Saturday, June 1, 2013

Young Learners and the Smartboard

While more and more classrooms are being equipped with Smartboard technology, it remains a daunting task for teachers to fully utilize the many capabilities of the board with young learners. Students between the ages of three and eight encounter several unique challenges when working with the Smartboard and teachers are frequently overwhelmed with where to start or how to create material to be used with the board. While there is so much that could be covered, I have selected just a few of my favorite tips that have been received as the most eye-opening to fellow teachers.


  • Touches
    • Small children sometimes have trouble navigating the Smartboard using their hands because they haven't figured out how to apply that "just right" amount of pressure. This quickly becomes the frustrating battle of moving objects only a few centimeters at a time. Try having your students make a fist with their thumb adjacent to their pointer finger and placing their whole hand in this position on the Smartboard to select and manipulate objects.
  • Pointers
    • Height is also a frequent problem with Smartboards, particularly when they are unilaterally installed school wide at one set height. Stock up on as many pointers as you can! Amazon has a great selection for a good price. Allow students to use pointers to reach those items at the top of the screen or across the screen from them. This will also cut down on the shadow effect that commonly stumps young learners as they go to click on an object or write only to find their few blocked by their bodies. By using pointers, students are able to better understand how to re-position themselves due to their greater range of motion.
  • Wireless Keyboard
    • Many teachers have expressed frustration at having to sit at the computer during Smartboard lessons to type in information on the computer when a link takes them to a search engine or other interactive website. If this is your case it is worth talking to your tech team about investing in a Wireless Keyboard (preferably one with a track pad) that you, or your students, can use to manipulate websites and other features of Smart Notebook software more easily. Not to mention, this can be a great alternative for those students who still struggle to interact physically with the Smartboard or who are unable to interact due to other limitations.
  • Re-Alignment Screen
    • The need to re-align your Smartboard must occur at least once, if not fifteen times a day in an early childhood classroom. It never seems like the projector cart can stay clear of the stray student wandering past and is constantly just the slightest bit off, making it difficult to interact successfully with the Smartboard. Make the re-alignment process a routine that your students are a part of - all too frequently the 10-15 seconds it takes to re-align Smartboards has caused student focus to crack and crumble. I recommend requiring the students to count with me, run through the sight word list, or clap every time I press a re-alignment point. Additionally, to ensure your Smartboard is at its most accurate, try touching the pen (or your finger) to a point about 6-8 inches away from the re-alignment point and then dragging it over to the exact spot in the middle of the point. This will speed up the process and prevent you from having to go back and re-do points where you may not have hit the target exactly!

Don't Work Alone:

  • Smart Exchange
    • I have been surprised by the number of teachers that are not aware of Smart Exchange. It is an online community (requires a sign-up, but is still free!) comprised of teachers and other educational professionals who can post and retrieve lesson covering a BROAD spectrum of curriculum. Smart Exchange is a great place to start when you are creating a lesson. There is no reason to re-invent the wheel when another teacher might have already compiled a lesson for the curriculum you are interested in teaching. If you don't find exactly what you are looking for, it is still a good idea to find a "shell" that you can adapt by substituting your own information, or to find ideas for how you might like to go about teaching a particular lesson. It is a wonderful free resource that teachers who are both experienced and inexperienced with the Smartboard should check out!
  • Team Files
    • If you are fortunate to work with a team of early childhood educators, take the opportunity to divide and conquer a unit or set of lessons you might want to utilize the Smartboard for. You might consider each taking a lesson and storing it on a group file on your school network. Or, perhaps you might want to get in touch with colleagues at other schools if the project is particularly large. It is best not to try and take it all on yourself, working in teams is a great opportunity to learn from other's experiences and tackle new challenges to make them more manageable.

While these tips will be extremely helpful in fully realizing the potential of a Smartboard in the early childhood classroom, the best thing you can do for your students is to model expected behaviors repeatedly. By showing children what you expect their interactions with the Smartboard to be, including the steps they should take in troubleshooting, taking turns, and navigating home, you will find yourself able to successfully utilize the Smartboard one lesson at a time!