Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

The Best and Worst Reasons for Using an Interactive White Board

Posted on: February 19, 2010


I got a Promethean Board in my classroom this year.  It’s a love-hate kind of thing.  I thought maybe I would use it for everything, kind of like nailing in a screw.  I used it, some days more than others, some weeks only a few minutes a day.  My experience is only with this one brand.  I’m not familiar with any other brand of smart board.  I you have other experiences, please add your experiences and ideas as a comment.

Here are some of the great ways to use a smart Promethean Board:

  • Class warm up – sometimes I put up a word problem or a Next-Time question from Hewitt’s book, sometimes this is a science news web page or the astronomy picture of the day.  Sometimes it’s a short video that gets their attention.  Between these ideas, I can always have something to engage the students when they are entering the room.
  • Test review game for Conceptual Physics – I have ExamView software, it’s provided with my textbooks.  I typically use the software to create a sample test of all multiple choice and true/false questions.  I give out mini white-boards ** and divide them into groups.  The groups are competing for extra credit points.  The group with the most right answers might get 15 points, second gets 10, third gets 5, fourth gets none.  I used to make copies for everyone and hand them out.  Now read the questions off the board.  We can usually get through about 50 review questions in a class.
  • Simulations – There are lots of great web sites out there for this.  You can also use Physlets.  I run into a lot of problems with the sites being blocked by our security system.  Try them well in advance and maybe you can get them unblocked.
  • Crayon Physics – it’s a game that costs only $20, but it’s really a problem solving exercise.  Go get the demo and you’ll want to purchase the full thing.  I let the kids play it if there is free time.  They love to take turns and try to out-solve each other.  The full version has many more features than the demo version.  Worth the price.
  • Overhead slides – I now scan them and put them into a folder organized by chapter on the computer.  It’s a pain scanning them, but I no longer need to move the overhead into place and clean a spot on my board and expect a bulb to blow.  Plus I can mark them up without worrying about cleaning them up later.
  • Movies and science shows – A much earlier post discussed some of my favorites.  I like showing good movies because the kids start seeing science when they go to the movies – I haunt them.  Nothing like a big screen to watch Apollo 13, Time Warp, and Mythbusters.
  • Previewing a lab or other instruction set – I convert the file and put it on the board.  Then we read over it together, I highlight the important points and they can see where it is on their page.  I know, it’s remedial, but that’s my teaching life.
  • Programming Robots – We just finished playing with LEGO robots.  It was a pretty good experience, I’ll be updating the blog soon.  I would often run the NXT-G programming environment on the smart board to demonstrate how a function could be programmed into the robot.  It was much easier than going to 12 computers and endlessly repeating myself.

Here’s what just doesn’t work on my smart Promethean Board:

  • Doing physics problems.  I know, you’d expect to do all the work on the board.  There are some problems; the writing doesn’t keep up, it tends to skip and it writes too fat.  I am constantly changing pen color or size or something else to get the point across.  The result is not as easy as writing on a white board, but it’s worse now because I was waiting  for everyone to finish writing so I can clear the board and go on to the next problem.  Instead, I just do problems on the white board and keep moving.  They can look at previous problems and take their time copying.
  • PowerPoint.  Promethean has their own editor called Active Inspire.  You can’t just play Power Points in there.  You can run Power Point, but then you don’t have the tools that are part of the Promethean application.  You can import the Power Point as a flat file.  Active Inspire doesn’t have all the movement and other motions, so the files don’t really work right and you can’t recreate them in Active Inspire because it doesn’t have the functions.  I don’t typically give notes in Power Point format and I certainly won’t be creating them in Active Inspire.
  • Basically, anything you want to show interactively on the white board has to be brought into the Active Inspire software first.  Only it can’t import very much.  I found a work around with a small but outstanding bit of freeware called CutePDF.  When installed, you can choose CutePDF as your printer and write anything as a PDF file.  Then within Active Inspire, you can import a PDF.  You can’t edit the document, but you can display it.  That’s how I get the ExamView output into Active Inspire.  You have to do the same with a Word file and pretty much anything else.  I’m not impressed.

Let me be clear here – this was a good investment, but I don’t think it lives up to the all hype.  In my classroom, the Promethean Board was placed dead in the center of the white board area, my two boards were split and moved to either side of the interactive board.  It makes teaching a bit awkward and doesn’t let work flow from one board to another.  The far ends of both boards are hard to see for some of the students.  We were told about all the existing lessons that are available on Promethean Planet, created and shared by other teachers.  The site says 16,000.  I found 21 for physics, and those were basically short power point-like presentations.  A great majority of the lessons are for grade school.  Most of my frustration is from a lack of software features, the company needs to do a lot better.  I want to be able to create animations of a ball moving, adding text, etc.  It just doesn’t do this stuff well.

** Here’s a real money saving tip: You can make your own mini white boards.  Go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and pick up a 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of “tile board” for $10.  Then cut it into any size white boards you want; mine are roughly 9″ by 12.”

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4 Responses to "The Best and Worst Reasons for Using an Interactive White Board"

I use a Wacom Graphire Wireless tablet. I love it and it has none of the technical issues you mentioned above. I use it with a beta program called Skitch, which is pretty much just a simple drawing program that can take quick screen shots of anything you are working on. I can hand it to kids and they can work on problems from anywhere in the room. I am also not limited to the small screen that the interactive white boards are limited to. I also like that Skitch quickly emails anything that I write on it to Posterous.com so students can take look at it later. All this for $250. Definately worth it.

You are describing a Promethean board, yet you keep calling it a SMART Board. These are two different products/brands although they are both interactive whiteboards(IWB). Some of the things you describe the your IWB cannot do is actually possible on a SMART Board. It is a very confusing article because it uses SMART Board and Promethean Board software, products, and services as if they are interchangeable.

You know what Michael, you are absolutely correct, and I apologize. I call it a smart board like I call a tissue Kleenex. I am not familiar with the SMART Board software, I will update my post to be more accurate. Thanks for keeping me honest.

Hi,

Thanks for your insights. I believe to find valuable and enriching software, it must be proprietary software. Third-party software is smooth, more engaging, and well-developed. I, too, teach physics and let me share with you an excellent program.

http://www.algodoo.com/wiki/Home

With this program you will be able to visibly show all domains of physics. Your imagination is the only thing that limits you.

Regards,

Marco

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