SMART boards change classrooms

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Gone is the high-pitched squeak of chalk when David Booth's math students write on the board mounted on his classroom's front wall. Also gone is the risk of getting traces of chalk dust on their clothes if they happen to brush against the flat surface.

Despite their trying, the Beloit Turner Middle School students have no choice but to walk back to their seats clean because they use neither a chalkboard nor a dry-erase board. They use a touch-operated SMART Board.

The $1,000-plus boards began trickling into the Beloit Turner schools about three to four years ago, with one mobile board per building, said Director of Pupil Services Jim Kueht. Because of its popularity among students and teachers - participation rises when classes use the device's interactive features - the district now owns about 20.

While teachers can use the SMART Boards to project a PowerPoint presentation, the computer-operated board isn't just a glorified projector.

“It's so much more,” Kueht said, noting it's changed the classroom dynamic. “There are students who would never raise their hand but will volunteer to go up to the board to do a problem.”

Because the board is linked to a computer - usually the teacher's - and displays what's on its screen, users can open documents and programs, such as an Internet browser, by two quick finger taps.

“Your finger becomes the mouse,” said English teacher Marshall Reese.

Reese was one of the first middle school teachers to get a SMART Board for his classroom. Though the board isn't the “answer for everything,” Reese said it's helped visual learners grasp concepts more quickly, such as how to create a bibliography.

“That was abstract to them,” Reese said, noting without the board students struggled to understand the research elements, and it was difficult for him to explain the material without some kind of demonstration.

The SMART Board's tactile and interactive elements has affected the classroom, Reese said, saying student participation “skyrockets” when the day's lesson involves the device.

“They're the generation of video games and computers,” Reese said, “and it feeds right into that.”

Though Reese has used the SMART Board less frequently since the beginning of the year, Booth, the math teacher down the hall, uses it almost daily because it fosters interaction and the image quality is better than an overhead projector.

“Everything about it is more visually stimulating,” he said.

During a recent lesson about rotational symmetry, a student dragged his finger clockwise across the SMART Board to see whether a shape kept its original appearance when rotated a certain number of degrees. Such interactivity would not have happened with a transparency or chalkboard drawing, especially since Booth can't draw some polygons like the dodecagon.

Using the SMART Board is also easier for teachers because more kids can see the larger screen, lessons can be sent to absentees through e-mail and no cleanup is involved.

“I couldn't stand having marker over my hands all the time,” Booth said of using overhead projectors.

Once an organization purchases a SMART Board, it has access to free software downloads for the different academic subjects, Booth said. Among these downloads are games, such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Jeopardy!, which even plays the theme music through the computer's speakers.

Although the board helps increase student participation and makes life easier for teachers, Booth said at the end of the day it's just another tool.

“It still doesn't replace good teaching,” he said.

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