Planning a Lesson with an IWB

So your principal has bought everyone in the school interactive whiteboards. After wondering where the money came from – how many cakes were sold at the last cake sale? – you’re standing in front of something not too dissimilar to your previous whiteboard, except this one has wires coming out of it. After the school wizz kid turns it on and shows you what it can do, you’re almost converted but how do you actually plan a lesson using this new fandangled device?

The bad news is that the Interactive Whiteboard doesn’t make a lesson any better just by being in the room. Sure enough, the first couple of times you use it, the kids will “ooh” and “aah” and be desperate to get their paws on the magic pen. That wears off fairly quickly, I can assure you. There’s only so many times writing the answer to a sum in magic ink gets as interesting as using a normal marker, no matter how many different colour they can choose from.

One of the main things I discovered when I gave my Interactive Whiteboard course was that teachers wanted to know how to use their IWB well. Most of them already had a board and they had played around with it. This year they were looking for some pedagogy.

For the last few years, I have always maintained that the Interactive Whiteboard is simply a resource, much like unifix cubes and measuring jugs are resources for teaching maths. The fact that the IWB can be used to support almost anything in the classroom is a powerful yet potentially dangerous thing. An over reliance on the IWB leads to old fashioned teaching methodologies with the teacher leading everything – the “sage on the stage” style of teaching. However, if the IWB is thought of as a resource that is used when needed, it can transform lessons for children, especially visual and kinaesthetic learners.

There are three questions I ask myself before I teach anything.

1. What do I want the children to learn?
2. How can I teach them?
3. How can I use ICT to support the learning?

And yes, I do believe ICT should be incorporated into almost every single lesson that is taught in primary schools in some valuable way.

The benefits of ICT in learning are well researched and many children can’t learn without it. Having said this, ICT shouldn’t be used for the sake of it. I’m going to go through a lesson plan that should take up a number of weeks.

The lesson is based on Rocks, which is part of the Geography curriculum.  Answering my three questions, I’d like the children to:

  1. Compare igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks
  2. Look at features of rocks through a microscope
  3. Examine the following properties of rocks:
    • Do all rocks sink?
    • How does water affect rocks?

In order to teach these aims, I’m going to need a number of resources.  As well as my trusty IWB, it would be handy to have a number of different types of rocks and a microscope or powerful visualiser.  I can also create “rock packs”, which describe features of particular rocks or I can show a map of Ireland with a legend of the different rocks in each area.

Because most schools today don’t have the space or the money to have dozens of different types of rocks lying around the place, the Internet can provide us with lots of pictures, which is almost as good as the real thing.

For example, if I want to show children images of granite, I can go to Google or some other search engine and type the word “granite” and I should get lots of different images.

The first 8 images of a “granite” search

As you can see, the first eight images of this search show 6 images of the rock and 2 images of kitchens.  This is useful in itself as it shows real life uses for the rock.  Unfortunately, not all searches will be as good.  For example, a search for “chalk” may reveal a sexually explicit chalk-drawing, so it’s a good idea to have pre-prepared images ready on a flipchart using your IWB’s software.

A safe web site for browsing lots of rocks is the Virtual Rock Bag, from the University of Arkansas.  There are lots of rocks to see close up on this site and are great for conversations in class.  Using the IWB software, children can highlight features of particular rock types and begin to discuss what features make a rock igneous, sedimentary or metamorphic.

Next up, we can take a closer look at rocks using the brilliant UK-based National Grid for Learning tool on Rocks.  This is a complete IWB lesson on rocks and it has a nice activity to look at common rocks under a virtual microscope.  Although using real rocks with a real microscope is probably better, it’s even more powerful to have both.  This gives children further opportunities to explore, examine, discuss and criticise the differences between a real microscope and a virtual one.  The screenshot below shows a close-up look at granite using the virtual tool and an image of a real piece of granite under a microscope.

It’s hard to tell which is real and which is virtual but it’s fairly clear to see that there are a lot of similarities.  If you don’t have a real microscope, Google Images can help again.

Next we’re going to look at some of the properties of these rocks.  Both experiments require water.  Again, both experiments are well served by using real rocks and real water but the BBC schools web site provides some great resources for virtual experiments.  For example, one could go through the lesson on the IWB before trying it out for ourselves.  Who knows, the BBC web site may be incorrect?

From BBC Schools Web Site

The BBC web site allows children to try out different experiments with the rocks.  One of the experiments, which tests whether water penetrates certain rocks may not be feasible in real life due to the reaction between certain rocks and water so the Internet can provide a safe means of showing this.  YouTube or other video sharing sites might also show experiments in action.

So there you have it, about three to four weeks work squeezed into one shortish article.  For me the key message is to allow the technology to complement the lesson rather than it being the lesson.  For those of you adventurous enough, you can assess your lessons by creating online quizzes and sending them home for homework!

Last Update: March 2, 2018  

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Comment (1)

  1. Samantha Clewes 4th August 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I think this is such an important subject for teachers and agree that technology is a tool within the classroom. offers lots of pre-written lesson made by teachers for teachers. They are completely free of charge.

    For those teachers just starting out and who want extra support the following links my help out. They can be used by any interactive whitebaord users. The ActivTips area is specifically designed to support individually task such as how to build a page, and the Teacher feature lets you learn from other teachers about how they have used the technology in the classroom.

    Hope these help.


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