As part of the preparation for our Parent Information evening, I sat down with one of our new Interactive Whiteboard users to check through what she intended to show as her contribution. Maria is a middle primary teacher and has now had an ACTIVboard in her classroom for nearly six weeks and it was interesting to talk with her candidly about her experiences with this tool that the jury is still very much undecided on. Already, she said that she wouldn't want to give it up and go without this tool. So our meeting was to identify some useful examples to highlight the IWB's potential in the classroom.
During our conversation, Maria talked with passion about her "turning point" in her IWB use which is pretty amazing considering the relatively short amount of time she has had the ACTIVboard in the classroom. It really does hammer the point home that excellent teachers have no problem blending technology into their teaching practice, because they are great teachers not because they are using whiz bang technology. Anyway, back to Maria's story. Her class have been tackling a Problem Based Learning unit on the general theme of water conservation - I've been working with them using Photoshop Elements to create logos and Photo Story to craft community service announcements to educate others about water conservation. Maria had been threading a lot of this through the curriculum, carrying ideas and learning from the Resource Centre back into her classroom and then it all came together in one afternoon.
Maria had started a lesson in a very traditional way with the use of a poem about the water cycle which she had photocopied and handed around. In her pre-IWB days, this would have been a lead-in to a discussion that would be "connected to" later in the week when the students had their computing room time, when they were in the library using resources on the water conservation theme. However, as she had access to the ACTIVboard she was able to go from the poem to an interactive website that showed the water cycle in action, then compared the visual difference between two online diagrams that had been found by a student in a previous PBL lesson. Straightaway the visual learners in the classroom were catered for, which the photocopied diagram and poem struggled to do. Things just started falling into place as the afternoon progressed, connecting the learning quickly and efficiently with Maria's role being of much more facilitator than traditional teacher. She was no longer the expert but the IWB allowed her to access information in multimedia form to present for discussion and dissection by her students. As Maria said to me, she would have done all this but over a much longer timespan and much less convenience. So, it was really great to see that the ACTIVboard could really assist in "just-in-time" learning and help connect concepts when the opportunity presented. This means more efficient learning opportunities for the students allowing them more time to go deeper into their water conservation topic while a more traditional approach might have only skimmed the surface.
Now if all of our teachers push their IWB use in this direction, then it can become a very useful tool in the 21st classroom. But as was pointed out at the Parent Information evening, technology in the classroom is only as good as the teacher guiding its use. Now I have to think long and hard about how to support our teachers in my role so they feel as empowered as Maria and her students.