Thursday, August 31, 2006

Parent Information Night - Interactive Whiteboards

Last night, the school held a Parent Information Night on Interactive Whiteboards so that they could see first hand what we are implementing here with our IWB program. I started the evening off with a modified version of Karl Fisch's "Did You Know?" slideshow to give the gathered parents a global picture about information and how technology is aiding its exponential growth. A really powerful presentation - it is amazing how it just stands alone without any intervention or explanation and had all people in the room shaking their heads in wonderment, awe or amazement. This gave me the context for my "big picture" lead in which was based on part of the presentation to the Middle Schooling Conference. I covered the concepts of digital natives and digital immigrants, how technology tied in with our school's vision, moving onto what an IWB was and all the components that made it work.I talked about costs (always of interest to the parent community) and talked about the steps involved in IWB implementation into the classrooms. I had three volunteer teachers who were ready to share their use of IWB in their classrooms and so I handed over to them for a closer nuts'n'bolts look.
Our first presenter was Suzanne, a Reception teacher who deals with five and six year olds on a daily basis. The first flipchart she showed was on the deconstructing of a sentence. By writing words that could be recomposed into a sentence, she worked with her class to cover many aspects of writing key to young students - by being able to move the words around they covered concepts like finger spaces, full stops and capital letters. She also involved her students in the constructing of alphabet charts - she used images from the library matched to sounds to make it fun. One sound if the student pressed the wrong image and applause if they pressed the correct one. She used patterning with student names with different colours for different letters as both an art lesson and a literacy exercise. Suzanne also talked about the usefulness of being able to connect a Kidspiration diagram constructed in the resource centre to the classroom and continue the learning from one location to the next. To finish off her section, she showed how a simple flipchart made up of numbers, their word versions and images to match was a really great way to teach the concept of numbers and how to associate the different forms. Oh yes, she also talked about the use of a CD-ROM game, Franklin The Turtle where all the different parts that the students knew were used to create a shared understanding of the game with all of its activities. This was also a great way to enhance social skills as students negotiated and informed each other about the various activities.
Our next presenter was Maria - from the Middle Primary section of the school and a relatively new user of the ACTIVboard. She started with an English example which was using Connective words. It was really easy to generate an activity that demonstrated the concept and gave the students a hands on opportunity to manipulate the right words into position - but the important part was the discussion that it generated. Her turning point came one day in the classroom when working on a Water Conservation activity connected to her class's Problem Based Learning unit. She started in a traditional way with a poem on the water cycle, then moved onto an interactive website - connecting the concepts quickly and in a way that made meaning. Maria also used resources and diagrams that a student had found on the web (a great boost for his self esteem) - comparing the two to show the class that there are many ways to represent the same concept. She used the IWB as an opportunity to pull many pieces of learning together - "just in time" learning that would have been difficult to do without the board. Maria then finished off by showing some of the great online resources available for teachers to use within their classroom, a simile website with different activities.
At this stage, we had a great parent question to challenge us - Are classes without an IWB being disadvantaged in their learning? That's definitely a hard question to answer effectively because the technology is only effective in the hands of an excellent teacher. Simply plunking an IWB in the classroom is no guarantee to improved learning opportunities - but what we are seeing that quality teachers love this tool because they can run with it and connect up the different concepts more efficiently and in a way that is meaningful to the students. I also hypothesized that IWB's are a great intermediary between the teaching and learning of concrete and abstract concepts.
Finally, we had Marg who talked about the IWB impact on her class of middle school students. Demonstrating her mastery of many of the multimedia tools embedded in the ACTIVstudio software, she showcased her students' thoughts on having an IWB by using sound files of students speaking about their IWB experiences embedded in photos. Marg described how her students use the resources in the library and from the internet to create presentations for a current events program. She emphasized the engagement factor, pointing out that one child spent many hours on their presentation. Marg also demonstrated how she uses the IWB to build a positive classroom atmosphere and boost self esteem - highlighting students' birthdays, sporting results, showing class activities instantly in photo form (dance sport, excursions, casual days), critiquing other's work and so on. One example she showed was a brainstorm annotated over an image from Beach day highlighting key words and ideas from the day. Marg also showed many other examples of how she covered the curriculum using the ACTIVboard as the platform for setting up tasks, explicit teaching of concepts, constructing learning and presenting student work.
Overall, it was a great presentation and the parents expressed their appreciation in getting a first hand look at this new technology and hearing from the teachers so that they get a bigger, deeper picture beyond the "wow, isn't this amazing" factor. Thanks to Suzanne, Maria and Marg for their professional input.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Quote Of The Day

Followed this link from my TechLEARNING News email subscription about the inroads Interactive Whiteboards are making into US classrooms.

Still, some educators contend there's more to teaching than technology.

It's all just chalk dust and mirrors, says Alan Frager, a Miami University education professor. If a teacher writes too much on a board - be it black, white, or "smart" - students won't learn how to properly take notes.

"You can look in any education methods textbook . . . and you wouldn't find anything on chalkboards or white boards because it's not an important factor in teaching," he said.

"The people who should be writing are the students, not the teachers, because you learn much more when you take the ideas and put them into your own words."

I'd like a bit more context to the quote but I'd still be a bit worried that a teacher spouting forth their wisdom is the scenario here while the students feverishly write notes. I don't think that is preferable to the problems outlined by the professor in the article. Worth a bit of thought however - how do Interactive Whiteboards change things for the better? For the teachers AND the students.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

EChO Conference Reflections

This morning I had the great pleasure of co-presenting "Interactive Whiteboards @ Lockleys North" with one of our school's innovative IWB junior primary users, Suzanne Dunn, at the Term Three EChO conference. The half-day conference's theme was on Science and Technology and so when Suzanne approached me about participating and spreading the word about options beyond SmartBoards, I agreed. However, I suggested that it needed to be a joint presentation to give it Junior Primary credibility. I'm totally sure that because of its early childhood focus, most of our attendees were looking forward to hearing from her classroom perspective in preference to the computer nerd guy.
Having to switch my mind set from the middle school teachers who were the focus of my last presentation to the demographic of JP and preschool educators wasn't too bad. I've been working with the 3 Reception classes this term in the computing room and they are the first batch to be all born in this century - the true Millennials or Generation Z. For example, in one of these classes, every student has a computer at home that is solely for the children of that household. Quite often, it's because Mum or Dad have upgraded to laptops or a newer PC and kept the old one for the kids (even it is still technology that is superior to what they access at school). Most have broadband even though most of our kids are not from affluent backgrounds. This new batch of kids have started school with a skill set and a familiarity with technology that hasn't been seen before, even if you classify most students in the primary school setting in the category of "digital natives". So Karl Fisch's latest gift to the online education community - a simple powerpoint with a powerful message, titled "Did You Know?" - was the perfect choice to set the scene and give our presentation the global "big picture".
The more I observe and listen to educators like Suzanne, the more I am convinced that the IWB is an amazing tool in servicing the needs of the younger student. It bridges the gap between concrete and abstract, it encourages collaboration and conversation and it can help establish formative skills. Now those are important things in any classroom but I can see them coming through very strongly in our junior primary classrooms. Suzanne showed the group excellent examples from her own classroom - how to use the ticker tape tool as part of visual literacy, how the use of CD-ROM educational games promoted discussion and teamwork and exploring a book like the Gruffalo could promote imagination and a shared understanding of a text.
There was a lot of nods and probing questions from the gathered educators, some getting their first look at an Interactive Whiteboard, others just interested to see what the fuss is about and I hope that our 60 minute sessions helped inform them not just about IWB's but about the need to get to grips with our exponential world and make the Shift Happen in our education system.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Watch Out For Promethean Planet!

From the latest version of eSchool News, came the announcement from the makers of ACTIVboard.
Atlanta, GA--July 5--Promethean, a global leader in interactive learning technology, has launched Promethean Planet, the first free collaborative Web portal designed specifically to help K-12 educators, administrators and parents maximize the use of interactive learning technologies. The site can be found at

Read the full article here.
It's only open to the US at present but hopes to be fully online for the rest of the world by the end of September. Should be good and help with the time issue I talked about on my own blog.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Well Done, Team!

On Monday, the MYLU (Middle Years Learning Unit)team from our school presented at the International Middle Schooling Conference being held here in Adelaide. Our presentation focussed on the use of Interactive Whiteboards in the Middle School Classroom and was titled "Engaging The Digital Native – Use Of New Technologies In The Middle School Classroom." We presented to a full room of around 100 keen educators from a wide variety of school settings. We worked out that there must have been around that number because we were expecting 87 delegates and provided 100 bookmarks designed for the occasion in place of photocopied handouts. Our thought process there was to showcase some emerging technology use of our own by putting all of our resources on a wiki for the event - then give out bookmarks with the wiki address and our contact details to encourage traffic to it. So if you want to get a virtual replay of our presentation, go to the wiki and check out our notes, and in time the slides (or flipchart, if you have an ACTIVboard yourself!) and hopefully, the audio when I edit it back to a manageable file size.
The team was fantastic and I felt like all of the hard work in planning and preparation came off. Hopefully, I wasn't too much of a dictator and stage managed the whole thing coherently. We got pretty good feedback from our audience and via other grapevines later on, so that was great. Our boss even said someone had said the phrase, "international standard presentation..." in their assessment of the event. So, we had the use of an ACTIVboard as well to give the whole thing credibility - thanks to Amy and Commander for making that happen. As I said in my e-mail out to the MYLU teachers last night:
Thank you all very much for your efforts in our presentation today. It was my privilege to be part of such a professional and cohesive production - thank you all for your part, it was a true team effort and we should all be very proud. Just remember when the requests to see IWB's in action come flooding in, I'll need you to be ready to show off your expertise!