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Blackboards and traditional whiteboards may soon be a thing of the past in school classrooms. Smart Boards, also known as interactive white boards, provide for a more dynamic and more efficient way of teaching, according to Robert Benjamin, who teaches geometry and AP Economics and AP Statistics at Fairfield Ludlowe High School.
There's been a lot of talk about Smart Boards in recent weeks -- since the school district is requesting 32 Smart Boards and projectors at a cost of nearly $147,000 -- but most of the information presented at town meetings has only touched on the periphery of what a Smart Board does. Fortunately, Benjamin, considered "the biggest tech geek at Fairfield Ludlowe," proficed a tutorial Monday afternoon to show the Fairfield Citizen some of the things a Smart Board can do for both the students and teachers.
The first thing apparent during Monday's demonstration is that Benjamin isn't confined to sitting at his laptop computer. Instead, the Smart Board allows him to stand at the front of the classroom and move from a lesson plan to a clip on YouTube.com, from a news article that relates to economics, to old notes from three years ago, with the touch of a finger. The Smart Board works like a sort of oversized Apple iTouch.
If Benjamin is teaching geometry, he can pull up various prisms he made the night before in Google Sketch Up. Initially, the prisms only look like two-dimensional objects that could be drawn on a traditional chalkboard or whiteboard. However, when Benjamin manipulates his finger on the projector, he reveals a truly three-dimensional object.
"I used to be stuck holding up the [plastic] model," said Benjamin.
Anyone who thinks a Smart Board is just for Power Point presentations is only seeing a fraction of its value, according to Benjamin. Power Point presentations typically rehash what is in a book. A Smart Board, however, can demonstrate things that can't be experienced with a book.
"You don't teach to replicate the book," Benjamin said. "You have to make the classroom experience complimentary with what they do outside of class."
At one point during Monday's demonstration, Benjamin displayed an emulation of a calculator on the left side of the screen. After completing a statistical calculation, a simple slide of his finger dragged the calculation out to the center of the screen to preserve the result and allow further calculations and analysis.
In another demonstration, on surface area, Benjamin showed that a graphic representation of an enclosed,three-dimensional box can be opened up and laid flat so students can measure the external surface area and determine the amount of paint needed to paint the box.
Benjamin can also set up interactive spreadsheets for doing marginal analysis in economics, make notes in class on the material he created ahead of time (in Smart Notebook) and save it to possibly learn from it, review the flow of the class and look back on what he edited, changed and where he improvised. Every class he's taught with a Smart Board is saved to his computer.
Before he got his hands on a Smart Board at the end of the 2006-2007 school year, definitions, formulas, graphs, lists the students need, etc., all had to be drawn in class on a whiteboard. Now however, Benjamin can prepare all of that ahead of time, which increases time for actual instruction.
He said a Smart Board helps teachers "plan in advance better."
"A lot of the value of the Smart Board is in how it affects my preparation for class," he said. "The board does let me create, in advance, what I would have written on the board during class. This makes the material more legible, more neatly organized, and better throughout.
"It also makes my planning more effective. I do not use the Smart Board to create pre-programmed Power Point presentations. My Smart Board material does not present the lesson -- I do, using the board."
He added, "From this point of view, what I prepare for class is not created so that it must be `presented' in a particular order. Rather, the Smart Board pages are useful slides that help explain points that will be made during the course of the class. Making these slides in advance improves the presentation and clarity, but planning in a way that allows me to consider different sequences helps me respond to the students better. The Smart Board is truly integrated in my teaching."
Benjamin said he rarely uses a traditional whiteboard nowadays. He may use a dry-erase marker once in a while to put up a homework answer, or a list of things students can check during a class, or possibly a formula they'll use repeatedly throughout class as he moves through the Smart Board pages. However, Benjamin admitted he was trying very hard to think of examples when he would actually make use of a traditional whiteboard.
Teachers share the Smart Board, and Benjamin has it five periods out of eight. He usually has his students get up and use the Smart Board themselves a couple of times a week, where they can, to name just one example, move their finger back and forth to show shifting curves on a graph related to Demand-pull inflation. Another example might be to solve a problem in front of the class.
Not every teacher in the Fairfield school district has a Smart Board. Benjamin said that if for some odd reason he no longer had one, it would be a big step backward for him and would make his teaching unfair. The students, he said, would have to rely on his admittedly poor handwriting, which, in itself -- never mind writing out a question or a math equation on the whiteboard -- could take some time to decipher.
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