Getting started with an interactive whiteboard can be a bit of a steep learning curve. But with a bit of practice, they can become a very useful addition to your classroom. If you are a newly qualified teacher just embarking on their teaching career at their new school, an existing teacher moving schools, or have just had an interactive whiteboard installed in your classroom over the summer for the first time, here are some of my top tips to get you started.
1. Install IWB software at home
The most important thing you can do is to get hold of the software for the particular whiteboard that you will be using at your new school and install it on your home computer, or the one you use for producing lesson resources. This is an essential step to get you familiar with the software away from the board itself. Usually the terms of the software licence will allow you to install a copy at home for lesson preparation purposes. Just ask your school ICT technician for the activation code.
The software you need will depend on the type of board you are using:
a) Promethean Boards:
A copy of the Promethean ActivInspire software can be downloaded for free from the Promethean Planet website. You will need to register with the site to download it, but it is free to do so. ActivInspire will download as a 60 day trial version – which will work fine until you put in your school’s serial number. Once the time is up it will still run as personal edition. So you can install it now, and play with the software for a while before you need to get hold of the activation code.
The latest version of Smart Notebook, version 11.2, can be downloaded for free from the Smart website. When installing, do make sure you tick the box for Smart Notebook, or you’ll just end up installing the drivers, and nothing else!
The latest version of Notebook no longer requires an activation code, but for older installs you will still need to get hold of one. If you want an older version of the Smart software, or a Mac version, you can also find them on the Smart website.
The Easiteach software can be downloaded from here. You’ll need a serial number from your school to activate it once installed. The link for the 30 day trial version can also be found on the same page.
d) Mimio Boards:
The Mimio software can be downloaded here. Again you will need a serial number to activate the software. Ask your school for this.
2. Don’t be afraid to use PowerPoint
Start simple. If you use PowerPoint, keep using the slides you’ve made before but look at ways you can introduce new features. Switch between PowerPoint to deliver information and your IWB software for when you want to write on the board – brainstorm etc.
Some IWB software such as Smart Notebook will let you import your PowerPoints and convert them into their own format. This lets you add interactive features without having to start from scratch.
3. Investigate free ready-made resources available online
There are quite a few sites tailored to providing ready-made resources for teachers. Most are free to join and don’t just join the one for your particular board, you’ll still find useful stuff you can use on other sites too!
Promethean Planet hosts a wealth of resources for all teachers. It’s not just for Promethean users. You’ll find powerpoints, worksheets and other resources. If you are an ActivInspire user then the ready-made flipcharts and resource packs will also prove to be invaluable. You can use them “as-is” or treat them as a starting point for your own lesson materials and adapt to your own needs.
The Promethean forums and User Groups are also very useful places for getting teaching ideas for all subjects and phases. Again it’s not just for Promethean users, although if you are then there’s also a lot of software and tech support available on the site.
If you are a SMARTboard user then check out the Smart Exchange which will give you access to ready-made Smart Notebook files and resources to use in your lessons.
RM Easiteach users should go check out RM Easilearn for resources you can download.
Another great general resource for teachers that you should also register with is TES Resources which has some excellent resources for all subjects and key stages.
4. Invest in a large USB stick
With the software installed on your own computer, it’s easy to prepare lessons at home, and bring into school on a USB stick. It’s probably best to then copy to your user area at school and run from there rather than running direct from your stick. This also means you have a backup copy in case you accidentally make changes by mistake.
Some teachers I know email the files to themselves at school too. That also works!
5. Start with the basics.
Don’t try and overload yourself with all the possible bells and whistles that your whiteboard software can do. Familiarise yourself with the basic tools that you can use every day and be happy in how to use them.
Be sure you know how to use the following tools:
a) Pen / Eraser
Being able to handwrite on the board like you would on a regular whiteboard is an essential skill. Look for the colour palette to change the pen colour, and also the pen thickness. The eraser will rub out everything written in pen, it won’t remove shapes or text.
Write a little larger and slower than you normally would. Don’t worry if you run out of space on the board, you can either make the writing smaller after you’ve written it, or just go to another page. You can have as many pages as you want, so don’t try and cram everything onto one.
b) Selection tool
Use this tool when you want to interact with something – move something on the page or make it bigger/smaller. Click on the selection tool and then tap on an object to bring up the blobs that let you stretch/rotate/move it about.
When pre-preparing a flipchart, it’s better to type in the text that try and write with a mouse. Simply click on the text tool then click on the page to add a text box. You’ll have the usual text formatting tools that you’re used to in Word. You can also copy and paste text in exactly the same way that you can in something like PowerPoint.
Each text box can be moved on its own – you can use this to build matching activities – put single words in their own box, and definitions in other ones. Pupils can then match the words to the definitions.
There will be plenty of ready-made shapes that you can use to create tables, venn diagrams etc. Use the paint bucket tool to fill them in with colour. Have a play and see what is available. Often you’ll find speech bubbles, which are good to use when introducing lesson objectives.
Also think about how you can hide parts of the screen under shapes – maybe important words or parts of an image. Use the selection tool to move the shapes when you are ready to reveal whatever is hiding behind it.
Remember the best way to get to learn how to the use the software is away from the board on your own computer with a mouse and keyboard. Once you’re happy, you can then try it out on the board itself.
For more ideas on how to use these tools – check out my blog post : 8 Ideas to Keep it Simple.
6. Check the Gallery
Most IWB software comes with a gallery of ready-made clipart and other resources that can be quickly added to your own lesson resources.
In ActivInspire you will find these in the Resource Browser. You should have an area called Subjects with lots of resources in there. If you’re missing it, check the ActivInspire download page and download the separate Resources file.
In Smart Notebook look for something called Gallery Essentials or Essentials for Educators.
The best thing you can do is have a play and explore the software. Get familiar with the basics before you use it on the whiteboard – most of the tools and features will work in exactly the same way with a mouse and keyboard.
About the author: Danny Nicholson is a PGCE Science Lecturer and Interactive Whiteboard trainer. He blogs regularly at The Whiteboard Blog where you can find other useful guides for using your interactive whiteboard.