Muddling through the blogosphere

Starting to “get” SmartBoards


Interactive whiteboards, such as Promethean and Smartboard, are an expensive investment (about $1,200 each). When writing my EETT grant, I did not build them into the budget.  What I did purchase was a laptop and LCD projector per teacher (starting with 4th grade this year; 5th grade next year), plus headset and stand-alone microphone, voice recorder, and web camera. For each site, I included a laptop cart and a filmmaking set (2 Canon miniDV cameras, microphone, MyBook, and Flip camera). If I have any money left, I’ll buy as many document cams as possible.

The budget did not include SmartBoards.  Once the RFP was funded, my boss suggested I might want to redo the budget to work in  SmartBoards.  My wonderful evaluator (Dr. Carl Whithaus, UC Davis) and I chatted about making the switch, but since our grant is all about improving students’ English/Language Arts skills, especially writing, via the integration of multi-modal, multimedia tools and strategies, we agreed the Smartboard might almost be a “distractor” from our goals, and I wasn’t willing to cross out any of the items listed above.

So why am I posting about interactive whiteboards? One of my sites was able to use Title I funding to order SmartBoards for grades 4-6.  I will be providing the staff training. OK…so time for me to get on board with the interactive whiteboard!

Last week I traveled to Palm Springs for the 2009 CUE Conference.  At the top of my to-do list was to attend Robert Marzano’s keynote presentation and to hook up with the SmartBoard folks.  Here’s what happened:

Marzano’s Keynote: His research stats were impressive, with the “sweet spot” (the perfect storm of student achievement according to his findings) reached when the technology was used by an experienced teacher, who has had training, having had an interactive whiteboard for 2 years, using it 75% of the time in class. The gain in students scores = 29% . Wow! That’s an enormous gain! However, he did warn that beyond 75% use in class, student scores drop.

I left his session with a few unanswered questions (what was the break down in scores? did student writing scores improve? how many hours of PD are typically required to become a proficient user? an innovative user?)…and set off for the exhibit hall.

Exhibit Hall – I headed to the SmartBoard booth in hopes of truly “getting” SmartBoards.  Probably my mistake, but my first comment to the sales rep was that one thing teachers like about their ancient overhead projectors is being able to face their class while writing.  He proceeded to demonstrate how he has learned to write facing his audience. OK, yeah, I could sort of read what he was scrawling on the board with his hand behind his back.  With that, I set off for the SmartBoard demo room…

SmartBoard Live Demonstrations Room – I headed to the front of the class where a teacher was learning to cover up her multiple-choice answers with balloons….Hmmm…OK, cute, but not likely to improve student writing scores)… Back to the Exhibit Hall!

Exhibit Hall – Back at the SmartBoard booth, I told the sales rep I needed to see an example of how this technology could genuinely improve learning (beyond the obvious engagement factor in being able to pop SmartBoard balloons;-).  He pulled up a split screen with a math problem on one side and space for a student to demo his/her solution on the other.  OK, this could be useful, given that you have the ability to record and save this demo.  In fact, a SmartBoard would be a much easier way for students to demo how they solve particular problems than this VoiceThread example. I am a huge VoiceThread fan, but unless students have access to a tablet PC or a Wacom tablet, it’s pretty klutzy to write or draw with a mouse…..Hmmmm…

Back to the SmartBoard Live Demonstrations Room – I  lucked out on my second trip to the demo room. I met Mark Murphy, an  elementary school teacher from the Westminster School District. Mark shared how he uses resources from the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives to teach such abstract concepts as crossing out and borrowing to solve subtraction problems where the top number is smaller than the bottom number.  Oh wow, even though my grant is about improving E/LA scores, I know teachers will love this use of SBs!

OK, OK, I’m starting to “get” SmartBoards.  But I do still have several concerns:

  • Design – We actually have a SmartBoard installed in one of the rooms at Tech Services. Unfortunately, that room is often booked days on end for all kinds of meetings and trainings. Since I cannot transport the board to another room, I have some concerns about when I’ll actually get the hands-on time I would like before training my teachers. From the SmartBoard website, I see there is a portable model available, but no where on the site can I find prices (and missing price lists typically are not indicative of bargain prices).
  • Because we all know of cases where a school site has done mass purchasing of an expensive technology that has somehow ended up gathering dust, I would recommend starting with the mobile model. That way, the early adopters at each site could delve in, share the board, and based on their successes and lessons learned, bring the rest of the staff on board, at which time it would make $ sense to install the stationary models in every classroom.

  • Expense – If student engagement and learning is positively and significantly impacted, then, of course, we need to find the money to provide both the SB and the accompanying professional development. But while in the process of building site buy-in from teachers, at this point, I would do the “baby steps” thing.  Maybe start with an AirLiner slate (which I would definitely want to include in my SmartBoard purchasing package). I believe they’re about $400 – and can be used with National Library of Virtual Manipulatives, or other interactive whiteboard lessons, for instance, on a regular whiteboard. My next step would be to introduce a cheaper version of an interactive whiteboard, such as the Mimio, which works via infared and runs about $800. You can beam the Mimio on any wall, or at any level, making it practical for a K-6 school site.

But back to the SmartBoard – While waiting for some hands-on time with our SmartBoard, I’m hoping to compile a list of resources, lessons, and strategies for using this tool to improve student literacy, particularly writing.  I’ve joined the SmartBoard Revolution Ning and look forward to making the transition from consumer to producer of SB best practices.

I would very much appreciate any SmartBoard tips and would love to join some on-going SmartBoard conversations. In return, as I gain first-hand knowlege on the power of interactive whiteboards, I promise to share my findings on this blog, Twitter, the SmartBoard Revolution ning, or any venues I find in my journey to beoming a SB poster child:-)

Note: Image from:


  1. I would not go for a cheaper version of interactive whiteboards like Mimio while waiting to get Smart Board. It’s totally different experience. It’s not as intuitive as Smart Boards. I do really like the new touch recognition SMART.

    • Hello Hazman,

      Thank you for the recommendation and the resource. Are you in a classroom or working with teachers?

      • I’ve been working with teachers and have been using various brands of interactive whiteboards. We want their experience as easy and simple as possible in order to get their ‘buy in’. As I said in my earlier comment, other boards may not as intuitive as SMART Boards.

  2. I’m so glad you posted about this because. I’ve a Smartboard in my language arts/social studies 4th grade classroom and, while I love it, I could probably do most of what I do with it with a projector and screen. As you noted above, it is a lot better to be standing in front of the class clicking on links, move documents and/or web pages around, up down, etc rather than having to stand on the side fiddling with a laptop, but I could probably manage. The one thing I’d miss is a lot annotate text. That is, when I read something challenging with the kids closely and we annotate as we go. (Say, Mourt’s Relation or the first few pages of Charlotte’s Web — both mention on my blogs, as you know.) I can then export those annotated pages and put them on the blog for the kids as reference. The Smartboard is fantastic for this. Otherwise, I’m not much of a game player in language arts or social studies, but I do see the math teachers using it for games and could imagine other uses for math teaching. But I too am very curious about language art teacher methods that aren’t just fun popping balloons, but are more like the annotating I mentioned.

    • Monica, I can definitely see the value in the way you are using the SB to annotate challenging text. For readers of my blog who are not familiar with your work, I want to highly recommend your Far Away and Long Ago – Young Historians in the Classroom. In my last year of teaching 5th grade, as part of the Pilgrims unit, I invited our vice principal and reading coach into my classroom and used your model for reading a few passages from Mourt’s Relation. Students were totally engaged as they listened to us discussing our own personal reading strategies for comprehending this difficult gem of a primary source.

      I realize I could probably use Diigo to annotate pages on the Internet, but with the SB, I would not be limited to online sources – and I could record and archive the accompanying audio part of the lesson too, no?

      I’m placing the ability to annotate text, archive mini-lessons, and post them to a blog on my SB Best Practices list.

      Thanks, Monica, for sharing.

  3. I enjoyed your comments. I looked at all these interactive whiteboards and settled on the eno board from PolyVision. That interactive whiteboard came with some great educational software from RM Education. The biggest selling point for me was that the eno board is a hard surface with absolutely no wires or electronics on the board. The front of the classroom was not lost to a board that has a note attached saying “Please do not write on this board with dry-erase markers.” Eno allows you to use dry-erase, magnets and use it as an interactive whiteboard. Now the board can be used more than 75% of the time if you desire….In fact, it can be used all day by teacher, student, multiple students. I would suggest you take a look at PolyVision’s eno board.

    • Thanks, Jim. You raised another design concern I forgot to mention: the unintentional (or even intentional) vandalism of the SB. Recently, a substitute teacher shared with me that, to her horror – and the horror of a classroom of witnessing students – she wrote on the board with a dry-erase marker, which, unfortunately, was in a very accessible container on the teacher’s desk.

    • Jim, please identify yourself as a Polyvision employee when posting to blogs. This is the same request as was given on the Classroom 2.0 website.

      • Chris, When I composed my replies, I was no longer working for PV. I made my comments based on my prior experience with PV and other boards used when I was a college professor for many years. I am now an independent ed tech consultant and have been since January 2009. I should have stated that in my post….

  4. Hi,

    I just saw your comment about getting rid of the dry-erase marker pen. There is an easy way of sorting this out…

    If you go to the link below you can get a pdf detailing how to get the pen off. (Look on page 2!)

    Also, for future reference the following link will explain which marker pens you can use on the board.

    Hope this helps!


    • Ian, I’m glad for the tip, which I’m sure more than a few teachers will find useful. I’m also glad to have discovered your blog in the process – and look forward to following your travels.


  5. IWBs are becoming more accessible and affordable,

    There are also contests to win packages, of LRS learner-response systems, to outfit your digital classroom,

    A major pro of Activboards v. Smartboards is the strong support and network of teachers on Promethean Planet. You can exchange lessons and flipcharts to spark ideas. The learner-response systems are great bc you can have pop quizzes with correct and incorrect annotations and the scores will be stored to your gradebook on the computer. Students tend to discuss the correct answers together because they are seeing the same question simultaneously.

    How fun would it be to have pen pals or a sister classroom. Students could email their pen pals work from the week and they proofread each other in an objective way because they are not in the same environment, but are equipped with similar skills. Plus, it would create new relationships and teach e-mail etiquette. All the while, they can CC: you and you can see both sides of the conversation in one place. A valuable skill in the current digitally inclined work environment!

  6. I love that you have brought your concerns & challenges to the world. A few thoughts…
    – Dry erase markers. They will come off easily with Windex wipes. You obviously don’t want the wipe to be too wet, but they will come off easily without damage.
    – Hardware v. software. I think it’s important to note that the IWB you choose (I’m a SMART user) will not transform teaching in and of itself. It’s about proper training of the hardware AND software for your staff. Please don’t miss this important opportunity. It’s essential that teachers understand how to develop and find high quality, interactive lessons that are designed to impact student learning.
    – Student use. Students have to be the ones using the features of the board, not teachers. I use my board as a small group center, with activities that will enhance learning concepts and provide another dimension to their learning.
    – Airliners. Airliners are the bluetooth tablet that goes with SMARTBoards. I know that most companies make an equivalent of these. Because I have an airliner (~$500) I am able to manipulate my SMARTBoard from anywhere in my room. In fact, with students in grades 4+, I would consider having just a set of Airliners with an LCD projector as a budet-friendly option. You can link multiple Airliners together for greater participation and interactivity.

    Good luck with your plans, and I do hope you will continue to post about your journey!

    • If I have $ left in my EETT budget, I’m going to purchase some Airliners. Thanks for your input, Kelly. I’ll definitely posts some updates to my journey.


  7. Check out the Teachers Love Smartboards website. I think you will find it very helpful!

  8. Thanks for this post, Gail. I am in line to get a new SMART board but have not used one yet beyond the basics. I know I need some resources. I’ll probably start at the Ning site you mentioned and move from there.

  9. Hello Gail,

    Just wanted to say thanks for mentioning me in your blog about the CUE conference last month. I’m not sure if we had the opportunity to talk one on one at the conference but I’m glad to read that you are still open to the learn more about the SMARTboard. I wanted to give you some more resources that I use on a regular basis to help support my use of the SMARTboard.

    Best site for lessons already made in all subject areas:

    Best Blog:

    I think once you become more familiar with the SMARTboard you will begin to see the endless possibilities of how you can use the SMARTboard with Language Arts and writing. Just today I was in a fourth grade classroom doing a lesson about main idea and paragraphs. Each student received 10 sentence strips and they had to try to arrange them into two paragraphs. I also had these sentences on the SMARTboard so students could come up to the board and manipulate the sentences and explain their reasoning as the moved them. This I believe was very powerful, the SMARTboard allowed students to show other students their thought process as they arranged the sentences. Something that would have been very difficult to show from their desk.
    This is just one example of how I use good instructional strategies and apply them to the SMARTboard on a daily basis. I have been fortunate to work with a SMARTboard for more than 4 years so I do know most of its capabilities but I still get really excited every time I come up with a new idea or lesson and its that excitement and enthusiasm that carries over to the students and achievement.



  10. Pingback: Links for What’s New! | Alice Mercer's PD Blog

  11. I use an interwrite interactive board and I love it. Its very easy to use, I taught myself. Its very sturdy. That said, a board is only a tool. A tool in the hands of an ineffective teacher will still be ineffective.

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