While attending an informational seminar last week, I learned an interesting statistic: approximately 45% of today's classrooms are using interactive whiteboards. In some ways, this came as a shock; in other ways, it did not. For years, it seems, IWBs (interactive whiteboards), from manufacturers such as SMART and Promethean, have been touted as the next big thing in education. Despite that assertion, they haven't seemed to fully catch on. So I was a bit shocked to learn that nearly half of classrooms are sporting the technology now.
On the other hand, this development is wholly expected - overdue, even. The potential of this innovation is enormous, the possibilities unlocked by its tools and applications seemingly limitless. Why wouldn't schools pony up the cash to deck the walls with IWBs?
It's the little things that help make IWBs such valuable classroom assets. During our seminar, our presenter showed us a sample 'page' from an interactive lesson plan designed specifically for IWBs. It looked like a snapshot of one or two paragraphs from a typical supplemental workbook. But then a Flash animation kicked on, and a diagram was drawn before my eyes, adding a unique element to an otherwise stagnant stream of information. On another page, what appeared to be a photo of a cute dog positioned on a laptop computer turned into a short video of a cute dog positioned on a laptop looking even cuter because he looked at the camera and quivered oh so adorably. Numerous additional bells and whistles were added to most every page, until I was interested (and dare I say excited) to find what trick or bit of fun awaited me with each new block of information.
These details might sound like digital knick knacks, but consider this: if such trinkets can catch and maintain hold of a 27-year-old's attention, what might they do for the open mind of a 12-year-old student?
But we're only looking at the little things - what about the BIG things? Well, let me assure you, they're even better.
Imagine inviting students to the board not just to write words or solve math problems, but to manipulate shapes and objects; to sort categories of pictures or words by dragging and dropping them into boxes; to touch an instrument and immediately hear its sound. And imagine all of these actions, along with so many more, made possible by a student's finger.
Like an iPad or a Nintendo Wii, IWBs are undeniably cool. They ooze fun from each circuit. And students take notice. They are compelled to discover the uniquely interactive elements of an IWB lesson, and each new slide engages them in new and unique ways. It's truly a game-changing moment to witness children using an IWB.
While attending a presentation at a local elementary school, I was thrilled to watch students flinging their hands into the air when asked to volunteer a visit to the whiteboard, to see them bound from their seats and attack problems with wide eyes and wider smiles. Quite a switch from the chalkboard visits of my youth, to be sure. Watching their passion for learning helped remind me of why we're all in this industry, and it made me wonder: why in the world haven't the remaining 55% of classrooms joined in?