Teaching Opinion

Response: The Best Ways To Use Interactive White Boards

By Larry Ferlazzo — October 01, 2012 9 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Jay Sugerman asked:

With our school about to install Smart Boards, I’m getting in touch to ask if you’d please recommend the best sites to learn how to incorporate this tool as well as any collections of good interactive sites and lessons.

I’m not a big fan of schools using their limited funds to purchase high-tech Interactive White Boards and, instead, am a proponent of low-tech versions -- the small handheld ones that each student can have along with a marker and an eraser. They’re great for using in learning games, as I wrote about last week elsewhere in Education Week Teacher. They are also useful for what the administrators at our school call “whole class processing” -- the practice of promoting having all students thinking all the time. For example, while I’m helping my students learn about reading strategies, I might read a passage aloud and ask them to demonstrate the strategy of “summarizing” on their board. As students hold them up, I can use it as a tool for formative assessment and as an opportunity for peer teaching as their classmates learn from one another. Educator Frank Noschese uses similar whiteboards in his science classes.

Despite my concerns, though, many educators are in situations where they have high-tech Interactive White Boards and, understandably, want to use them effectively as a learning and teaching tool. Thanks to many reader contributions, I’ve developed a list of the best online resources for IWB use. And guests Ben Stein, Patti Grayson, and Bill Ferriter, along with readers, have contributed their responses today to the question.

Response From Ben Stern

Ben Stern is the Middle School Technology Integrationist for a school in New York City. Previously, he developed a successful textbook-free and technology-rich 8th grade history curriculum. Feel free to respond to this article and follow him at @EdTechBSt on Twitter:

For a relatively old technology, Interactive White Boards (IWBs) generate quite a bit of controversy. For example, in response to my recent article for EdSurge “Five Ways to Win with Interactive Whiteboards,” respected educator and blogger Dan Meyer remarked that they were a “boondoggle.” Though administrators who make the purchases should be responsible for justifying the expense, often it is the instructor who bears the burden of proof. These instructors didn’t even ask for the hardware, much less this burden. My advice to these teachers reduces to two principles: first, use it for the students; second, use it as a portal, not a destination.

The most tempting way to use an IWB is any way that will prove to administrators that the board is being used. Whether that involves students answering questions by dropping a ball into the right bucket or playing hangman, these silly activities appear to be effective uses. However, these games are tricky to put together and do not increase learning. For these reasons, avoid using the board’s accompanying software altogether. Instead, put the students’ interest ahead of the administration’s and use your IWB for its best feature - the access it provides to your computer and to the Internet.

In other words, think of your IWB as a portal, rather than a destination. By using a variety of software, web apps, websites, and on-line media, you can utilize the IWB to supplement your textbook and lectures with content and tools that would be inaccessible otherwise. Have students annotate an article on CNN.com; give presentations that move from Prezi, to primary documents, to Youtube; use Socrative to supplement your lectures with polls, quizzes, and feedback; use Twitter as a backchannel. Let the kids use the board but only for meaningful work. If there’s no educational purpose to using your IWB for a lesson, then don’t use it! In sum, IWBs are as useful as you make them. Armed with a pedagogical defense for using (or not using) your IWB, you need not worry what your principal will see when he or she walks by. The expenditure won’t be your problem - boondoggle or not.

Response From Patti Grayson

Patti Grayson is a fourth grade teacher at Virginia’s Hampton Roads Academy and a member of the school’s digital learning leadership team. She is a regular blogger for Powerful Learning Practice’s Voices From the Learning Revolution. Her articles have also appeared at MindShift and Teach.com and she was named a Top 10 Teacher in the Hampton Roads community for 2012. She blogs at Patti’s Ponderings. Follow her on Twitter @pattigrayson:

While some may consider the interactive white board to be overrated or quickly becoming a thing of the past, I continue to find it very useful in my 4th grade classroom. In order for the white board to be effective, though, teachers must work to research tools and activities that support their curriculum. As a connected educator, I have found many valuable resources for my IWB through my Google Reader, Twitter, and Diigo. Here are some of my favorites:

In addition to the resources offered by Promethean Planet, I have also found great lessons at SMART Exchange. Scholastic also offers a variety of resources to support all subject areas. Don’t forget to visit Cybrary Man’s comprehensive list of websites where you can find IWB resources. I’ve also enjoyed using the interactive activities at NCTE’s ReadWriteThink - especially the poetry writing activities!

Thinking Blocks is a great site for modeling math problems. It really helps students to dissect a word problem in this way and understand how they work! Adapted Mind also has extensive math resources. My favorite math sites, though, are the virtual manipulatives and toolkits provided by Glencoe, Everyday Math, and the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives (NLVM). Students love being able to manipulate fraction pieces or base ten blocks to aid understanding of math concepts.

Using a VGA cable, I am easily able to display my iPad on my interactive white board. Students can use my iPad, and their work is displayed on the board. Using the Doceri app, I am also able to operate my desktop remotely on my iPad, so that I am free to use tools without being trapped behind my desk! Doceri is an iPad interactive whiteboard and screencast recorder with tools for hand-drawn graphics and remote desktop control.

I also love to connect my students using Skype. A webcam is permanently mounted right above the board! Whether connecting with another class as part of the Global Read Aloud, Mystery Skype program, or watching a webinar with author Jeff Kinney or Rick Riordan, the IWB creates a window to another part of the world for my students.

Response From Bill Ferriter

Like many accomplished educators, Bill wears a ton of professional hats. He’s a Solution Tree author and presenter, an accomplished blogger, and a Senior Fellow in the Teacher Leaders Network. He checks all of those titles at the door each morning, though, when he walks into his sixth grade science classroom.

Wasting Money on Whiteboards

As jazzed as I am that Larry is spotlighting the good work that people are doing with the Interactive Whiteboards in their classrooms, I still cringe every time that I see budget-strapped districts dropping serious cash on such a limited - and limiting - #edtech tool.

The simple truth is that IWBs were originally marketed as a bridging technology, designed to nudge instructional traditionalists into tomorrow. The hitch, however, is that IWBs do little to help teachers create the kinds of social, personalized learning spaces that today’s students have grown to expect.

IWBs don’t make collaborative problem solving possible, y’all. They don’t help students to build networks of co-learners or adult mentors and experts to study with anytime or anywhere. They don’t encourage intellectual give-and-take or enable deep and meaningful independent examinations of relevant content or real-world problems.
Instead, IWBs draw attention to “the board,” a quaint reminder of a time when important knowledge was delivered to - instead of created by - learners. They make “waiting your turn” an essential digital skill, reinforce the flawed notion that learning takes place in presentations instead of conversations, and trick teachers into believing that gadgets - instead of good teaching - motivate kids.

Is it possible for teachers to do remarkable things with Interactive Whiteboards?

Sure. It’s also possible, as Gary Stager once explained, for teachers to do remarkable things with chain saws, but you don’t see many schools buying THOSE for every teacher.

“If we did,” Stager writes, “a few teachers would do brilliant work ... a few others would cut off their thumbs, and the vast majority would just make a mess. Even in the case of the great teachers, the best we can hope for is one of those bears carved out of a log--not high art.”

Stager’s right, isn’t he?

When the BEST that we can hope for out of an incredibly expensive digital tool is the instructional equivalent of kitschy hand-carved wooden bears, we’re hardly shooting for the pedagogical stars.

Responses From Readers


Interactive white boards are fantastic as long as you remember that they are interactive. Too often teachers use them as a digital chalk board. They write and lecture and the format stays the same. These devices allow easy manipulation of text and images. e.g. In my math class I can display a long mathematical expression and then invite students up to group like terms together. They can touch and drag these terms to separate locations and see clearly how they are separated and how negative signs travel with the terms and so forth. This is just one basic example that would not have the same effect when using a dry-erase or chalk board. Keep it interactive and involve the students as much as possible!


An Interactive whiteboard is at its best when it can be online. Because an online whiteboard can be used in the class just as any other interactive whiteboard but has an advantage that it gets recorded and can be shared with students via email or their preferred mode. Students get more time to participate in the class then waste time taking notes. Can be useful for flipped classroom. If kept in archives teachers can use them in the recurring classes without having to over the same concept with students over and again.

Eva O’Maram, Principal, Highland Drive Elementary:

We have had them for 3 years now. Initially most teachers used them as very expensive overheads. But as the comfort level grew, do did their creativity. Teachers Love Smartboards is a worthwhile resource for culling ideas.

Whatever the case, my most fervent recommendation is to include adequate professional development time to this endeavor.Teachers will come up to speed much faster.In terms of kids and learning, the boards have injected a high level of engagement into learning opportunities.

Thanks to Ben, Patti and Bill, and to many readers, for taking the time to contribute their responses!

Please feel free to leave a comment sharing your reactions to this question and the ideas shared here.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for this weekly column can choose one free book from a selection of seven published by published by Jossey-Bass.

Just a reminder -- you can subscribe to this blog for free via RSS Reader or email....

And,if you missed any of the highlights from the first year of this blog, you can check them out here.

I’ll post a new “question of the week” on Friday.

Consider joining me on October 11th for a free online chat here at Education Week Teacher on teaching English Language Learners. See more information here.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.