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My board is smarter than your board!

Note: This article was originally posted in November of 2009. Adding a link to a YouTube video (called video 3 on this page) is the only change made since the original posting. Lake Havasu Unified had 116 interactive whiteboards in use during the 2009-10 school year and about 200 in use as of 8/2012.

Smartboards are the most sought after item of classroom technology. The latest step in the evolution of the chalkboard, smartboards are interactive and, when used with other equipment, can replace chalkboards, whiteboards, televisions, movie projectors, and overhead projectors. They also provide an effective and safe way to bring Internet resources into the classroom.

Note: Smartboard may specifically refer to the SMART™ brand of interactive whiteboard, but it is also used generically to refer to any interactive whiteboard—like calling the copy machine a xerox, even though it is not a Xerox, or a tissue a kleenex, even though it is not a Kleenex.

A smartboard may look very similar to the whiteboard or dry-erase board which has generally replaced chalkboards in schools, but its surface is touch sensitive, making it interactive. To work to its full advantage, a smartboard is used in conjunction with a multimedia projector (sometimes generically called a proxima projector, although that is a brand name, or a digital projector) and a computer.

Here is a video that demonstrates basic touching, writing, and saving capabilities of the SMART brand board. All brands share many of the same features.

The smartboard's save feature is especially important. Once a teacher has created a lesson, it can be saved and used again. It can also be shared with other teachers by posting the saved file on a local shared drive for other teachers in that school or district, or by posting on the Internet for teachers anywhere in the world. Board manufacturers like SMART also make lesson materials available online. LHUSD teachers lucky enough to have a smartboard are required to share the lessons they write with other teachers in the district.

When the smartboard teams up with a computer and an Internet connection, information, pictures, video, or anything available online can be projected and shared with the entire class; and the websites visited and information displayed are under teacher control. When students access the internet individually on school computers, they may not always be looking at what they are supposed to be looking at, and there is always a concern they will be viewing inappropriate material.

If you have any personal experience with smartboards, you are familiar with their "wow" factor. They allow the teacher and student to do cool things, but do they help the students learn? Lake Havasu Unified's instructional technologist Michelle Ravnikar says, "Student engagement has increased when teachers are using smart boards." Student engagement means students are enthusiastic and paying attention. You can feel the enthusiasm when teachers and students talk about smart boards. One district teacher says he is glad he has one and only regrets they were not around when he started teaching 20 years ago. Laura Rosensweet, a high school math teacher at the district's Round Table Program, says:

The SMART board in my room always keeps students engaged (long after the novelty wears off) because they can use and touch the board to help them comprehend concepts in higher level math. The SMART board comes with many tools that help students understand Algebra in a more hands on way. For example they can graph linear equations, use different colored markers to group like terms, manipulate coordinates on a graph and show how changing those values affects the graph and many others. When we watch video clips I can pause the video and write on the board to highlight important points or reiterate something the video has said while the information is still on the screen. The SMART board also allows me to print off my notes and give them to absent students unlike a regular whiteboard where notes would be erased each day. This helps them to get caught up and have the same information as their peers. I have been using a SMART board in my classroom for 4 years, and I can’t imagine not having one.

The first smartboards used in our district were generally freestanding. The board stood on legs like a portable chalk or whiteboard. The projector used with the board would usually sit on a cart. The board and its companion projector must be calibrated to work together properly. The calibration is a simple process and just takes a few seconds, but the calibration can be messed up if someone bumps the cart or a teacher or student moves the board while touching it. Although most of the digital projectors in our schools sit on carts, it is becoming the norm to mount the boards to the wall and to hang the projectors from a mount on the ceiling. Smart board systems.You may also buy smart board/projector systems or all-in-ones where the interactive board and projector come already attached to each other with the projector at the end of an arm (pictured as System 1.). The district currently has five of these systems. The newest, and most expensive systems have the projector on the same vertical surface as the board. They do not need as much space in between the board and projector. (Pictured as System 2.).

District instructional technologist Ravnikar keeps a waiting list of teachers who want a smartboard for their classroom. She is often asked to make recommendations about who should get new boards as they are purchased. Ravnikar and district administration have put several requirements in place for teachers who receive smart boards.

  • They must attend four hours of smartboard training.
  • They must post lessons they create for the smartboard on a shared hard drive so they can be used by other district teachers.
  • They must submit a short report to Ravnikar at the beginning of each school year detailing their annual goals for using the board in their class, and an end of year report explaining whether or not they met their goals.

These requirements are in place to make sure the equipment is being used and used effectively.

The smartboard technology is already popular with teachers and students, but parents are also realizing their value. Starline Elementary School's parent teacher association, for example, is sponsoring fundraising events to buy more smartboards for the school. Lake Havasu Unified currently has 87 smartboards in service. This works out to about 1 board for every 4 teachers.

To give you an idea of the cost, here are some prices.* If a teacher already has a computer and/or projector that will work with the smart board, they would not need to buy that.

  • smart board - $1400
  • smart board stand (needed if board is not wall mounted) - $350
  • projector - $600
  • VGA cable - $25
  • projector cart (ceiling mount is another option) - $200
  • laptop - $1100 (District tech department is going to try using a smaller netbook computer [$500–600] along with smart boards)

If you would like to know more, there are many smartboard demonstration videos available at YouTube. We suggest video 1, which has no narration, but demonstrates some of the interactive features of the board, or video 2, that shows how the board is used in an elementary school classroom. Video 3 shows a smartboard being used in a kindergarten classroom.

*Smartboard packages definitely cost some money. We are grateful that many of the district's smartboards were donated by organizations like school parent/teacher groups or the K-12 Foundation, or were purchased with grant money.