Tag Archives: interactive whiteboard

How to Plan a Virtual Field Trip

by Erin Dye

Virtual Field Trip

Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A few weeks ago, I posted an entry on the many different virtual field trips that are available online or as apps. I promised that I’d also walk through how to plan an effective and fun virtual field trip. So here goes!

For the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to choose one of the sample field trips that I mentioned last time: The Secret Annex Online.


Virtual Field Trip: The Secret Annex Online


  • Students experience the setting for The Diary of Anne Frank.
  • Students work toward understanding the hardships Jews faced during the WWII era.
  • Students build proficiency with technology, benefit from global communication and creativity, and analyze and evaluate multimedia.

Time Needed: One class period

Preparation: Students should have finished or be in the process of reading the book The Diary of Anne Frank.

  • Discuss the people who lived in the Secret Annex and their relationships to Anne.
  • Review key terms and places, such as Amsterdam, Nazis, Judaism, Holocaust, persecution, and concentration camp.

Pre-Trip Discussion:

  • What is the setting of this book?
  • Why is it important to understand the book’s setting?
  • Why is it important to remember Anne Frank and her family and friends?
  • What will we look for during our tour?

Logistics: I suggest you project the website on your whiteboard and allow several students to take turns managing the controls. If this isn’t possible, set up students on individual computers. Note that the activity is Flash-based, so it won’t work on iPads. There is audio available for each room, so make sure the sound is on and working.

Steps of Field Trip:

  • Enter the house and click to open the bookcase to reveal the secret apartment.
  • Ask students which rooms they would like to view first.
  • Once inside a room, ask students for their first impressions. Click the screen to show the space rendered with furniture and belongings. This will help students feel how small the space is.
  • Ask students to discuss how it might feel to live in such cramped quarters.
  • Ask students to compare and contrast Anne’s own description of the apartments with what they are seeing.
  • Continue through the apartment all the way to the attic room. Ask: Why would Anne feel the need to come up here to escape the rest of the group?
  • When the tour is complete and each room has been examined, ask students to research what happened to the residents and how Anne’s diary came to be published.

Post-Trip Discussion: Discuss students’ answers to the questions above. Ask what new things they learned from visiting the Secret Annex. Ask: Why is it important to preserve spaces like this one for people to learn about and visit? How did this tour change your understanding of The Diary of Anne Frank?

Post-Trip Homework: Ask students to perform research about the making of the website. They may also research actual images of the site and compare them to the animated renderings.

These steps are useful for any virtual field trip, whether you’re visiting the opera, an art museum, a natural history museum, the Great Barrier Reef, or the moon.

You can always modify the questions and outcomes based on what you expect students to learn. For example, at an art museum, encourage them to compare and contrast works or perform a scavenger hunt through the galleries.

A virtual field trip is an easy way to engage your students, with even less preparation needed on your part than a real field trip. Say good-bye to the permission form and boxed lunch!


Erin DyeErin Dye is Manager of Consulting Services for Green Light Professional Development. She has extensive experience creating digital materials for interactive whiteboards and iPads. She writes about technology integration and GLPD’s work in local schools.

Dispatches from FETC

by Tom Nieman

A visit last week to the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) proved worthwhile on a number of fronts—a temperature upgrade for me of about 40 degrees and a preview of the new classroom technology that will be released this spring.

Like anyone who attends conferences with regularity, I typically have a few questions upon entering the exhibit hall:

  • What’s new this year?
  • How does this year’s conference compare with earlier ones?
  • What can I learn about ________ that will make this show worthwhile?

My “need to learn” list included project-based learning, Common Core curriculum, and cloud-based interactive whiteboard technologies.

1.     SMART amp and Promethean ClassFlow

The “new” part of the FETC was easy this year as both SMART and Promethean were showing new cloud-based technology for using their interactive whiteboards. In the last few months, both companies have issued press releases touting their new software, called SMART amp and ClassFlow respectively.

Both amp and ClassFlow open up the previously closed IWB systems to engage with any mobile devices in the classroom, rather than the handheld response devices sold by Smart or Promethean. (ActivEngage attempted to work with other devices but was never a successful enough solution to be in wide use.) These developments are enabled by Google Drive. Teachers open a workspace within Google and can drag resources of almost any kind onto it.

Students and teachers can interact seamlessly. The SMART amp software seems open, intuitive, and easy to use. Promethean’s ClassFlow has more assessment features built in but depends more on loading student and teacher apps onto devices. Both of these exciting new platforms are now in beta versions and will be released later this spring. Being cloud-based, they hold the promise of being “device agnostic,” so that they will work on any platform, and the days of developing on both Promethean and Smart platforms may possibly be ending.

Here’s a quick video showing SMART amp in action.

These new IWB solutions take full advantage of touch screens, allowing a teacher to magnify or minimize images just by pinching or spreading fingers. Schools opting for projector-based IWB solutions or boards from PolyVision and other vendors will find that amp and ClassFlow work, up to a point, but definitely not as well as on the latest Smart or Promethean touch-sensitive boards.

2.     Edsby 

A “find” at this year’s FETC was Edsby, a cloud-based social learning platform. When I first saw their booth, I blurted out, “This looks like another Edmodo. Who needs another one of those?”

“I can tell you why,” replied Scott Welch, the vice-president of marketing of Edsby, and he did. Edsby saves work for teachers, not adding to it like so many pieces of software, primarily because it integrates with SIS software such as PowerSchool. Currently, schools that use Edmodo as a learning management system (LMS) have to go back and load the information into PowerSchool for their reporting requirements.

By creating a bridge from PowerSchool to Edsby, the work is done. Teachers do not need to load students into the system. Students are assigned to classes. Grades are calculated and posted for students and teachers. Parents can be alerted with a broadcast email that, say, testing will be done on two days next week and that students need to get their sleep.

Edsby, in other words, appears to have the right stuff. Every question I threw at Scott Welch he answered. Plus, it has an ingenious, simple pricing scheme—a penny a day, for everyone, students and teachers: $3.65 a year. I calculated in my head what the cost would be for my school system of approximately 9,200 students before I was two booths away—around $35,000 to connect all students, teachers, parents, and administrators. It’s worth a look in this day where data management has become so supremely important for schools.

3.     HMH, Pearson, TenMarks

Mention should also be made of some Common Core curriculum at the FETC. While everyone likes to imagine teachers have time to create all of their own lessons every day, that has become more difficult as rigorous new standards roll in. HMH and Pearson displayed new literature curricula aligned to the Common Core, and TenMarks displayed its Common Core math solution. None of these solutions is free, but they do the work of aligning lessons to the Common Core for teachers.


Stay alert for the release of the cloud-based solutions from SMART and Promethean. They herald a new day where students and teachers in 1-to-1 classrooms will be able to interact freely—and easily—minute-by-minute. Cloud-based solutions are transforming classrooms and education as we know it.

Tom NiemanTom Nieman is president of Green Light Professional Development and Nieman Inc., a privately held company that specializes in developing curriculum materials for educational publishers.

Online Resources for the Winter Olympics

by Tom Klonoski

Winter Olympics poster

A vintage Winter Olympics poster | image courtesy Library of Congress

The Olympic ideal of building a better world through sports can serve as the basis for a unit that hits many social studies standards, including those dealing with multiculturalism and international cooperation.

The 2014 Winter Olympics, which begin February 7th, will be held in Sochi in the southwestern Russia. The city lies along the Black Sea and is near the Caucasus Mountains. Skiing and some other alpine events will be held in the resort town of Krasnaya Polyana.

You can make a unit on the Winter Olympics more engaging by incorporating online content, perhaps by using an interactive whiteboard or tablet computers. Here are some websites that provide useful background and other content on the XXII Winter Games. Have students use them to create graphs and charts of medal winners, track Sochi temperatures, map the Torch relay, create posters about their favorite events, or compare and contrast the Ancient and Modern Olympics. As always, preview the sites, articles, and videos to make sure they are appropriate for your students.

General Sites

Elementary Students

  • Sochi MascotsShow students pictures and videos (in Russian, with English subtitles) of the Sochi mascots. Have them use one of the mascots as a character in a story or draw a picture of a mascot they would choose if the Olympics were held in their city or state.
  • Easy Snow and Ice ExperimentsUse a video of a skating or skiing event to make students curious about the science of snow and ice. Then try one or more of these simple and quick experiments about observing ice, making frost or snow, melting ice cubes, and more.
  • Measurement OlympicsAdapt this flexible program to give your students opportunities to make measurement predictions and practice using a variety of measurement tools, such as stop watches, rulers, and measuring cups. Begin by discussing how important the measurement of time and distance is in many of the Winter Olympics events. Help students understand how close many Olympic races are by listening to and discussing the Olympic Musical together.  

Middle School Students

  • Decimal Olympics GameThis free download from Teachers pay Teachers includes materials for a fun and educational review of decimals as teams of students “compete” in several events.
  • Country ReportAsk pairs of students to select a country with athletes competing in Sochi. Have them use print and digital sources to create a written or oral presentation about the country. Elements might include a summary of its history; facts about its climate, geography, and culture; a picture of its flag; a map; and a chart or table indicating the number of Winter Olympic medals its team has won over the years.
  • Sochi SportsThis lesson (one of several developed by the Australian Olympic Education Committee) focuses on the various sports in the Winter Olympics. Have groups of students choose a sport to research and create a multimedia presentation to share their findings with the class.

High School Students

  • Science of the Winter OlympicsThe National Science Foundation and NBC Learn produced these 16 short videos to explain the physics, biomechanics, physiology, and mathematical principles behind particular Olympic events.
  • The Olympics as a Model for Creating Genius?Encourage students to discuss or write about the ideas in this provocative short video produced by the PBS Idea Channel about society’s ability to develop intellectual and athletic talents. 

Want more ideas and resources for Olympics-related lessons, activities, and free printables? Check out these sites: TeachersFirst, Scholastic News Winter Olympics, TeacherVision Olympic Games, Winter Olympic Printables,  NEA Resources for the 2014 Winter Olympics, Activity Village Winter Olympics, and EducationWorld’s Gold Medal Olympics Activities.

How do you plan to discuss the Olympics with your students?

Tom Klonoski is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development. 

Using Sound Recorder Tools for Auditory Learning

by Dagmar Ladle

The other week I was working with some bilingual teachers on best ways to use Promethean’s ActivInspire. If you haven’t used it, Inspire is a curriculum tool that helps teachers create interactive lessons for students. It offers awesome tools that have made me a faithful user for the past 10 years. But, there’s one tool I’ve noticed that often gets short shrift: the sound recorder.

The sound recorder is one of those tools that—like auditory learning in general—tends to get lost or forgotten.

In the past I have used the sound recorder tool to record:

• students performing their own poetry
• students reading aloud their writing
• instructions for student-directed activities at the IWB
• instructions in foreign language classes

But thanks to the two incredible bilingual teachers I recently had the privilege of working with, I see the sound recorder tool in new ways. First, it is an essential tool to use with ELL students. Second, it is a tool to use often for best practices. The bilingual teachers showed me the power in using the recorder to record not only instructions in both languages that they use in class, but also how short recordings can scaffold activities they are working on. For example, if students are having difficulty with a vocabulary word or whole sentence in English, teachers can use the sound recorder tool to record a hint or record the word in the students’ native language.

The auditory learning style has always been overlooked when talking technology integration into our curriculum, yet it is such a powerful tool that we need to embrace.  Embracing this means more than just “talking” to our students and our students “hearing us” live.  They need to hear us and—more importantly—each other. This one simple tool allows us to focus on more peer-to-peer interactions and mastery of content.

Dagmar LadleDagmar Ladle is Manager of Consulting Services at Green Light Professional Development. Before Green Light, Dagmar worked for Chicago Public Schools, Promethean, and Apple. She writes about technology integration and GLPD’s work in local schools. 

How to Use Your iPad on Your IWB

by Jonathan Laxamana

Presenting an iPad on IWB

Our consultant Mark Hansen presenting with Reflector

Some schools are lucky enough to have an iPad for each student. What if you have an iPad but your students don’t? It’s still a valuable classroom tool if you have an interactive whiteboard. There are two good, cost-friendly solutions I’ve found to use your iPad with your IWB, and they’re both wireless.

1. Doceri: Control Your IWB on Your iPad 

Doceri allows you to control your computer from your iPad. (And when your computer is displayed on your IWB, this allows you remote control of your IWB.) This can be a game-changer just from the fact that it allows you to move around the classroom untethered to the board while still controlling it—and without having to turn your back to students every time you want to interact with the board. Besides allowing you to control your computer, Doceri includes annotation and screen-recording tools that you can use starting from a blank page or on top of existing documents, web pages, or videos.

Download Instructions and Pricing

To use Doceri, you need to download applications for both your computer and iPad.

Computer: Download a free 30-day evaluation copy (duration is managed by honor code) on Doceri’s website. Both Mac and PC versions are available. Paid versions cost $30.
iPad: Search Doceri in the App store for a free download.


•   Once you have the apps installed on both your computer and iPad, open both.
•   On your iPad, select “Create • Control • Present through a computer running Doceri Desktop.” Then select your computer, and you’re off and running. (The other option here is AirPlay, and, if you have an Apple TV, you can also use Doceri to display your iPad right on an external monitor or IWB—more on that later.)


2. Reflector: Displaying Your iPad on Your IWB

Think of Reflector as Doceri flipped—instead of giving you control of content on your computer through your iPad, Reflector displays your iPad on your computer. And not only can Reflector display an iPad on a computer, it can display multiple iPads on one computer screen. When you connect your computer running Reflector to your IWB, you have the ability to display iPad content—such as apps and iBooks—on the big screen. You can display your iPad, or you can use a split-screen view to toggle quickly between other documents, web pages, and apps (or even between multiple iPads—think gaming applications).

Download Instructions and Pricing

To use Reflector, download the application just for your computer (no iPad app required). Find it here. Both Mac and PC versions are available, it costs $12.99, and there is a trial version available (and they mean trial, it runs a matter of minutes before auto-closing—just long enough to demonstrate whether or not it works for you).


•   Once you have the Reflector application installed on your computer, open it.
•   Then go to your iPad Control Center. In iOS 6, this was the screen you accessed by double tapping the home button to bring up the App history trough and then swiping right. In current iOS 7, this is the screen you access by swiping up from below the dock (bottom row of apps). In both cases, this screen includes volume controls. When Reflector is running on your computer, it opens up an AirPlay signal and the AirPlay icon will appear next to the volume controls in your Control Center. Tap the AirPlay icon, select your computer in the screen that follows, and select Mirroring from the screen that follows. You’re up and running!


Other  Notes

iPad Screen-recording: Reflector includes an iPad screen-recording tool—say if you want to run a demo or film a lesson. Unfortunately, it doesn’t record audio voice-over (just the sounds, if any, from the iPad content). If you want to record a demo or lesson that includes your voice, try using a screen-recording tool on your computer—for example, on a Mac, try the free and native application Quicktime. This is the best option for a flipped day of instruction or a PD or how-to session.

VGA cords: With iPad 2 and newer models, you can also plug your iPad directly into your board using a VGA or HDMI adapter (to 30 pin for iPads and to Lightning for iPad Minis). However, you lack mobility with this setup. And, this just allows you to display an iPad on the IWB—not to also use split-screen views or screen annotation tools on your computer.

AirPlay & Apple TV: When the iPad first came out, there wasn’t a ready option for mirroring an iPad on an external monitor or whiteboard. With iPad 2, Apple introduced AirPlay, allowing a wireless signal between iPad and external monitors and IWBs. To run an AirPlay signal through Apple equipment, you need an Apple TV (a $99 device) that connects to Macs—or external monitors or IWBs. The benefits of Reflector include cheaper price and compatibility with PCs. Beyond the IWB, Reflector has the functionality to display an iPad onto your students’ computers—and this could allow you to model an activity (on part of the screen) while students work along side you in their own document on their computers.

Jonathan LaxamanaJonathan Laxamana is Technology Manager of Green Light Professional Development. He has more than ten years of experience in producing educational software products, video, web-based content, and mobile apps. He writes about new hardware and software, troubleshooting tips, and everything iPad.

Is the $4,000 Interactive Whiteboard an Endangered Species?

by Jonathan Laxamana

Interactive Projector

Will this little device replace your interactive whiteboard? | image source: Stock.XCHNG

As many school districts continue to be hamstrung by budgetary limitations, spending thousands of dollars on a single interactive whiteboard (IWB) is increasingly being called into question. Low-cost whiteboards and interactive digital projectors have emerged as IWB challengers in the edtech marketplace.

Although the latest annual figures show interactive whiteboard sales growing worldwide, much of the growth is in the corporate market in Asia. Sales in the U.S. education market have fallen.

Low-cost whiteboards are not necessarily low quality. A recent review by Scholastic showed that a $1,100 IWB produced by Mimio equaled the performance of $4,000 boards from Smart, Promethean, and PolyVision.

Digital interactive projectors are another lower-cost threat. They can be used on a basic white screen or even a bare wall. Some projectors provide high image quality interactive pens that function in much the same way as a whiteboard pen, while others offer touch interactivity; some projector models allow dual-user interactivity so that two fingers or pens can be used simultaneously. Digital projectors may not require calibration, unlike some IWBs, such as PolyVision. A September review by projectorcentral.com gave a top rating to an Acer interactive projector that runs only about $850. Even a high-end projector such as the well-regarded Epson BrightLink is less than half the cost of a high-end IWB. Projecting the cost savings of projectors versus IWBs district-wide makes the potential budget impact significant.

IWB advocates point out that there are some things that whiteboards do better than projectors. Some IWBs provide sophisticated input devices, such as Smart Slates, which resemble tablet computers. Interactive projectors often are designed to be attached to a ceiling; if there is another classroom immediately above, frequent shaking of the projector can be a problem.

Finally, an article in Education Week last year called into question whether any types of projectors, whiteboard-based or other, are viable: “Do classrooms really need them in the age of iPads?” Proponents of whiteboards point to the advantages in classroom management; it’s hard to know what’s on every student’s iPad at a given moment. On the other hand, iPads allow for more widespread engagement within a classroom.

What is not in doubt is the positive impact that technology can have on instruction. Another survey from last year, conducted by PBS, found that 93 percent of teachers believe that whiteboards enrich classroom education, primarily because they increase student motivation. And it found that while budgets are the biggest barrier to implementing technology, lack of training and lack of familiarity with the devices purchased continue to be a problem.

Jonathan LaxamanaJonathan Laxamana is Technology Manager of Green Light Professional Development. He has more than ten years of experience in producing educational software products, video, web-based content, and mobile apps. He writes about new hardware and software, troubleshooting tips, and everything iPad. 

How to Handle Technology Breakdowns in Your Classroom

by Dagmar Ladle

As every teacher who has taken the tech integration plunge will tell you, there are good days and bad days. In a classroom with an interactive whiteboard for example, a good day means that the computer and projector are speaking nicely with one another, and the bulb is projecting the computer’s image nice and bright. But then the bad day arrives and the technology is misbehaving.

Recently, a teacher told me that he was so frustrated with the technology in his room. Until he could be guaranteed that the technology was going to work 100 percent of the time, he would not touch it.

I completely understand his anger and have been there myself. I think there are many teachers who share these feelings of frustration. We become very dependent on these technology tools (as we should) and when we can’t access them to implement our curricular objectives it is frustrating and even infuriating.

The reality is that technology is not going away, so we must find a way to make peace with it in our classrooms. There is no one who can give you a 100 percent guarantee that your technology will not fail you at some point, so I recommend following these five steps: expect it, embrace it, have a back up plan, ask for help, and learn some troubleshooting tips.

Expect it: Teachers who make the effort to integrate technology into their curriculum become dependent on the tools, but also know their limitations. Learn common problems your devices have and know how to solve them.

Embrace it: When technology fails, stay cool, calm, and collected. Remember that every moment is a teachable one. Your students are watching as you model how to react to frustrating situations. Thanks to that finicky IWB pen, you taught your students a very important life skill: handling frustration with grace.

Have a backup plan: The backup can be as simple as writing your notes from the presentation on a whiteboard. Always keep extra batteries, cords, and bulbs on hand.

Ask for help: When class is over, tell an administrator or tech support staff what you experienced. Be clear that your issue needs to be a top priority, as you can’t live without the technology. If you have a recurring issue, keep a log of exactly when it happened and what you were trying to do. Assist them as needed to find a solution.

Learn some troubleshooting tips:

1.  Turn the technology device—computer, projector, document camera, or what have you—off and back on again.

2.  If you are connecting devices to other devices, check all your connections on both ends. Try a different cord.

3.  If devices are inserted into a USB port on your computer, try a different port. Most computers have at least two.

4.  If you can’t see an image on your IWB, check for a light beam from the bulb to the board to ensure the bulb is working. No light, no image!


Dagmar LadleDagmar Ladle is Manager of Consulting Services at Green Light Professional Development. Before Green Light, Dagmar worked for Chicago Public Schools, Promethean, and Apple. She writes about technology integration and GLPD’s work in local schools.