Interactive Whiteboards for Interactive Teaching and Learning

In today’s society both children in educational settings and adults in workplaces are exposed to a wide assortment of information technology that allows learning and production of knowledge to take place in a variety of ways. Walter McKenzie, the Instructional Technology Coordinator for Arlington Public Schools, asks:

With the Information Age evolving so rapidly, how do schools adopt a new model of thinking and learning that adequately parallel’s society’s demands? The change is already taking place in classrooms across the country. But, if we as teachers tend to teach in the same ways that we ourselves were taught, how then do we break away from the standardized, homogeneous approach to schooling that we knew as students? (McKenzie, 2002, p. 5).

McKenzie claims that the Information Age requires workers to have the ability to access information and manipulate information in a variety of ways using digital tools, allowing them to evaluate information using critical-thinking strategies and problem-solving skills in ways that allow them to interact with colleagues to complete complex tasks and present information and ideas in novel or unique ways.

It appears then that two issues face teachers of today. The first issue is the need to recognize that the Information Age has brought new demands on how we teach our students within classroom settings. Many students come to school already exposed to technology that allows them to learn in a variety of ways at home such as the use of computer game software, interactive learning Web sites, television with DVD’s, and talking books to name just a few examples. The second issue is how do we, as educators, make changes in the ways we were traditionally taught and make better use of technology so that we help our students develop the information, literacy, problem-solving, collaboration and creativity skills they need to be successful in today’s workplace?

In March 2004, a group of teachers (two second grade teachers and the technology resource teacher at Deer Park Elementary School in Centreville, VA) attended several sessions on the use of interactive whiteboards in the elementary school setting at the Virginia Society for Technology in Education (VSTE) Conference in Roanoke, VA. In particular, we saw an ACTIVboard that uses a computer connected to a projector and a touch-sensitive whiteboard. The projector displays images from the computer and the computer is controlled by touching the board with an electronic pen. Teachers can display Internet Web sites, run educational software, show live video, give multimedia presentations, all in an effort to engage students in interactive learning (Fernandez and Luftglass, October 2003).

Intrigued by the claims of the presenters at the VSTE Conference that the use of this technology promotes interactive teaching and learning, we asked our school’s principal to purchase an ACTIVboard (produced by Promethean, Inc.) for our school. Our principal suggested that we “field-test” the use of this interactive tool with a group of students and conduct a year-long study of its effects on promoting interactive teaching and learning before he purchases other ACTIVboards for use throughout the school. He allocated a resource room close to the second grade classrooms to house the ACTIVboard, and we promptly dubbed the room “The Board Room.” He also bought a laptop and a projector that were dedicated for use with the ACTIVboard. In addition, we obtained an Impact II Teacher-Researcher Grant from our school system to support our year-long study. We used the grant funds to purchase ACTIVotes, hand-held voting devices used by the students to record their individual responses to questions asked during the whiteboard lessons. After voting to indicate choices to questions, the students’ responses are shown as bar graphs on the whiteboard, showing how many students voted for each possible response and which response was the actual correct one.

During the year we received support and guidance from our school’s Teacher Research Team (TRT) as we went through the process of collecting and analyzing data for our research project. Our first guiding question was, “ How does the use of the ACTIVboard promote interactive teaching and learning?” We felt this question was particularly important because as teachers, we wanted to discover and develop ways of using the ACTIVboard that will change our traditional relationship with our students as transmitters of knowledge to enablers of learning. We also wanted to discover how the use of whiteboard technology can be used to tap into the various multiple intelligences and learning styles of our students and learn what happens when it is used to promote interactive learning and the development of literacy, problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration skills with our students. So, our second guiding question was, “How does the use of the ACTIVboard support instructional strategies that lead to the development of literacy, problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration skills of students?”

Literature Review

Most of the published research on the use of interactive whiteboards comes from the United Kingdom, little so far from the United States. The ACTIVboard’s parent company, Promethean, Inc. is located in England, although the distributor in the United States is located in Atlanta, Georgia. Julie Cogill at King’s College at the University of London, conducted a small scale study of two schools involving interviews of five teachers and observations of the teachers and their students using the whiteboard technology. Her study was entitled, “ How does the interactive whiteboard affect teaching and learning?” (Cogill 2002). Two major research questions guided her inquiry:

  • What is happening in the whiteboard classroom?
  • What is the pedagogical approach of teachers using an interactive whiteboard?

Cogill found that the teachers did not, in general, feel the use of the whiteboard had really changed their classroom practice. She determined that one reason for this finding was that the use of the board was too infrequent to assess change. Cogill’s observations, however, led her to conclude that, “Even though the board may not necessarily be changing the teachers’ practice, it was enabling them to teach with greater flexibility.” (Cogill, p. 35).

Two of the teachers Cogill interviewed felt that the whiteboard was empowering them to become more “facilitators of learning” rather than just “purveyors of knowledge.” Cogill’s observations of these two teachers confirmed that she saw this type of interaction happening between the teachers and their students (Cogill, p. 40).

The most interesting concluding statement Cogill made in her report was:

Teachers were employing the board effectively to provide initial lesson structure, but further scaffolding to meet individual needs did not occur. In general, the board was not being used to instigate higher order discussion and collaborative work, although I did observe one example of such whole class engagement (Cogill, pg. 41).

Researchers at Cascade, a multimedia interactive training center at the Centre for Educational Studies at the University of Hull, Scarborough, UK, spent two years looking at the identification of effective practice in over 200 classroom observations in schools and colleges throughout England. One of the questions that guided their work was, “What are the advantages of using an interactive whiteboard for teaching literacy?”

The Cascade researchers found that many teachers reported being able to control the software that is used with the whiteboard and as they interacted with the whiteboard, it helped students visualize and remember concepts, and process information and ideas. “Some ideas are dependent on the type of software being used. In addition, using sound and video clips can also enhance literacy teaching. Being able to see and hear text spoken will be very useful for many students. Some whiteboard software allows you to click on a link to start a sound or video file.” ( Walker, 2004)

Pamela Solvie, an English primary teacher, reports that when using the interactive whiteboard for shared reading and guided writing, her first-grade students were quite interested and contributed to her lessons. In addition, when helping her prepare theme projects to share with parents, Solvie states, “Students were actively engaged in the preparation of slides with graphics and text to demonstrate their understanding of thematic material.” (Solvie, Feb. 2004, p. 4)

After reviewing the articles and studies from English primary classrooms on the use of the whiteboard, we reviewed the literature on the importance of using technology to improve pedagogical skills and promote active student learning. Robert Marzano (1998) conducted a meta-analysis of 100 research reports on instruction and identified and reviewed categories of instructional strategies that enhance student achievement. Then Marzano, Pickering and Pollock (2001) identified nine categories of instructional strategies that are most likely lead to enhanced student achievement when they wrote their book, Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. Then Kathy Brabeck, Kimberly Fisher, and Howard Pitler (February 2004) took the nine strategies and showed specific examples of how technology could support those instructional strategies in their article, Building Better Instruction: How Technology Supports Nine Research-Proven Instructional Strategies. We believe that the nine instructional technology strategies mentioned in this article can be directly applied to effective uses of the whiteboard:

  1. Classroom practices associated with identifying similarities and differences, including comparison and classifying tasks.
  2. Summarizing activities (deleting or substituting information that is not critical to the overall meaning of text) and note-taking (determining what is most important and stating that information succinctly).
  3. Reinforcing student effort and providing recognition for solving problems, deducing a correct answer or achieving specific goals.
  4. Mastering skills through practice.
  5. Learning new knowledge through both linguistic and non-linguistic ways (drawings, images, diagrams, video clips and kinesthetic movements).
  6. Cooperative learning (working with others to complete a task).
  7. Setting objectives and providing feedback (including an explanation of why an item is correct or incorrect, letting students know where they stand relative to a specific target of knowledge or skill).
  8. Generating and testing hypotheses (planning and conducting simple investigations, formulating and testing questions, making observations and developing logical conclusions).
  9. Using cues, questions and advance organizers to give students a preview of what they are about to learn or experience and activate their prior knowledge.
  • Lesson Delivery
  • Student and Observer Reactions
  • Instructional Strategies (specifically the nine instructional strategies listed by Brabeck, Fisher & Pitler.)

Using the find and sort feature of the software program, topic cards were created for each category. This process enabled us to explore relationships between concepts and determine frequency of occurrences.

In order to determine how the use of the whiteboard facilitates and promotes interactive teaching and learning, we triangulated the data from four data sources:

  1. Our analysis of student work samples completed by students following whiteboard lessons.
  2. The consolidated information on the Data Collector topic cards.
  3. The paper and pencil survey responses of the students who indicated what they liked and did not like about using the ACTIVboard.
  4. What we saw students doing when we reviewed the videotapes and digital images taken during ACTIVboard lessons.
  • They liked moving graphic objects around the screen with the pen.
  • They liked using the ACTIVotes to indicate their choices for answers when the teachers asked quiz questions.
  • They liked playing an instructional game or engaging in an interactive Web site activity with other team mates on the board with the whole class being able to watch and cheer them on.

Observers (two special education inclusion teachers and a visiting technology specialist from another school) noted the value of using this technology for tapping into multi-sensory avenues of learning. For example, when the technology resource teacher taught a lesson to fifth grade students who were learning to plot points on a grid to win a race car game, a special education teacher wrote in her observation/reflection about the lesson:

I liked it because you know there are always students who are not going across and up/down to plot points during the classroom lesson, and in a big group with everyone working at a desk, it’s not always easy to see who is doing it wrong. With the ACTIVboard, we were able to watch each student plot their path and correct them as needed. Also, the students loved watching the activity so they had the reinforcement of watching others plot their points. Since they were trying to “win” the race, they were very motivated and paying strict attention. It is hands on, which uses a kinesthetic sense, so hopefully more students will remember the lesson.

The technology specialist who visited us from another school noted in her observation/reflection report to us that when ACTIVotes were used, “the students’ votes were compiled and shown as bar graphs with class discussions focusing on how people used factual thinking. Students were able to make choices and shared their preferences for making responses to questions [posed by the teacher].” She also noted that the use of the ACTIVotes was especially good for reviewing previously learned lessons for tests.

Nine Instructional Strategies. How does the use of the ACTIVboard relate to improving pedagogical skills and promoting active student learning? We looked for evidence in our data that addressed the nine instructional technology strategies that Brabec, Fisher and Pitler (2004) said are effective in promoting student achievement. We found evidence that the lessons the teachers taught using the ACTIVboard fell into each of the nine categories:

  1. Similarities and Differences- Most of the ACTIVboard activities involving comparing, contrasting and classifying concepts were math, social studies and science lessons:
  2. Summarizing and Note-taking- Graphic organizers and list charts were most commonly used for writing and reading lessons:
  3. Reinforce Effort and Recognition- Voting with the ACTIVotes and seeing how votes were cast through bar graphs reinforced correct responses. Students actually cheered when their whole class gave a correct answer. Oral discussions often occurred, giving students opportunities to discuss why they had chosen specific answers.
  4. Homework and Practice- Some of the PowerPoint presentations teachers created and used with the ACTIVboard were posted on the school’s Blackboard Web site for homework review. Practice activities using the ACTIVboard in school included lessons on:
  5. Linguistic and Non-linguistic learning- Using graphics to illustrate words and concepts was the most common use of the ACTIVboard. However, having students move word boxes to complete CLOZE reading sentences was another way for teachers to assess students understandings. Other specific lessons were:
  6. Cooperative Learning- Students worked in pairs, teams of students or one at a time when responding at the board. When using the ACTIVotes, they worked in pairs or alone when voting. Students had to discuss their choices with one another, giving reasons for those choices, and at times they had to “negotiate” in order to come to a compromise.
  7. Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback- Using the ACTIVboard to use images or story planners to retell stories or create a story was the most common example of setting objectives. Again, the use of the ACTIVotes was the most common way to provide feedback to responses.
  8. Generate and Test Hypotheses- Making observations and developing conclusions were most evident when the teachers developed PowerPoints to teach students about science and social studies concepts. For example, when showing a presentation on the Hopi Indians, students were shown pictures of pueblos built under cliffs. When asked why they thought the houses were built there, students had to discuss (collaborate with one another) to generate viable reasons and then used ACTIVotes to give their best responses.
  9. Using cues, questions and advance organizers- Comparing, contrasting and categorizing activities gave children opportunities to see a preview about what they would be learning, activate prior knowledge, or review concepts previously taught:
  10. Students matched money words to images and values of coins.
  11. Students used highlighting pens to show patterns on a 100’s chart.
  12. Students used clipart to show similarities and differences between the United States and Mexico (people, places and traditions).
  13. Using images, students completed compare-contrast charts to indicate the characteristics of insects.
  14. Students chose images to show “opportunity cost” in an economics lesson by showing two objects on a screen (such as a hamburger and a teddy bear) and asked the students which one they would want to have. Once an object was chosen, the other was dragged from the screen showing the remaining object. The object eliminated was known as the opportunity cost because it was the object that was sacrificed.
  15. Completing story planners to write fairy tales or story retellings.
  16. Completing data retrieval charts with images of animals so students could have visual reminders of ideas to use when writing about the animals.
  17. After reading a “big book” on the ACTIVboard screen, students completed column lists of short vowel words found in the story.
  18. Using counting back strategies using number charts.
  19. How to study spelling words using “look, cover, write and check” spelling practice exercises.
  20. Re-grouping in math using virtual manipulatives (ones and tens blocks).
  21. Creating maps to include mountain ranges, rivers and lakes using a template map of the USA.
  22. Demonstrating the concepts of “how many more?” by creating stacks of virtual blocks to compare number values.
  23. Using graphic images to convey story elements (Example- a student used an unhappy face, a deer and a skunk to convey the “problem” in the story that involved a skunk spraying a deer in the forest).
  24. Using story planners, students used images and words to show beginning, middle and end of stories.
  25. Using VENN diagrams, students used cultural, political and economic images relating to Mexico and the U.S. to show their understandings of same and different.
  26. Students found images of creatures to show which creatures are insects and which are not insects.

What were the carry-over effects of the ACTIVboard lessons? Many of the lessons began in the ACTIVboard room and involved follow-up work in the classroom. One second grade teacher gave this example of how she saw the use of the ACTIVboard tying into two areas of effective technology uses:

We did a math lesson today in the boardroom about adding two digit numbers. We used ten sticks on the ACTIVprimary software to add two digit numbers in the tens counting pattern. The children recorded the answers in their math book. They took turns using the ten sticks on the board to help solve the problems. After doing three or four problems together with the tens sticks, the kids seemed to understand the pattern. Most were able to quickly solve the problems without using manipulatives. When we returned to the classroom children independently completed a practice paper with these kinds of problems, they all did very well. This lesson incorporated two strategies: homework and practice and nonlinguistic representations.

There were also a number of unexpected examples of extended student thinking. During an observation that the technology resource teacher made during the Hopi Indian lesson, she noted:

I noticed one boy making a math problem out of each ACTIVote response. For example, in one response 6 students voted one way, and 9 students another way to the question, "Which Hopi game would you like to play? The dart game or field hockey?" After looking at the bar graph showing 6 and 9 votes, he said, "That's 6 plus 9 making 15 of us!"

During the same lesson, she observed:

A girl student offered a suggestion to her teacher after the class had just used the ACTIVotes to make a response to a question, "You should add a question to that. You should ask the children which vegetable (based on what the Hopi eat) would you like to eat? Corn? Beans? or Squash?"

  • Brabeck, K., Fisher, K., & Pitler, H. (2004). Building better instruction: How technology supports nine research-proven instructional strategies. Learning and Leading with Technology, 31(5), 7-11.
  • Cogill, Julie (2002). How is the interactive whiteboard being used in the primary school and how does this affect teachers and teaching?, from IFS_Interactive_whiteboards_in_the_primary_school.pdf.
  • Fernandez, J. & Luftglass, M. (2003). Interactive whiteboards: A powerful learning tool. NAESP, 83(1), 63.
  • Marzano, R.J. (1998). A theory-based meta-analysis of research on instruction. Aurora, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
  • Marzano, R.J., Pickering, D., & Pollock, J. (2001). Classroom Instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement . Alexandria, VA: Association for Curriculum and Development.
  • McKenzie, W. (2002). Multiple Intelligences and Instructional Technology. International Society for Technology in Education.
  • Solvie, P. (February 2004). The digital whiteboard: A tool in early literacy instruction, from
  • Turner, S. and Handler, M. (1992). Data Collector. Santa Barbara, CA: Intellimation: Library for the Macintosh.
  • Walker, R. (July 2004). The Review Project, from
  • Interactive Whiteboards for Interactive Teaching and Learning
  • The following lessons can be found in ACTIVPrimary or in ACTIVStudio 2.
  • When we refer to the “Activities Explorer” we are clicking on this icon in ACTIVPrimary.
  • When we refer to the “Resource Library” we are clicking on this icon in ACTIVPrimary.
  • When we refer to “Teacher Tools” we are clicking on this icon in ACTIVPrimary.
  1. Resource Library, Numeracy, Shapes, Named Shapes
    The shapes can be used to introduce shapes.
  2. Activities explorer, Primary numeracy, KS1-shapes
    This activity is a question and answer review of plane and solid shapes.

4. Number Order
Activities explorer, Primary numeracy, number order
In this activity you can choose 1, 2 or 3 digit numbers and practice putting a group of numbers in order.

5. Addition and Subtraction
Resource Library, Numeracy, Blocks or Counters
Use these as virtual manipulatives to solve addition and subtraction facts.

6. Place Value
Resource Library, Numeracy, Place Value
Use these as virtual manipulatives to solve addition and subtraction facts and to make two-digit numbers.

7. Doubles
Resource Library, Numeracy, Counting
Use these pictures to show doubles. Use the pencil to write the addition or subtraction fact that goes with the picture.

8. Money
Resource Library, Numeracy, Money, Dollar
Use these coins to practice counting money.

Science: ACTIVPrimary Software

1. Food Chains
Activities explorer, Secondary science, Food Chains
Follow the directions to create and learn about food chains.

2. Force
Activities explorer, Secondary science, Forces
Simple physics activities using push and pull

3. Magnets
Activities explorer, Secondary science, Magnets
Study of the north and south poles of the magnet

4. Animal Habitat

  1. Resource Library, Activities and Games, Colouring In
    Choose a habitat background and use the paint can to color.
  2. Resource Library, General, Animals
    Click and drag appropriate animals into the habitat.

5. Insect/Not an Insect
Resource Library, General, Animals, Invertebrates
Click and drag insects to review insect characteristics.

6. Teacher Created Flipcharts ACTIVStudio 2 software

  • Forest Critter Quiz — a review of forest animals (with ACTIVotes)
  • Sonoran Desert — an introduction or review of the desert (with ACTIVotes)
  • Teacher Created Flipcharts -
  • ACTIVPrimary Map of the world - a review of continents and oceans
  • ACTIVPrimary Map of the USA - a review of Virginia and the surrounding states
  • ACTIVStudio 2 Hopi Indians - an introduction or review of Hopi Indians (with ACTIVotes)
  • ACTIVStudio 2 Powhatan Indians - an introduction or review of Powhatan Indians
  • ACTIVStudio 2 Sioux Indians - an introduction or review of Sioux Indians (with ACTIVotes)
  • ACTIVStudio 2 Punxsutawney Phil - a Groundhog Day celebration (with ACTIVotes)

Interactive Web site - NativeTech
(Learn about Native American art, games and clothing.)