New building. New students. Even some new staff. Almost everything about Middletown Prairie Elementary School is new. From the freshly painted walls, to the shiny floors, to the small desks and chairs arranged in clusters.
Teachers and the principal are excited about their new home, but a piece of technology that has been around for a few years is new to Middletown Prairie, and it has the staff the most excited: their Smart Boards.
A Smart Board is an interactive whiteboard. It can be hooked up to a laptop computer and the teacher can use a projector to project the computer screen on to the board. The board itself uses touch detection, so the teacher can stand next to the board and perform functions that he or she would use a mouse for, such as scrolling and right mouse clicking. It can be written on like a dry erase board, and since it is hooked to a laptop computer, it can do whatever function the computer can do.
“I use the Smart Board all day long,” says Tracy Wade, Kindergarten teacher. “We start the day with lunch count on the board,” she said. Students make their lunch choice on the Smart Board. After everyone is done, “a student adds up the hot lunches and the cold lunches, and another student writes the number down.” Wade says she also uses the Smart Board for Go Math and Handwriting Without Tears. “Maybe I will make it a choice during choice time. They can play math games on it.”
Teacher Karen McHale agreed there is a lot that can be done on a Smart Board. “We had an inside recess a few days ago,” she recalled. McHale went to a website with videos of kids doing organized dancing. McHale said her students were able to “get their wiggles out” by doing a 5 minute movement activity that they weren’t getting because they couldn’t be on the playground.
McHale also uses her Smart Board throughout the day. And she said she notices she is able to get through math lessons faster because of the board.
“I can do Go Math as a full group on the Smart Board,” she noted. Students have their individual work sheet in front of them while McHale has the same page projected on the Smart Board. McHale says she is able to show students how to write their numbers and how to count them on the board, while they perform the same activity at their seats.
She gets through her lessons quicker because the students can all watch her write and count at once. She said she does not have to circulate around the room and show individual students how to do something because they can watch her do it on the board. McHale said she also feels the technology helps keep the student’s attention. “They are in tune to visuals. Workbooks can be boring, but this isn’t.”
Carol Shallenberger, principal, agrees. “Kindergarteners are very visual. So much of how we teach is visual. If we didn’t use the Smart Boards, we’d be cutting out images, laminating them and putting them up for the kids to see anyway. The Smart Boards are just another tool to help us teach.”
“A lot of the kids come to us knowing how to use a mouse or swipe an iPad,” Shallenberger noted. “It’s the way the times are going.”
But what about the argument that we are just putting kids in front of yet another screen, when they have far too much daily screentime in the first place?
“The Smart Board is not a substitute for hands-on teaching, which is what the kids need at this level,” McHale stated. “They still need hands on help with how to hold a pencil. They need to know how to sit still.”
Teacher Katie Miller agreed. “I use the Smart Board for math, but I still use manipulatives too. We still roll dice to learn about counting and adding. I still use my easel and my weather chart.”
Teachers also are using the online resources that go with the current curriculum.
“Go Math and Wonder, our reading series, has online resources our teachers can access,” Shallenberger said. She also said teachers throughout the country share lessons and good ways they have found to teach concepts. Thanks to the Smart Boards and internet technology, Mahomet Seymour teachers have access to resources from all over.
Teachers also are singing the praises of the access to the amount of books online.
“The teacher and student resources out there are unbelievable,” Shallenberger noted. “They help us to differentiate instruction, so if we have a kindergartener who reads at a second grade level, we have appropriate books for that child.”
McHale said she had the lone Smart Board last year at Middletown Early Childhood Center. “It was an extra one from Lincoln Trail, so they gave it to me,” she said. She also used a Smart Board when she taught the previous year in Champaign’s Unit 4.
She was familiar with Smart Boards prior to this year. But she and other teachers spent time this summer in training, learning how to use their Smart Boards and iPads in their classroom.
“There needs to be a good balance between hands on teaching and technology,” McHale concluded when asked if she enjoys teaching with the Smart Board. “Now, I wouldn’t want to teach without one.”