From the Teacher’s Desk: Time to innovate

I flatter myself that I’m a pretty good teacher, but I definitely recognize that I’m a traditional teacher. I like to teach the way that I was taught, with lots of reading and listening and taking of the notes. And I know that this doesn’t get through to a lot of kids these days, so I look for new things to do to reach them. I was still surprised, though, when I got a phone call this summer informing me that not only was I going to be teaching English III this semester instead of English I, but I was also being moved to a room with a “Promethean Board.”

I’ve heard of these devices before, but I never used one, never even saw one in person, and honestly never considered actually using one. In fact, this board in particular was supposed to go to a friend of mine, but she wound up going to another school this year… so somehow, my name came up. The board was installed some time over the summer, but I wasn’t actually trained in its use until yesterday.

And less than 36 hours later, I’m highly impressed.

A Promethean Board, in essence, is  a large projection screen that you hook up to a computer. The board is controlled by an electronic pen that serves as the computer’s mouse, but also allows you to write things directly on the board. This, in and of itself, is nothing new. It’s been possible to project a computer monitor to a larger screen for a long time, and in fact, the Promethean Board can display literally anything you would put on a regular-sized computer monitor. What makes the board a tool that really has the chance to change the classroom is the software you employ. With this software, you can use various “flipcharts” for your classroom presentations. The flipcharts allow you to write on the board, import images, text, video or sound in a nearly limitless number of ways, and create interactive lessons unlike anything that was possible when I was a student.

The flipcharts can be used for any number of purposes. You can simply open a blank chart and write on it the way you would a whiteboard. You can set the board for handwriting recognition, which will then convert your scriblescratch (assuming your handwriting is like mine) into something the students will actually be able to read. You can use certain color and object tricks to turn the board into various sort of games that the students can play (and even more so if you have a set of voting devices the class can use — which of course cost extra). The board comes pre-loaded with tons of gadgets and backgrounds, informational charts like the Periodic Table, timers and randomizers, and lots more that I haven’t even begun to play with. Even in the few minutes I had between my training and my class, I managed to use the flipchart to present the students with their bellwork, import my classroom notes to present in a larger size, and locate (via the internet) a map of San Salvador to use as a visual aid as we read the day’s passage from the journals of Christopher Columbus. Which I then proceeded to write all over to point out Columbus’s landing point and other things related to the journal.

There’s also a website, Promethean Planet, which is 100 percent free to use. Register, start an account, and you have access to literally thousands of pre-made flipcharts, designed and uploaded by teachers all over the world, about any sort of topic you can imagine. Do a search for something you’re teaching that week and chances are you can find something relating to the topic. And even if it isn’t exactly what you’re looking for, once you’ve downloaded the flipcharts you can adapt them however you want to fit your own needs.

Best of all, the software is also free to download and install, even if you don’t have a Promethean Board. If you have a traditional projector or a large monitor in your class, you can still do virtually everything that a teacher with a board can do, with the exception of using the pen to write and manipulate objects directly. (You can, however, still do this with your traditional mouse.) The software is incredibly intuitive and easy to use, whether you’re using the board or just your laptop. (I, in fact, have used the laptop outside of class to build things far more than I’ve used the board in class to demonstrate so far.) And truly, it’s fun to use, even for the teacher. And that will make a teacher far more receptive to giving it a try.

I believe wholeheartedly that technology is just a tool, and that ultimately it is the good teachers in the world that make the difference more than the tools they have in their box. But tools can help. Any teacher with a little creativity and a smidgen of computer savvy will be able to use this to really do something cool.


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