Thursday, January 7, 2010

Interactive Whiteboards Alone Are Not Interactive

I participated in my first #edchat on Twitter Tuesday night and was intrigued by the animated discussion in response to the topic: Do interactive whiteboards in the classroom translate to interactivity with students?

The conversation was fast and furious generating 46 printed pages of tweets in a little over an hour--many of which were not complementary to interactive whiteboards. (View the archive here) This negative impression was echoed in Bill Ferriter’s Wednesday blog post on The Tempered Radical.

I can relate to the feelings shared in his self described “rant” that interactive whiteboards are a waste of money.  I have been regularly dismayed by the amount of funds spent by schools on these expensive pieces of hardware without careful consideration as to how they would be utilized on a practical day to day basis by the classroom teacher to improve student learning. However, I’m not willing to generalize that because of poor implementations that interactive whiteboards are useless and that those using them ineffectively can not learn to do otherwise.

Being disheartened by the amount of money schools were spending on interactive whiteboards that eventually sat in classrooms gathering dust was one of the core reasons I founded StarrMatica. I have been shouting from the rooftops for the past five years that an interactive whiteboard is just a piece of hardware without a teacher who knows how to use it effectively and interactive content that engages students. This is the case with any piece of electronic hardware—computers, ipods, phones, televisions. Supplying the hardware is only the beginning. For successful technology integration, you must have three factors: Hardware + Knowledgeable Teacher + Quality Content

After thousands of hours working with teachers and schools on interactive whiteboard implementations and conducting hundreds of on online classes and in person workshops, I know that putting those three factors together is an enormous task requiring a tremendous amount of time and effort.

• You must have teachers willing to accept and learn technology.

• They must be taught how to operate the hardware and navigate the software.

• Additionally, they must be instructed on how to create and/or find interactive content.

• And finally, they must understand how to integrate that content into daily classroom instruction.

Whew! Is that all?!

The need for ongoing professional development and quality interactive content were common themes throughout the hour long Twitter #edchat. The comments were music to my ears, knowing from personal experience and having read the report that 88% of teachers would use their interactive whiteboards more often if provided with more content.

Interactive whiteboards are pieces of hardware that require content to be effective.

This need for interactive content was another core reason I founded StarrMatica. I began teaching with interactive online resources in my classroom via a projector and a $20 wireless mouse that I could pass from student to student. I spent hours a day searching for online interactive content and integrating it into my math lessons, but I was committed to this new method of teaching because I saw the impact it had on my students. All of my students were excited and engaged during math class and their grades began to reflect that engagement.

Interactive content allowed me to present problems to my students and have them test their answers with virtual manipulatives. It allowed my students to learn new information from sources other than their teacher or their textbook. And it allowed us to practice rote mathematical operations in a more motivating way with my students responding to questions by writing on dry erase marker boards because they all wanted to be chosen to answer via the wireless mouse. At the same time, I was free to roam the classroom, consult with small groups, and monitor individual learning.

To be clear, though I believe they can be used as effective teaching and learning tools, my primary advocacy is not for interactive whiteboards. My mission is to help teachers integrate interactive content into classroom instruction because I saw how it motivated and engaged the students in my classroom, and I have seen it excite teachers and enhance the education of students in districts I have visited across the US.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Five Technology Grant Funding Sources with January 2010 Deadlines

As a former teacher and an advocate for technology in education, I know that funding is often the number one roadblock to obtaining new technology.  With that in mind, I am always looking for ways StarrMatica can support schools in the purchase and implementation of interactive technologies.
This month, I am happy to share four funding sources with January 2010 deadlines.  Good Luck!

• Check out the Microgrant Programs from We Are for reading and professional development.
Deadlines: January 8th and January 25th

• Visit US Cellular to vote for your school to receive one of ten $100,000 grants.
Deadline:  January 15th

• Enter to win a School Library Makeover.
Deadline: January 17th

•  Become a StarrMatica Facebook Fan to win a classroom subscription to 3,000+ interactive whiteboard resources.
Deadline:  January 31st

• Do you have environmentally conscious students in your classroom? Introduce them to Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge!
Deadline: January 31st

StarrMatica is here to help!  If you have questions about these grants or would like assistance with the applications, please contact me: