Make font smaller  Make font larger

Spring 2009

Classrooms of the future

An interactive whiteboard ... What next?

Interactive whiteboards open the door to many new learning possibilities. Penny Ryder tackles the initial fear factor head on and shares ten tips for starting out with interactive whiteboards.

  1. Turn it on at the start of the day.
    If it’s not on, you won’t use it. To save the life of the globe, you can turn the projector off when it’s not being used, but I recommend turning the computer on early in the day. While you are doing that, orient the board to ensure your touches will be accurate. Once you’ve got it on, you know you can turn to it at any time during the day just as you would to a traditional whiteboard. Even better, you can use it to ‘Google’ topics relevant to your content, or reward early finishers with a game. Why not start out the day by typing in a message for your students, giving them a brain teaser or displaying a great artwork. They can be learning from this while you attend to a myriad of administrative duties. Think of how much extra learning you could cycle through in all that downtime between lessons!
  2. Explore with your class.
    Don’t be intimidated by ‘the board’. Its capacity is only limited by its user; it’s not smarter than you. Feel free to play and learn alongside your students. While it’s always nice to be a couple of steps ahead of them, a lot of great learning moments also happen when you discover things together. Your students will most probably laugh when you accidentally write while holding the eraser and thus don’t write at all, but laugh along with them and keep on going. When things go wrong and you need to troubleshoot, ask for their suggestions one at a time and try them out. This teaches them how to solve the problems they face. Also be prepared to go with Plan B when you’ve exhausted all your ideas.
  3. Be prepared.
    It doesn’t have to be pretty—but it can be! You can invest a lot of time into designing pages with your interactive whiteboard, or once you are aware of what’s there, you can use it on the go. I’m of the opinion that I shouldn’t spend more time creating the lesson than teaching the lesson, particularly if I’m unlikely to use the lesson again. If, on the other hand, there are some core activities that you would like students to do or access as part of their weekly routines, it’s probably worth investing some time into making these look attractive.
  4. Select the tool for the job.
    Keep in mind that your interactive whiteboard is linked to a computer that probably has a bunch of new and exciting software on it. Spend time getting to know the available software. Learn what it does and what it could be used for. Your goal, over time, is going to be to model how to use this software as you go about teaching your content. For example, if you need to create a graph, you don’t want to draw the graph from scratch. Instead, type the data into a Microsoft Excel document and show students how to create a graph in this way. With the same data you can explore and demonstrate different ways to present data using alternative graphing functions to determine which is best for presenting specific information.
  5. Think out loud.
    Just as we model our reading and writing so that students can see how readers and writers solve problems with their work, it is important to model your use of information and communications technology (ICT). Talk through the steps you take when using a program. Students then have the opportunity to both see and hear the process. Inform them of the short cuts you use, for example Control +C for copy and Control +V for paste. The more you model these options for them, the more proficient they will become when using their computers.
  6. Be playful.
    Using computer games in the classroom can be a strategy to ‘get started’, particularly when beginning a new topic, but be selective about the games you choose. Be mindful of what students are learning through them. If you are using them only to engage your students in the topic you are covering, then only use them for five to ten minutes. Most games are for one or two players, so in order to keep everyone focused, I select a variety of students to take turns. For those students not having a turn, I get students to write the answers with their finger on the carpet in front of them or on individual whiteboards. Another solution is to use the interactive whiteboard as a group activity so that students explore the game in smaller groups. This strategy can be used as a reward and also for consolidating a concept.
  7. Display different media.
    Make the most of online media to bring the world into your classroom. Spend some time finding photographs, audio files, videos, websites and interactive activities related to your topic. The edna website (, and The Le@rning Federation ( are great places to start for educational resources, but don’t forget to check out other public spaces like YouTube (, TeacherTube ( and Flickr ( for additional resources shared by the public. You will need to test whether these sites are blocked in your school.
  8. Personalise.
    Your interactive whiteboard is going to be a big part of your day. Spend some time personalising it to suit your needs. Think about what you are already doing with your teaching and consider how the interactive whiteboard can help you to do this more effectively. If you need software that isn’t available, speak to your technical administrator to see what can be done. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Be sure to put photos of your students up on the board too—they love to see themselves on the big screen and it helps to build that positive classroom environment.
  9. Increase student touches.
    Consider ways to involve students in what is happening at the board. Yes, the interactive whiteboard is costly, and yes, it will probably get dirty if students use it, but it’s not truly interactive if the teacher is the only one to use it! Encourage students to be creative and to share their ideas using this tool.
  10. Plug in some extras.
    Use your USB ports. There are many tools you can attach to your interactive whiteboard computer to upload information. Take photos with a digital camera and use these to reflect on learning moments. Use a webcam set up on a lamp stand or with a science clamp to function as a document camera. Scan a student’s writing (with permission) and use it as a discussion piece for modelling a skill or understanding.

Using an interactive whiteboard may be new to you, but it doesn’t need to be hard. Remember to set goals for yourself and take small steps to achieve these. Before long, you will become so familiar with it that you will wonder how you ever taught without it. Experiment. Explore. Enjoy!

PennyRyderPenny Ryder is a primary school teacher in the ACT. She maintains the Teaching Challenges blog at