| Apr 30, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - April 30, 2009 Smart Boards: New Classroom Toolby Jeff Green

Amber Minutillo, getting "Smart"

For good or bad, most of us have vivid memories of the sound of chalk scratching out words and images on a blackboard etched into our heads.

As a technology, blackboards have had a good, long run. Because they can be easily erased and re-used, chalkboards have been a feature of the classroom for decades.

That is all changing. A host of technologies are bringing the blackboard into the digital age.

The Algonquin and Lakeshore District Catholic School Board has been encouraging a technology called Smartboard in schools, bringing at least one into all of the schools by negotiating pricing. St. James Major was able to purchase the board as a result of local community support through Nevada ticket sales at Tip Top Dollar Shop in Sharbot Lake. 

At St. James School in Sharbot Lake, the staff and students have been making full use of the Smart board this year, and have found it invaluable.

School Vice Principal Dan Finn and teacher Ron Gibson are particularly enthusiastic about the Smart board, the educational software that it employs, and the access to the worldwide web that it is capable of.

Essentially the board is a large computer screen that can be controlled through a laptop computer or by touching the screen directly.

“Being able to control the screen allows the teacher to conduct the lesson while facing the students, just as they do at a blackboard,” said Dan Finn.

The screens can be controlled in a seemingly infinite number of ways, and interactive lessons can be pulled up with the touch of a finger.

“Let's say you are talking to your class about the Great Wall of China,” said Ron Gibson. “You can access a satellite image of the great wall and show it on the Smartboard in a moment. This is an application where the lesson is not planned around the Smartboard, but having it in the classroom makes it a tool that can be incorporated into every day teaching.”

For younger students the Smartboard can help with letter formation,” said Dan Finn, as he demonstrated how a student can write on the board, and then compare with handwriting samples to improve skills.

“The potential uses of the Smartboard are pretty wide, from math and science, to language and social sciences,” said Finn, “and it is something that the students really go for. We are hoping to have one in every class at some point in the future.”

As a tool, Smartboards are not that expensive. The model that St. James uses cost $1,900 with a stand, and an optional document camera costs another $900. The document camera functions like an old style overhead projector, among other things.

With the purchase of a Smart board teachers have access to thousands of adaptable lesson plans from a burgeoning Smartboard community of teachers that have developed them. And the vast resources of the web are available as well.

And as for the old blackboards, sitting in the dark at the back of the class?

“They are still used.” said Dan Finn, “When there is something that the teacher wants to keep in front of the students for a longer time, they still put it on the board. The board, like art on the walls, is still part of the classroom.”

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