I learned that a group of butterflies is a flutter. Did you know that? The 2nd graders did.  
  • My school isn't the only one with intermittent connectivity woes.  Blessings on those IT people who keep things running as well as they do! 
  • There was one little girl who just loved my iPad and my laptop.  She was enamored. I hope she learned something about math today. :) 

Thanks so much to the faculty at SVE for allowing me to visit and learn from them.  

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