Tech Favorites: The Interactive Classroom
District leaders share their shopping—and wish—lists for the truly innovative interactive classroom.
Our technologists draw an interactive classroom blueprint.
Billy Jack Garren
Technology Program Specialist
School District of Palm Beach County (FL)
What they use: eInstruction
The problem: We wanted teachers to engage students in more ways than directing learning from the board at the front of the room. The eInstruction Interwrite tablets gave us that option.
The response: We use interactive tablets in all of our schools—along with other eInstruction solutions. With the Classroom Performance System (CPS), a math teacher can use the wireless tablet to project a problem, and students can use their responders to type in answers. We also use the ExamView Test Generator, so that the questions asked in class are pulled directly from the textbook, state standards, or both. Teachers also like the reports that can be printed. They give teachers real data on a daily basis, including standards analysis, right down to each question. The reports also provide solid information to share at parent conferences.
The reaction: Our students like getting instant feedback, and teachers work more efficiently because we’ve eliminated some manual grading. A few teachers are hesitant to make changes, but it’s my job to show them the possibilities of these tools.
Next challenge? The first problem is getting the technology into teachers’ hands. I believe that if you give teachers this stuff, they’re going to use it eventually, especially if it saves them time. But it’s still a challenge to get them to use all the resources available with the technology. I’m trying to get all schools in our district to use the technology to its maximum potential—some are and some aren’t. The key is to get everyone on board.
K–12 Technology Applications Coordinator
Brookfield (CT) Public Schools
What they use: mimio
The problem: My mission is to infuse technology into the content area for K–12, so I needed a solution that would help do that easily throughout the district. We looked at a variety of possibilities. Mimio was right for our budget, at about half the price of a regular whiteboard—and it was portable.
The response: We equipped all our high school classes with ceiling-mounted projectors and mimios. In our middle school, we have more than 50 percent of the classrooms outfitted, and at the elementary schools, thanks to our PTOs, who are helping us install the technology, we’re halfway there, too.
The reaction: At the high school level, we’re in the midst of getting everyone trained on the technology. I’m getting small groups and departments together to share applications. I’ve used mimio’s Quick Learn to get us up and running right away. I can install five mimios in about 15 minutes and then show teachers tips for getting started. The free mimio Masters Program lets me collaborate with colleagues throughout the country and share resources and experiences.
The results: I have math teachers who simply can’t go back to their old way of teaching, which had been out of textbooks and writing on the board. My social studies teachers are using interactive programs, such as United Streaming, to incorporate videos into their lessons.
Next challenge? We’d really like to get mimio in all of our classrooms. Besides training, we also need to get some people who are afraid of new technology to take some risks.
Reviewer: Bill Pierce
DuBois Area (PA) School District
What they use: PolyVision
The problem: We needed to infuse technology into our classrooms, so we did a study on interactive whiteboards. We even sent some of our administrators over to visit the United Kingdom to see what teachers were using there. After all this due diligence, we went with PolyVision.
The response: Our classrooms of the future now have laptop carts containing 25 to 30 laptops, a TS Series PolyVision board with RM Easiteach software, and an interactive writing pad or a dedicated laptop. These laptop carts are such a hit that our physical education department has requested boards for its classes.
The results: We’ve seen some great results in the classroom, and our students are more engaged. In 2007, our school board gave us funding to create more interactive classrooms. We are now transforming our third-grade classes and planning for our next 48 interactive classrooms.
Next challenge? If budgeting goes well, we want to outfit our second-grade classrooms next. Installation and maintenance—hanging boards and hooking them up—are always challenges to overcome. We also need to dedicate professional development days to make sure our teachers make the most of the new technology and its resources.
Reviewer: Scott Hill
District Technology Coordinator
Vista (CA) Unified School District
What they use: Hitachi
The problem: We were looking for a large interactive surface and durability. The Hitachi was 77 inches.
We also thought that over time the StarBoard would last longer than other whiteboards that required pressure sensitivity for actuating the board. It also had fewer maintenance concerns than other boards. The district liked a better total cost of ownership.
The response: Teachers and students like using either their hands or the wand on the board. They just have to break the plane without bearing down on the board itself. Hitachi’s Duo software lets two students work on the whiteboard at the same time, a feature that teachers really value.
The results: We’re using them very successfully at Casita Elementary School, our K–5 math, science, and technology magnet school. In phase one of the interactive classroom initiative, we placed StarBoards into all the math and science specialty rooms. Ultimately, the goal is to phase them into every classroom throughout the district. We’re outfitting the rooms with a variety of new teaching tools including Hitachi projectors. The pricey piece is the whiteboard, so those tend to be phased in a little more gradually. Overall, we’ve discoved that we have fewer discipline problems with students engaged with this technology.
Next challenge? We know there’s a teacher learning curve, so we’ve asked our science and math specialists, who already have the equipment and are motivated, to train other teachers in StarBoard software and whiteboard use. Bringing teachers up to speed will amplify our need, but we’re excited to take this initiative all the way.
George Washington Elementary School
What they use: Smart
The problem: We started out with three SMART Boards and used them as portable systems. But due to the logistics of moving them around and sharing them throughout the building, they didn’t get the use I thought they deserved.
The response: SMART technology fit beautifully into our learning centers, which are set up as open pods of four classrooms each. Our school is very hands-on. We don’t use textbooks, so the curriculum is our guide. Students are multi-aged, too. K–2 students are together in a learning center, and third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students are together, which makes it easy to centralize equipment. We have one SMART Board for every two teachers, and approximately 22 computers in every learning center.
The reaction: Some, like art teacher Howard Dale, use the SMART Board every day. He runs professional development for other teachers, showing them how to create their own interactive lessons. Students become a part of the lesson, and not merely observers. Teachers use SMART Notebook software to create the lessons, and that gives students numerous opportunities to use the SMART Board in class. Students want to approach the board and manipulate it. They are more attentive, and it’s amazing to see how much more they retain.
Next challenge? I don’t want to see SMART Boards used as just a lecture tool or glorified overhead projector. I’d also like to have them in every classroom, so teachers don’t have to wait their turn to use them.
Director of Technology
Placentia–Yorba Linda (CA)
Unified School District
What they use: Promethean
The problem:Our vision was to promote active learning and student engagement. I assembled our teachers, and we developed a four-point rubric to help us decide what technology would help us do that. Some solutions we looked at only helped with teacher productivity but didn’t move us forward with our vision. Our teachers selected Promethean Activboard and the student response system Activexpression for our intelligent classroom.
The response: After a yearlong 12-class pilot program, everyone—from early primary to elementary to the high school—was happy with the choice that we had made.
Recently, I observed a class in which a teacher asked students to text as many words that stood for freedom as possible in a short amount of time. So, all these words just began showing up on the Activboard. In a matter of moments the board was filled with inspiring terms. It was interactive brainstorming, and every single student was involved.
The reaction: Discipline problems have dropped in general. Teachers are more willing to put extra time into making their classes exciting every day. We’re in the second year with Promethean now, and we have 130 interactive classes. The "Johnny Appleseeds" in each school will become our future trainers and onsite resources.
Next challenge: Most substitutes don’t know how to operate the equipment, so teachers say sub plans are not as easy to write. For me, in order to get more equipment, I’ve had to figure out how to best leverage funds and speed up our response times when classrooms are functionally down.