Tag Archives: interactive whiteboards

The $2 Interactive Whiteboard

Yes, you read that correctly. The TWO DOLLAR interactive whiteboard.

But first…

The $2,000 interactive whiteboard

While watching the video, count how many times the kids are interacting with each other while using the board. Mouse over here for the answer. But I guess that’s OK, because, according to one teacher, “It really does cut down on behavior problems ’cause they’re really motivated and interested to sit and look at the board and pay attention.” Is that what good teaching is?

Before you jump to the conclusion that I am some technology-hating Luddite, I want you to know that I love technology. I train other teachers how to use technology effectively. In my physics lessons, I use technology with my students, but only when the pedagogy demands the technology.

I have a SMART Board in my classroom. I’m a SMART Exemplary Educator. My waves lesson on the SMART Exchange website has over 400 500 600 700 downloads — the most of any high school physics lesson. There was an article written about me when I first got my SMART Board. Some students say I’m the best SMART Board user in my school. But no one said the SMART Board helped them understand physics.

According to this Washington Post article, some educators question if electronic interactive whiteboards raise achievement:

As he lectured, Gee hyperlinked to an NBC news clip, clicked to an animated Russian flag, a list of Russian leaders and a short film on the Mongol invasions. Here and there, he starred items on the board using his finger. “Let’s say this is Russia,” he said at one point, drawing a little red circle. “Okay — who invaded Russia?”

One student was fiddling with an iPhone. Another slept. A few answered the question, but the relationship between their alertness and the bright screen before them was hardly clear. And as the lesson carried on, this irony became evident: Although the device allowed Gee to show films and images with relative ease, the whiteboard was also reinforcing an age-old teaching method — teacher speaks, students listen. Or, as 18-year-old Benjamin Marple put it: “I feel they are as useful as a chalkboard.”

The word “interactive” for the the $2,000 electronic interactive white board (eIWB) means interaction with a piece of hardware to manipulate virtual objects on a screen. And most eIWBs only interact with one person at a time.

The $2 interactive whiteboard

The word “interactive” for the $2 IWB means interaction among students. Students are working together to collectively construct knowledge, explain their reasoning processes, and get feedback from the teacher and each other. Students are interacting with each other in small groups when preparing the whiteboards. Then they interact with the whole class when they present and field questions from the class and the teacher. At all times, the teacher can see and hear student thinking and challenge them with questions. This process is called “whiteboarding.”

So, what are some of the benefits of whiteboarding with $2 whiteboards?

  1. Encourages students to think, question, solve problems, and discuss their ideas, strategies, and solutions.
  2. Allows students to articulate their preconceptions so the teacher can confront and resolve them.
  3. Allows for regular classroom and evaluation and interpretation of evidence. Students come to know not only what they know, but how they know it.
  4. Provides opportunities for students to learn from and correct their own mistakes, and to learn from the successes and mistakes of others as they check and critique each others work.
  5. Helps create a culture of questioning. (<– go read this!)
  6. Allows for the discussion of student-generated ideas rather than the teacher merely presenting information.
  7. Engages students in a collaborative learning community.
  8. Promotes strongly coherent conceptual understanding while decreasing traditional lecture.
  9. Provides opportunities for students to teach one another, practicing using the language of the science to one another in order to develop personal meaning.

(List compiled from Whiteboarding in the Classroom and Whiteboarding.)

In my year-end survey, my students frequently comment about how the whiteboarding process was an effective teaching method for them. For example:

The whiteboard discussions are different from the traditional “put your answers on the board” in that we can really see what went wrong and explain our understanding. I feel as though we learn through the explanations we have to give and the little question prompts you give us.

Districts spend tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars on electronic interactive whiteboards, plus thousands more for professional development to show teachers to use them in order to write, move, reveal, and resize virtual objects. How about taking all that money and spending it on professional development for learning how to engage students in Socratic dialogue, effective questioning, reformed science teaching methods like modeling instruction, and other inquiry learning methods? How about using the money for substitutes so an entire department can go and watch other teachers using these instructional methods in other schools?

Teachers should be spending their precious lesson planning time designing lessons to engage kids mentally and push them to higher levels, not creating flashy Powerpoints.

What skills do we want our students to have when they leave our classrooms? How to use a piece of technology? Or how to work collaboratively, ask great questions, think critically, and problem solve?

Please, instead of thinking about how to get your students to interact with a $2,000 electronic whiteboard, think about how you can get your students to interact with each other using a $2 whiteboard.

Where should we place our time and money?


Or here?

credit: whiteboardsusa.com

Resources for whiteboarding

Where to buy them:

  • Home Depot and Lowes sell large 4’x8′ sheets of white shower board or tile board for about $12 each. You can have it cut at the store into 6 pieces that are 24″x32″ in size. Hence, the $2 whiteboard. If you say you’re a teacher, they may do the cutting at no extra charge.
  • Whiteboards USA sells the 24″x32″ boards for $9 each with rounded edges and a handhold cut. (I am not affiliated in any way this company.)

How to use them (including academic references):


If anyone knows of a lesson where the pedagogy demands an electronic interactive whiteboard, let me know. I’m talking about the $2000 physical IWB itself. If you can do it with just the computer, software, and projector, it doesn’t count. I do think those are a necessity for many classrooms.

I like my SMART Board because it is convenient for ME. The ability to save digital ink is useful to ME. Yes, eIWB are just tools. And, yes, what you do with the tool matters. But the things that are most effective for student learning do not require an electronic whiteboard.

I realize that you can have both types of whiteboards in class at the same time (my classroom does). I also realize that most teachers don’t use their eIWB everyday or all period and shift to student-centered instruction. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking it improves student learning.

Update: Whiteboards vs. Chart Paper

Please check out this great follow-up post by Thomas Ro. In it, he talks about how student collaboration dynamics are different when using whiteboards instead of chart paper, including “the power of the eraser.” Students are more likely to take risks with their work when using whiteboards and more students get involved.