Smart teachers, students using SMART board technology

If you remember chalk or dry erase boards in school, it's time to update your vision of what a "blackboard" looks like in today's classrooms.

When second-grader Kyle Wendt goes to the board, he simply uses his finger to tap, pull and drag items. Or sometimes he uses an inkless pen to write. Or sometimes he just erases it all with a virtual eraser. Kyle is smart; the board he's using is too.

"These boards certainly have a wow factor, but beyond that, they allow learning to be interactive," said his dad, Jeremy Wendt, a TTU department of curriculum and instruction professor who is showing future teachers how the technology can change their classrooms.

SMART Board interactive whiteboards are scattered throughout area school systems, but are becoming more and more desirable as the number of teachers learning to effectively use them increases. The boards cost between $1,000 and $2,100, depending on size. The touch-sensitive board is connected to a computer and digital projector to show the computer image. Teachers and students can control computer applications directly from the board, write notes in digital ink and save their work.

Wendt points to a lesson plan created by an education student to help elementary students learn to count money. The virtual cash register displays the amount of money to collect and asks the student to make change. The register contains virtual paper money and coins that the students can put their fingers on and pull from the drawer.

TTU senior education major Virginia Fillers says creating that type of content rich, dynamic lesson that addresses specific student skills is why she likes using the SMART board.

"For instance, geometry is extremely hands-on and you need visuals you can manipulate to help students understand," said Fillers.

"For kindergarten through sixth grade, the board opens up a visual way of playing learning games and activities," Flllers said. "The lessons can range from matching and hide and seek to lessons about how simple machines work."

Wendt says this technology can be one of the answers to the challenge of teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM subjects, to elementary students and even older students. One important aspect of improving student performance, and just increasing student interest in the subjects at an early age, is teaching teachers how to create interesting, effective lessons.

"This equipment allows teachers to bring energy and excitement to the classroom because it is so interactive," said Wendt. "It reaches a dimension of learning that allows more students to be successful."

Fillers says there's another advantage for teachers who are used to carting around bulky equipment with wires.

"One of the greatest things about it is that it pretty much takes every piece of equipment and wraps it up into one," she said.   "There's no overheard projector, no rolling carts. It's a real space saver."

Wendt says there is a broad array of interactive technology -- including the Airliner wireless slate, the Senteo interactive response systems and interactive plasma screens --   that the university is using in collaboration with SMART Technologies to prepare TTU students and K-12 public educators.

Wendt says SMART boards aren't the norm in every classroom yet, but it's important that TTU graduates be prepared to meet the future.

"It's just one tool, like a textbook, but it's an exciting important tool for teaching," said Wendt. "We want our teachers to be as well equipped as possible and to be trained to make the most of the technology they have."