A look at some of the schools that have made the leap towards digital education with the help of SMART technology.
Willow Park Junior School
Willow Park Junior School in Dublin is a private school for boys in the Booterstown area of Dublin.
In December 2009, the school’s 650 boys moved into a new building as part of a €40m redevelopment of the Blackrock College campus.
Providing a more efficient and eco-friendly learning environment, its classrooms, performing arts room and new learning resource centre are all equipped with SMART Board interactive whiteboards.
“I’ve always had a particular interest in the role of IT in education in Ireland,” says Jim Casey, who has developed IT educational content and software to complement book-based learning over 13 years.
“Having seen the power of interactive learning technology at secondary level, I felt it had even more to offer younger children.”
Unlike other products that require a special pen, the SMART Board interactive whiteboard is a touch-sensitive display that connects to a computer and digital projector.
Using a finger, users can control computer applications, write notes, pull up charts and images, search the internet, play videos and save work.
“Personally, I believe that it’s better to have computers in the classroom, with the SMART Board interactive whiteboards complementing what the pupils are doing,” says Casey.
Willow Park’s SMART Board interactive whiteboards are used across the primary school curriculum, from geography and history lessons to helping pupils learn a particular dance or piece of music.
“The key to the successful use of any learning technology is the upskilling of staff,” says Casey.
“Most of our teachers were really enthusiastic from the start, although one or two were a little reticent because of a lack of IT skills,” he says.
“Interestingly, though, these are the ones who are less afraid to ask the boys for help!”
The school also purchased a laptop computer for every teacher.
“I wanted them to be more adaptable, and be able to take work home to work on lesson development,” explains Casey.
“The key to the successful use of SMART Board interactive whiteboards is making lesson content topical and relevant, with teachers using their creativity to fire the children’s imaginations,” he says.
Every SMART Board interactive whiteboard comes with SMART Notebook™ software, a tool that enables teachers to create and manage interactive lessons within one application.
James Smith, education consultant at Steljes, the distributor of SMART Technologies in Ireland, spent several days training staff on how to use the SMART Board, including a two-day SMART Content Creation seminar.
“Since we invested in SMART Board interactive whiteboards, we haven’t looked back!” says Casey.
“In the 21st century, learning by rote will no longer be sufficient and the teacher will no longer be the ‘font of all knowledge’.
“Technology tools will play a major role in engaging and stimulating pupils in this new type of learning environment, and to be truly effective, schools need to take ownership of their SMART Board interactive whiteboards and continue to develop their use,” he says.
Urbleshanny National School
Urbleshanny National School is a small mixed school on the outskirts of Scotstown village in County Monaghan.
The school was rebuilt in 1999 and has 270 children in eight permanent and two temporary classrooms.
“In response to a concern about falling educational standards across Ireland, the government issued a directive that every classroom should have a fixed whiteboard and laptop,” explains Elaine Lavelle, class teacher in charge of the school’s ICT.
“As a result, we now have a SMART Board interactive whiteboard in every permanent classroom and a trolley with 17 laptops that run wirelessly.”
SMART Board interactive whiteboards combine a whiteboard with the power of a computer, to help teachers deliver interactive lessons using an electronic pen or finger.
“The touch-sensitive SMART Board interactive whiteboards are a wonderful teaching aid,” Lavelle says.
“The teachers were a little apprehensive about using them at first, but now they’re wondering how they ever did without them!”
Urbleshanny’s SMART Board interactive whiteboards are used from junior infants upwards across all subjects.
“The children love the combination of whiteboards and laptops as their learning has become very visual and interactive,” she says.
“At the moment we have one laptop between two children, and mobile mice and keyboards for use by the whole class.”
The school is also using SMART Response. Using hand-held voting devices, pupils can respond to multiple-choice questions by pressing a button, giving teachers instant feedback on how each student is doing.
“As well as giving us an instant snapshot on how well the children are understanding specific things, we can also export the results easily into Excel and keep them for parent/teacher meetings,” says Lavelle.
“SMART Response provides teachers with a superior system of record keeping than paper records, and all my records are now available at the touch of a button.”
Another benefit of SMART Response is its confidentiality: “It helps to show an individual’s strengths and weaknesses, and it keeps the results private between the pupil and their teacher.”
While it is still early days, interactive learning technology is already part of everyday life at Urbleshanny.
“The next step will be to ensure that everyone undergoes proper training to enable us to get even more out of this technology,” says Lavelle.
The greater use of SMART Notebook software will act as a major spur to the development and sharing of learning resources, which Lavelle sees as a key to success in the future:
“As teachers become more confident and knowledgeable they’ll be able to create more and more learning resources for themselves – and share them with their colleagues.
“Although teachers often struggle to find the time to meet to exchange ideas and resources, I believe it will be this sharing that will drive the use of this interactive technology – and in turn help deliver the improved educational results we all want.”