Smart boards help students, teachers learn


jwarren@herald-leader.comNovember 10, 2009 

New pieces of technology called interactive whiteboards are replacing the old-fashioned screech of chalk on blackboards at many Fayette County public schools.

Students are the big winners, educators say.

Monday morning, Tracy Ellis' fifth-graders at Glendover Elementary School were using one of the computerized boards for a reading class.

Individual students had to go to the front of the room and, by tapping on the board, properly spell out words associated with American colonies. Make a mistake, and a computerized figure would let out a funny groan. A correct answer drew a cheer from the same figure on the board.

Just down the hall, Carol Royse's third-graders were using a whiteboard to explore the values of coins and the various combinations of coins needed to produce a specific amount of change, say $1.78. Students could tap coin symbols on the board — quarter, dime, nickel, penny — and watch as the board instantly totaled up their selections and quickly indicated whether they were right.

At any given moment during the school day, this is going on in nearly every classroom at Glendover. The school has rapidly embraced whiteboard technology since it started getting the boards about a year and a half ago.

"They've become such an integral part of everything we do that I can't imagine what it was like before we had them," said fourth-grade teacher Elizabeth Bowers. "In my room, we use them all day."

The boards can function somewhat like a traditional blackboard, but they can do much, much more.

Interactive whiteboards — sometimes loosely referred to as "smart boards" — combine a large, touch-sensitive board with a projector and a computer.

From his or her desk, the teacher can call up images on the computer then project them onto the screen, which is mounted on the classroom wall. The projected image might be a classroom lesson; a test; a Web page; a page from a book; or an actual three-dimensional object for, say, a science experiment.

Because the screen is touch-sensitive, students can manipulate the projected image by touching or tapping on the board. They can even write on the board using electronic pencils, then remove mistakes with an electronic eraser.

Students also can take true/false quizzes, using individual clickers to answer questions projected on the board. Everything put on the board also can be stored on a computer or printed out for students to take home.

Glendover Principal Cathy Fine attributes improved student scores to the new technology.

"Students punch in their answers to questions on the board, and the teacher gets immediate feedback on how many students were right or wrong. Then, the class can go over the answers without having to wait three days to get the graded tests back.

"We have to get our schools in tune with the reality that children face today. They're engaged with technology every minute of their lives. If we're still teaching the way we were taught years ago, how can we get the kids on board? I think this is a way."

Students think so, too.

Destinie Chinn, 10, said the activities her class does on the board help her learn, and Sam Swayze, 10, said he likes the visual learning the board provides.

"If you don't understand something, the teacher puts it up there and it makes more sense," he said.

The smart boards aren't cheap. Equipping a classroom costs about $2,000, officials say. Nevertheless, Lexington schools are adding boards as rapidly as possible.

Greg Drake, the district's educational technology director, said that about 20 schools in the district have multiple boards. All new buildings will have boards, and they're being added to every school now under renovation, he said.

Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3255.

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