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Content is king

magazine article | Published in TES Newspaper on 5 November, 2004 | By: Chris Drage

Chris Drage looks at the latest crop of whiteboard software and finds more effort is being put into content than tools

If you look at the interactive whiteboard software currently available it's obvious that more development goes into content than into whiteboard tools.

This is not altogether surprising; when you have something that works well and that teachers are familiar with, why change it?

But small incremental improvements have been made. The major suppliers of whiteboards are constantly beefing up the software toolkits that drive their boards. The most notable of these has been Promethean; its ACTIVprimary system simply makes your mouth water.

So, what is it that makes a piece of software or content suitable for use on a whiteboard?

It all comes down to the software interface (how you actually use it). The typical Word toolbar, along the top of the screen with its drop-down menus, is fine on standalone computers. But on a whiteboard it can be a nightmare for the vertically challenged - me included. The tools and menus need to be accessible to all.

2Simple's 2Paint hasn't quite grasped this concept. It's an excellent bit of software for nursery and reception children, but on a whiteboard a small child can't quite reach the Print option.

Whiteboard software should place the teacher's tools at the top of the screen and frequently used student tools should be easily accessible, even by the shortest of students.

Promethean

Promethean's ACTIVprimary is a breath of fresh air. At last there's a system designed specifically for early years and primary classrooms. The software interface has been totally redesigned in view of the fact that the ACTIVboard will be used by both teachers and pupils; teacher's tools are at the top and the pupils' lower down. The toolkit is relevant, intuitive and includes comprehensive preparation tools, scalable and snap-to-background grids, libraries of shapes, lines and arrows, teacher pop-ups for key words and objectives, over 2,000 items of curriculum clipart and interactive exercises. The chunky new pen makes the whole thing easier to use too.

ACTIVstudio2 has also been improved and now recognises that teachers are becoming more adept at using interactive presentation tools and are demanding more features. This version certainly provides a faster, more efficient and capable set of presentation tools and is now supplied with Kar2ouche Composer and Spark Space "Ideas Mapping" software.

The only downside is that both ACTIVprimary and ACTIVstudio2 are still only available for Promethean's own boards.

Easiteach

RM supplies both the Interwrite Classboard and the SMARTboard (watch out for new SMART software - full review in next Online). However, its excellent Easiteach Studio will work regardless of hardware. Easiteach is a set of comprehensive whiteboard teaching tools and resources purpose built for whole-class teaching (see offer page 24). Studio is the centre of the Easiteach family and includes a wide range of cross-curricular teaching tools.It also has a huge resource library and can combine text, graphics, video and Flash files, animations, spreadsheets, graphs and databases.

Easiteach Studio is also the platform for a growing range of affordable subject-specific tools and content packs. Currently these include: Easiteach Maths, Literacy, EAL (English as an additional language), Animated Books, Early Steps, Science, Geography and Games. Teachers using any of the Easiteach content packs become very enthusiastic about them.

Bullet Point

Bullet Point, which sells SMARTboards, has been putting together some attractive interactive learning solutions by establishing partnerships with the likes of 2Simple, Boardworks and Daydream Education. Bullet Point's own Interactive Resources for Primaries continues to expand and grow. Such has been the success of Maths Pack 1 and 2 that four new titles have been added: Teaching Time, Teaching Money, Teaching Tables and Teaching Measurement. These follow in the same genre and include a worksheet creator to accompany each interactive task. Large easy-to-use tools and uncluttered screens make these excellent teaching tools for whiteboards.

Boardworks

Boardworks, noted for its PowerPoint-based KS3 and 4 whiteboard materials, has developed new resources for Early Years and KS1 and 2 pupils. All Day To Play Suite (£499 ex VAT) introduces the alphabet, phonics, nursery rhymes, tongue twisters handwriting and talking books. This is a complete package that covers the QCA's guidance for Foundation Stage.

Dazzle Peak (£499 ex VAT) uses the whiteboard for KS2 literacy.

Designed for whole-class activity or group work this comprehensive resource includes word, sentence and text-level activities, differentiated work for groups and individuals and detailed teachers' notes. The children will love the attention grabbing characters.

The Boardworks Resources are a set of KS3 and 4 classroom products written specifically for teachers using interactive whiteboards and/or projectors.

These PowerPoint materials include hundreds of images, diagrams, animations and activities as well as text-based resources. New to the collection are ICT and Maths Toolkit. The former comprises KS3 Core ICT and Managing Projects (Pounds 599 ex VAT) and KS Core ICT (£499 ex VAT). Maths Toolkit (£999 ex VAT) is a huge resource fully referenced from the KS3 Framework objectives spanning KS3 to 4. The advantage of these materials lies in their PowerPoint format, which is totally editable.

If you're familiar with Daydream Education's science wall charts, then its whiteboard charts will come as no surprise. These interactive wall charts become active teaching/learning aids and bring wall charts to life. Made up of 50 wall charts, the suite uses simple software which incorporates a 20-question quiz on each chart. The reinforcement and learning comes from exploring the chart to locate information and helps make them ideal revision aids for KS2 and 3.

Lastly, any teacher who uses PowerPoint on a whiteboard shouldn't be without Bullet Point's Ocular Interactive (£50 ex VAT). This software makes it easy to annotate and interact in both slide view and slide show modes (ie, you can edit on a completely blank screen) enabling it to be used as a "global whiteboarding application". You can save your annotations with each slide or separately. You can also save a series of PowerPoint slides with the individual pre-made annotations all together at one side.

As the lesson progresses, simply drag each annotation to its desired location. Slides with annotations are saved just like flip-chart screens and can be printed or ported to other applications.

Cambridge-Hitachi

The Cambridge Board (Cambridge-Hitachi) is noted for its nippy performance.

A number of software enhancements have also added to its intuitive approach making it very versatile. For example, the software now has an optional module for integrated video-conferencing set-up, simplifying the steps necessary to deliver interactive data and video in a remote conferencing environment. Cambridge-Hitachi is currently publishing a plethora of software resources across the key stages to support whiteboard teaching and learning (review in the next issue of Online).

Contacts

Promethean

www.promethean.co.uk

RM

www.rm.com

Bullet Point

www.interactivewhiteboards.co.uk

Boardworks

www.theboardworks.co.uk

2Simple

www.2simple.com

Cambridge-Hitachiwww.cambridge-hitachi.com


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