May 3

SMARTBoard Cafe

Today I went to David Livingstone Elementary in Vancouver where they have Interactive Whiteboards in every classroom. I attended one of their “SMARTBoard Cafe” meetings which are open to anyone in the district to discuss the use of Interactive Whiteboards in their classrooms. I was inspired by the work these teachers are doing to improve instruction, and to support their colleagues in improving instruction throughout the district.

They have found many benefits for students as they use Interactive Whiteboards including:

  • increased student engagement,
  • increased inclusion of students with learning needs and learning disabilities,
  • increased ownership of the learning process by students,
  • increased involvement in activities involving higher-level thinking.

As an educator I know the value of developing a learning environment that provides students with these things, but in the past doing so has been very labour intensive and I was frequently unable to pull together the resources needed to provide all these things. These teachers have found that they are far more able to build powerful lessons for their students using their SMARTBoards (and the Smart Notebook software it comes them) to build lesson activities and to access multimedia learning activities on the Internet.

Another thing that impressed me was the conversations the staff were having about teaching and learning, and the amount of collaboration that happening at the school around this project. Interestingly, they also spoke about the respectful collaboration they are witnessing as their students are involved in lessons utilizing the Interactive Whiteboard. Part of this student collaboration can be attributed to working together to develop and troubleshoot Interactive Whiteboard activities, but part of it is certainly due to the school staff modeling collaborative and respectful relationships.

One more thing… From the time I first saw an Interactive Whiteboard demonstrated (August 2007), I was intrigued but didn’t want to be distracted from UDL theory by the glitz of the tool. Over time I have analyzed various hardware and software through the lens of UDL. Initially, with only one Interactive Whiteboard in the school being shared by the three classroom teachers, I was still unconvinced (at this point I was not using an Interactive Whiteboard). The classroom teachers, however, were convinced and decided that the remainder of our project budget should go to purchase 3 more Interactive Whiteboards. Since the delivery of our Boards I have had daily use of one and have had so much fun developing lessons that have made teaching basic concepts more concrete for my students and I have become convinced of their value.

At David Livingstone they began with Interactive Whiteboards rather than with theory as I did. What fascinates me is that they are preparing Universally Designed learning activities for their students naturally. Most teachers are eager to meet the diverse learning needs of their students but, while not impossible, it is difficult to differentiate using textbooks, pens and paper. The teachers at David Livingstone have discovered that the use of Interactive Whiteboards has made this difficult task far easier.

Please add your thoughts to further this discussion – concerns, questions, things to add to the list of benefits…

November 3

Smart Boards

One aspect of our UDL project is that the team leaders from across the Province meet each week in an online classroom to discuss the progress of the project. The meetings are such a great opportunity to talk about how things are going, problems, successes, etc. The meetings provide us with time to ask other teams how they are dealing with various issues – I have learned so much from the other teams. 

The conversation this week was about the use of Smart Boards. There is some controversy about them being more glitzy than functional in the classroom and tech departments in some school districts are discouraging teachers from purchasing them. The consensus of those at the meeting, however, was that they benefit our students for a number of reasons ~

  • they provide multi-sensory opportunities beyond verbal and visual for both the presentation and the expression aspects of our lessons
  • in elementary school so many of our children have small muscle control difficulties which make other tools such as tablets difficult for them to use and would therefore exclude them from participating with confidence during lessons
  • they are creating a buzz in our schools; parents became interested in the project as a result of watching lessons and noticing the increased engagement of their kids. Other teachers in our school are also wanting to know more. This has helped us spread the word about what UDL is all about.

I will include more about the Smart Boards in the blog during the year. The children are so engaged during Smart Board lessons but it will be interesting to observe them to see if the engagement wares off over time- any thoughts from other teachers who have had one for a while? Our UDL team is so excited about using Smart Boards that we are not exactly objective … but we will try. Please comment on this blog if you can think of more positives or negatives on the use of Smart Boards…