Sunday, September 09, 2007

Really Getting Started with IWBs

Last year my division purchased six SmartBoards as a pilot project. We had months of hardware compatibility issues. By the time they were resolved, the Director of Technology had decided that due to technical support issues here, we would switch to Promethean instead. We were able to swap out 1 Smartboard for every x number of Prometheans purchased. As a result, I know have 8 teachers with Promethean boards and four with Smartboards.

I've been trying to get my brain around how to support these teachers. They are such skilled teachers and have had basic instruction in using the boards, so I didn't want to waste their time on mundane things they could figure out themselves. However, even more so than most groups, this group has a wide skill range. One is a tech integration specialist. Two others have served as technology coordinators in other schools. They are more skilled with the boards than I am at the moment.

At the other end of the spectrum are users who just received their boards this week, have had little time to experiment, and some are not naturally geeks, they don't do this for fun. How was I to plan an inservice that met their needs?

And how should we organize? I have teachers from each grade level, plus a tech specialist and an enrichment teacher. Two of the grade levels have both types of boards in the team. The boards each have their own software, and projects made in one cannot be used on the other. It was not obvious to me how to group them to best effect.

It is difficult to get time during the school day, but I received permission to pull them all from their classrooms for all of Friday afternoon. Since we may not get many other large chunks of time, I was really struggling on how best to use the time. Last year I attended a workshop and built into the workshop was time to look at the resources that were presented. That sounds obvious, but usually I walk home from workshops with a pile of resources I don't have time to look at. I wanted to build some of that time into this work time.

I decided to use a portion of the afternoon to give them a chance to assess what they still needed to learn and to explore their options. I used Wikispaces to create an IWB wiki. It contains links to training resources, lesson resources and good interactive web sites. It also has a page devoted to I had the Delicious toolbar buttons put in this year's build. This is the first group I've taught to use it. Some people really took to it. It was my hope that they could use it to find what other people have tagged with IWB or smartboard or promethean. We found some good resources that way and soon my teachers were tagging away. I also hoped we could use our own sasiwb tag to share resources with each other. Not sure that will work, but it was worth a try.

Next they explored the training options. Some were delighted to just start at the beginning and work their way back through tutorials. They were pleased to discover how much they already knew. One signed on for the free Promethean course taught via Moodle. He was zipping through the lessons. Others felt they didn't need that and spent more time in or explored the lesson resources in the wiki.

After that, we went around and each person shared their experiences thus far this year using the board. That was a good use of our time. You could feel the energy in the room build as people gained new ideas from colleagues. The third grade teachers commented that since the primary computer teachers had the boards last year, their students have come up knowing how to use the boards and were proving to be great support as these teachers found their way.

From there, I asked them to figure out how they wanted to organize into ongoing working groups. In the end, all three grade levels decided to work with their grade-level colleagues, but all the teachers were adamant that they wanted to continue to meet all together for work sessions because they gained so much from the other groups.

One grade decided to continue working on tutorials and to start looking for flipchart resources for upcoming social studies lessons. Another group was finding that their most powerful lessons with the board so far had involved interactive websites, or tools from the gallery such as compass and protractors. They wanted to spend time locating interactive sites that they could use with their current units. Since all our teachers have data projectors, they envisioned being able to share those resources with colleagues who do not have an IWB. This year we gave all classrooms a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse set, so they can be up by their screens rather than back by their computers when they use the data projectors. That makes using interactive sites much more effective.

Another grade had four people, two on each platform. They decided to still meet all together because they were getting such good ideas from each other. One teacher has really been using his board well in the week he's had it. Between interactive web sites that supported his current math unit, and just bringing the kids to the board to write their thinking on a math problem, he already has a bank of useful lessons saved. He is finding that having students come to the board to show their thinking, and then saving that page as a PDF allows him to save it and share it with all colleagues. It is no longer editable, but it is a great record of what they did. He can put it in Blackboard for the students to refer to. It makes me think a bit of Mr. Kuropatwa's class scribes.

These teachers were very focused on how to support their colleagues who receive boards next year. When I commented that we didn't know that we would expand this project to include other teachers because we hadn't yet seen that it was a success, they acted like I was crazy. To them it is obvious that all the teachers need these boards.

I am not yet convinced. My board was installed last week and so I used it in minimal ways with the kids for the lessons that were already planned. The kids are mesmerized, eager to use it. That in itself is worth something. I am wondering if for most of my teachers, taking hours to construct a flipchart that is only used for ten minutes is not the way to go. Interactive web sites, and just using the gallery tools as needed in lessons may be a better use of there time.

We are also fortunate that with our new Everyday Math adoption, two of the three grade levels purchased the interactive lessons CD-ROMs for all the teachers. This has the full TE and all the student journals, homework pages and other materials. Teachers are able to pull up a student work page and display it on the IWB and work on it for the class to see.

Yes, if you made a transparency of every page, and didn't lose them, you could accomplish the same thing with an overhead projector, but not quite. These seems a powerful tool.

I wonder if the actual board software might not be more powerful in the hands of the students. Rather than having them create yet another Powerpoint, they could create much more powerful demonstrations of their learning with the layering options the board presents. And they could make their presentations more interactive, and therefore more engaging.

I am also wondering if for our primary students, could the board be an effective way to help children move from concrete to symbolic stage with a concept, since it is a very movable symbolic representation?

All in all, I still feel that I'm not giving them enough direction. They are such skilled teachers that they will do good things with it despite my lack of leadership. I'm hoping that in Shanghai I'll glean words of wisdom from teachers who've been using the board for years. One session is devoted to sharing just that sort of wisdom. Whatever happens, I feel good to finally have this project launched.

I'd love to hear from other people with great resources or IWB training tips to share.