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Teacher says SMART Boards bring math alive

East Ridge teacher Paul Virgin uses the SMART Board in his math classes. (Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner)1 / 2
When Virgin gives a pre-test, each student gets a remote control. They click on multiple-choice answers.2 / 2

Remember chalk, blackboards and clapping erasers outside after school?

Those days are long gone.

They were replaced with white plastic boards and marking pens, but those boards are gradually on their way out, too.

The newest education buzz circles around interactive white boards that act as computer screens. Whatever is on the teacher's computer is projected onto the board.

"In the olden days," teachers used white boards and overhead projectors to present class material, said Paul Virgin who heads the East Ridge High School math department.

At about $6,500 including cords and connections, every East Ridge classroom has a SMART Board -- the brand name of the boards that District 833 uses. They are also available in the media center and some conference rooms.

The district has a technology plan to bring SMART Boards to more classrooms, but even if it started today, it would take 15 years before every classroom had one, according to Superintendent Mark Porter.

The board has become very important to Virgin's math classes, he said.

When making a graph to illustrate an X and Y-axis, Virgin had to draw one "in the olden days."

Now, he uses a finger to bring one to the screen. He can also put it aside to write an equation and bring the graph back to illustrate it.

"Kids like to be entertained," he said as he pressed an application in the tool bar and connected two dots on the graph with small smiley faces.

Virgin can make anything on the board larger or smaller.

Students -- even kindergarteners at Armstrong Elementary School who assembled snowmen on their SMART Boards during the holidays -- quickly catch on to how the technology works.

Teachers can put up letters on SMART Boards for second-graders to build words and they can make them on the same lined paper used in primary grades to differentiate lower from upper-case letters.

As more programs become available, teachers share lessons online via the SMART Board Web site. "It's all free," Virgin said.

Virgin also uses SMART technology to help students who miss classes and those who are shaky about what they learned in class.

Lessons are on Virgin's Web site and remain there. Actual lecture notes and drawings are also available.

There is also a calendar of when lessons will be taught.

Virgin can use a SMART microphone to project his voice, even if he's facing the board.

"It's very teacher-friendly," he said.

While teachers want all students to learn what's taught, determining whether they have is more complicated than it appears.

In the past, teachers had to wait until the first tests were given to determine if students were understanding their lessons.

Now, when Virgin administers a pre-test, each student gets a remote control. They click on multiple-choice answers.

A pie chart comes up on the screen showing what percentage of kids got the right answer. If it's 90 percent, Virgin reveals the next question.

He also knows which students did not get it right, but their classmates do not. Later, at the end of class, Virgin will ask students to come for help after school.

If only 40 percent get it right, Virgin can move the test away and go through more examples.

"This makes math come alive for students," Virgin said. "Kids are visual learners and this takes them where they feel the most comfortable."

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600