Teacher Lee Briggs on technology in today's classroom. Brought to you by Weekly Reader.

Posts tagged ‘Interactive Whiteboards’

VuPoint Magic Wand

There are times when a single-use item is best, and wrapping it up in other products is a bad idea. For example, take the scanner. Time was there used to be a variety of flat-bed scanners out there, and while they were hard to use, they performed an important task: to change paper hard copies into digital ones. Sadly, the humble scanner was a clunky thing and took up a lot of desk space. Now scanners are more often seen attached to all-in-one inkjet printers as an afterthought since most consumers no longer use them for scanning in photos and don’t bother scanning in documents.

As a teacher, I love scanners. I love to get my student’s work on a computer either to make a record of it, pass it on to a colleague or parent, or to pop it up on my SmartBoard. Part of my teaching routine is to go to the staff room and wrangle with the massive copier’s scanner function in order to make a PDF ‘overhead’ I can actually use since most of my teacher materials still come in the form of a bound, blackline master books. Sure, there are overhead options—for example, document cameras such as the ELMO—but they tend to be expensive, take up valuable desk space, and lack the ability to digitally share the document or mark it up.

The VuPoint Magic Wand, scanning.

Enter my newest toy and salvation: the VuPoint ‘Magic Wand’ scanner. It’s a foot-long rod that runs on two AA batteries and allows me to scan documents by simply passing it over a page. No clunky flat-bed, no waiting for it to ‘warm up’ or messing around with software, just pass it over your document and the image is popped onto a microSD card. I see myself spending a day before school starts scanning through all my textbooks and overheads so that they will be ready for my SmartBoard. I see myself passing this around to students so that they can share their work either on my whiteboard or via my online classroom. I finally have an easy, child-proof method of converting written work to digital work.

News from HP

I gush a lot about whiteboards, but it’s a broken record I never get tired of, since it is the most-used item in my own classroom and I would give up coffee to keep it (and I love coffee).


HP's Digital Sketch wirelessly connects to a teacher’s notebook or desktop. The teacher can work with the lesson from anywhere in the classroom.

I said a little while back that we would see more options in the interactive whiteboard scene, and that motion-capture technology—the kind found in the Wii and Xbox Kinect—will make them more affordable. HP’s latest press release mentions their new educational initiative and a whiteboard product that is the most portable I have seen yet. It looks to be a small sensor that you attach to an existing whiteboard and provides wireless interactivity. It’s similar to the MimioTeach device, but smaller. That a player like HP is getting into this already crowded market should make it interesting; and that this device will hopefully work seamlessly with their other educational products should make it a good sell for districts that are looking to buy things from the smallest amount of vendors.

The release also mentions a “thin client,” a single computer that connects up to 10 workstations, letting them “share” the same computer. With more schools embracing cloud computing, the demand for these small, cheap solutions to computer labs may grow. I also found their idea of a netbook-charging cart slick; they claim that it will charge up to 30 machines regardless of brand. I personally would like to see how they do this, since every cart I have used has turned into a rat’s nest of cables.

My Swiss Army Knife

My grandfather was a farmer. He carried a small pocket knife wherever he went, and it did not stop when the farm was sold off. One of my only memories of the guy was him cutting apples and feeding us kids like seals when we were toddlers. I inherited his need to be handy, and carry around a little multi-tool around in my jacket in case I should need a scissors or a screwdriver. It has come in handy more than you would think.

I like having tools around when I need them. That is why I don’t tend to organize my SMARTboard lessons into separate “lessons” where I have a new presentation for each day. I end up using the same tools every day and those I keep in a single file I call my “basic board.”

Some things on my “basic board”:

1) Mock-up of the school’s assignment notebook. The slide was made to look exactly like the one the students have to minimize confusion.

2) Timers. I have a small timer on nearly every page. This is a great way for managing time in the class: two minutes from when the bell rings we start class, five minutes of spelling practice, a minute to get ready for math, etc.

3) Dueling timers. A page that has two timers. Say the class has two minutes to get ready and the timer says it only took them 1:30. I add the “leftover” 30 seconds to the second “free time” timer. When the class has saved up 45 minutes they can cash in their time for a fun day.

3) Group-o-Tron. That’s my fancy name for a random group generator. You put in the students’ names and tell the generator how many groups you want and students are randomly assigned into groups. Sure, every so often you as the teacher don’t agree with the Group-o-tron, but it sets an objective policy that you work with who you get—no arguments.

4) Randomizer. I use a random word generator with the students’ names put in it. Students get picked at random, complete with little “game show” sounds. Great for picking kids to call for reading or giving answers. Because it is random (and because it repeats) I never have trouble with kids not following along.

5) Grid paper, notebook paper, dot paper. These are all great for modeling work and making large, quick graphs of data.

6) Maps. I have at the ready maps of the world, the United States, Wisconsin, and the solar system, or things that we might come across in our reading or class.

7) Links. I’ve got a whole page where I dump links to websites we use all the time. It keeps me from having to navigate my bookmarks in the browser and makes it a lot more kid-friendly.

Here it is in action.

E-Issues from Weekly Reader

Things are going well in Greenwood. Last week we had temperatures in the upper 60’s, something that never happens in November. Usually we would have had our first snow by now, but instead we go out for recess in shirtsleeves. I’m in a rush to finish my astronomy unit for the science club, hoping against hope that we get a clear night.

I find myself using Weekly Reader’s online features lately. Having state testing the last few weeks has left us with a lot of time to fill, and rather than filling it up with games or computer time, the other staff and I felt the need to fill it with something meaningful.

The e-issues have been interesting; the last one on Greek Mythology tied right into the social studies unit that 6th grade had just wrapped up. I think one of the great things that the online e-issues and Weekly Reader do for us is provide a diversity of reading activities so that our kids are not always locked into our reading program. We get a chance to “spice it up” with something interesting, timely and relevant.

Digital Editions

WR News Edition 4-6

A digital page from WR News Edition 4–6

One of the things the kids are looking forward to lately has been the arrival of our Weekly Readers.  Not just because they are a great read, or because they are a great example of timely and relative non-fiction, but for the digital editions of the issues.

Every Thursday I make an effort to squeeze in time for current events.  We sit down with the readers in front of the SMARTboard, and bring up the electronic version of the issue.

The kids love to have the computer read to them and seldom take their eyes off of their own page.  The real treat comes after the story has been read, when they get to see all of the videos, interactive graphics, and links to other sites.

I think that we will be seeing more of this as print publications and online publications begin to overlap.  Perhaps this is one way that education is ahead of the curve, linking print content to online content.

Welcome back, SMARTboard

Many teachers in my district received SMARTboards this year. I’d had a SMARTboard in the last school I’d taught in, but after moving to Greenwood last year, I was without my beloved plastic slab for a year. Having an interactive whiteboard for two years—learning to use it, love it, and depend on it, and then having to switch back to chalk—I break into a sweat now just thinking about it.

Two teachers at Greenwood received SMARTboards last year. These were the first interactive whiteboards in the district. Part of my job was to teach them how to use that new tool in the classroom. I helped both of them learn the ropes while I held my jealousy at bay.

This year, three more teachers have received SMARTboards—me included, thank goodness.

The transition to using interactive whiteboards in the classroom, as it is for anything new in the school, was different for every teacher. For me, it was like coming home. The three teachers in my end of the building are not firmly chalk-free and online. We quickly scanned in worksheets and imported the scans onto the whiteboard. In one day, we made all of our overheads obsolete.

The SMARTboard has changed the way I teach. It has changed, too, how my students learn; they are more engaged than ever. Many of my lessons now resemble game shows. I have written several weeks’ worth of material on the board and never had to erase anything.

The interactive whiteboard is an example of a simple tool that has the potential to fundamentally change the future of education for the better. If you have one and apply yourself to it, you may already understand what it means to love the thing and wonder how you ever did without it. If you don’t have one, don’t worry; you may have one soon enough. Then you’ll understand completely.

I could go on for ages about the SMARTboard. In fact, I plan to post frequently about new skills I am picking up. I hope I’ll also get comments from you readers about how you use interactive whiteboards.

Surfing the Himalayas

Nick, the other fifth grade teacher in my school, came to me the other day.  He got his SMARTboard this year, but-unlike me-has never used one before.

“I had a SMARTboard moment”, he said. “That made me realize how much it changes things.”

Nick had been teaching the kids about the Himalayas, and how the climbers have to prepare to scale the enormous peaks.  Before having a whiteboard, he would have to just describe those mountains to kids who may have never seen anything like them before.  Now, within a few moments, he found an online slideshow that showed the kids all of the equipment climbers use and how they prepare.  He also shared a two-minute video of a person on the top of Mount Everest, looking up at a sky that’s almost black because the air is so thin, and looking down on clouds thousands of feet below.

A whole new perspective on the world, via interactive whiteboard.

Meanwhile, next door, the sixth grade teacher, Scott, was showing his kids a movie of the Hindenburg crashing to the ground-demonstrating how dangerous gases (specifically hydrogen) can be.

The SMARTboard is more than just a computer screen I can write on. For the students it’s a window to the world, something that as a teacher I can use to show them what’s out there.  For a small school like mine, having the ability to connect my students instantly with curriculum like this completely changes how I teach.

We like to talk about how we use interactive whiteboards now, and how we could spend weeks learning all the ways to apply them and still only be scratching the surface. How long will it be before they are standards in the classroom? I don’t know if it will ever happen, but it would be great if it were true.

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