Interactive Whiteboards in Australia

News, ideas and discussion about interactive whiteboards in education

Archive for December, 2008

Improving the look of your images with transparency and point to point

Posted by rosiemacalpine on December 18, 2008

This post rather goes against the spirit of the previous post (which guarded against perfectionism ūüôā )

But once you’ve had a bit of practice with your software, you start to get fussier about the way your images present on your flipchart.

Here’s a screenshot of a flipchart with three fruits:


Let’s start with the orange. When I copied the picture onto my page, the white background came too. This looks ugly against my plate.

In Activstudio, double-click the picture. Then ‘pick the tick’ (click on the properties icon which is a red tick).object-edit-toolbar

In the grey box that appears, click ‘Appearance’ on the left hand side. Then put a tick in the transparency box.

The default for transparency is black, so in this case, you will need to change it. Click on the black square (You won’t see the black square until you’ve ticked the transparency box).

Now you have a pop up image of the orange. Click on any of the white space to chose that as your transparent colour.

The apple isn’t very effective, because there are too many in the picture.¬† I’ll use a picture of a whole apple instead. I’m also going to use the point to point option on the camera tool in Activstudio to capture the edges of one apple, instead of taking it with a background. I’ll do the same for the picture of the pear.

I’ve been looking for an alternative print screen tool that allows point to point for non-Promethean users, but can’t find one at the moment. If you know of one, let me know!

The final flipchart page. I’ve arranged all the pieces of fruit on the plate (to show off how nice they look).


It would look nicer if they were all photographs but I wanted to include the orange to show how you can work with clipart.

Using the transparency tool to hide a background is not as effective with photographs. Even if the background looks white, there are usually shades of grey that don’t appear until you drag it onto a coloured background. But the technique works very well with drawings and clipart.

Now you’ve taken the time to neaten up these images, make sure you save them into your resource library so they are ready for the next activity.


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10 tips for getting started with an interactive whiteboard

Posted by rosiemacalpine on December 17, 2008

Getting an interactive whiteboard in your classroom can be exciting, thrilling, daunting, challenging, frightening or overwhelming (or all of the above!) Here are ten tips for a teacher with a new board.
1. Get support from others.
If you’ve got several boards in your school, make a point of meeting with the other board users regularly (even 30 minutes a fortnight will make a huge difference to enthusiasm and confidence). Ask your reseller if there are other users in your area that you can network with. If you are the only person in the school with a board, invite the principal, deputy or P&C members into your classroom regularly to show them what your class is doing with the board. You are more likely to get support if people can see the great things that you can achieve.
If your board has an online website or forum, join and have a browse around the boards. Promethean users can join Promethean Planet for help, support and sharing of ideas. Especially if you are the only person in your school with a board, this can be a great place to feel that you aren’t going it alone.
2. Start with websites or existing software.

Try searching Google or Delicious for IWB activities. Three good sites for Primary teachers are  BBC Schools, Ambleside Primary and Crickweb. There are lots of great educational activities on the web that work really well on the interactive whiteboard. Using a familiar website or piece of software can let you build confidence with navigating around your board.
3. Be realistic about your goals.
If you have lots of spare time and are a confident computer user, you will progress very quickly with your IWB. If not, then it will take a little longer. Set realistic goals. When I first got my board, I aimed to use it once a day, even if it was just writing notes or showing a website. If this is too much for you, then try three times a week instead. As your skills build, you will be able to use your board more and more.
4. Involve your students.
They will be excited about this technology in the classroom and will want to get started. If you have secondary students, ask them for examples of good websites for your subject. They may be more experienced at searching the net than you! Primary teachers can start with a session where everyone writes their name on the board. Then you can discuss what you have learned e.g. hold to hold the pen, how to double-click. 
5. Have a back up.
Keep a couple of lesson packs (worksheets and resources) that you can use if you can’t get the board working. It’s unusual for things to go wrong, but you’ll feel more confident about trying things if you have an alternative activity on standby.
6. Play with the software and try things out.
If you are an experienced computer user, then you will probably feel confident with clicking on random buttons. If this terrifies you, then go slowly. Don’t make changes in preferences or options, save your work regularly, and learn to use the undo button! But having some ‘sandpit time’ to play and explore is a great way of building your confidence.
7. Get professional development.
Ask your reseller for details of face to face training, if it is available. It’s the quickest way of becoming a proficient user. If you can’t get to face to face training, then look for online training.Promethean users have access to the excellent Promethean Learning website with a free introductory course to get started. Atomic Learning also have extensive IWB training modules.
8. Practice with the hardware before you get in front of the class.
Have technical support or another board user on standby if possible. Practice plugging your board in, turning the projector on and off, and starting the software on your computer. Then you will feel confident about doing this when your class is waiting.
9. Be kind to yourself and let go of perfectionism.
When you meet other users, their proficiency can be both inspiring and depressing. Remember, everyone had to start somewhere! Always remember – how important is it? Your class is unlikely to care if your border is the wrong colour – they just want to have a go with the software. Ideally, IWBs are most effective when students can use the software interactively. But don’t feel guilty if you want to start by using existing resources, like PowerPoint, until your confidence improves.
10. Be prepared to devote some time to it.

An interactive whiteboard will make your teaching easier and cut down on preparation time. But this won’t happen immediately. If you put some time into learning how to use your board, using the suggestions above, you’ll find that invested time pays off very quickly. You’ll soon wonder how you ever managed without it!

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Great collection of IWB activities for early years and primary students

Posted by rosiemacalpine on December 16, 2008

There’s a plethora of great free content for IWBs on the net, so I’m choosing only to mention the websites that are a cut above the rest. Crickweb falls into that category.


It’s well organised with drop down menus into three main sections – Early Years, KS1 (Year 1/ 2 for Australian teachers) and KS2 (Years 3-6). Each section is sub-divided into subject areas and features bright snapshots of each activity as well as a brief description.

Although most of the content (as for many of the IWB sites) has a Literacy and Numeracy focus, it’s nice to see Science, SOSE and other subjects also represented.

The activities are flash-based so will work on any interactive whiteboard. This site would be a good introduction to using a whiteboard for new teachers.

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NORAD tracks Santa

Posted by rosiemacalpine on December 15, 2008

NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, has been tracking Santa as he moves across the skies since 1955. Now that so many people have access to the internet, they also publish their data online. So anyone can log on and see the whereabouts of the Man in the Big Red Suit.

santaearthSanta doesn’t start travelling until Christmas Eve (obviously) but there’s some nice things to have a look at on your whiteboard. You might want to share the address with your class so they can have a look at home on the day, and see where he is up to.

When you visit the main site at, you can watch a video of Santa’s journey in 2007. Highlights include Santa swooping past the Eiffel tower, and swishing past the pyramids.

The Kids Countdown section of the site has some nice things too. When you visit Santa’s village, try the Christmas Tree light up game at the North Pole clock. It’s a good puzzle to solve as a group on the board, using problem solving and spatial planning skills. Middle and upper primary classes might want to use the How do we track Santa? as a starting point for investigation of radars and navigation devices.

This year, you can also view the route that Santa is planning to take on Google Earth. This post on the Google Earth blog explains how to do it. You can even add your house to the Google Earth route (if you want to make sure that Santa will pay you a visit). Visit Travel by GPS for instructions on this.

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11 ways to use recorded sound in your classroom

Posted by rosiemacalpine on December 12, 2008

If you haven’t recorded audio for your IWB activities before, you might want to look at the previous post to get some tips on the technical side of things. Below are some starting ideas for how you can use this resources to add another dimension to your lessons. How else have you used audio recording in your class?

1. I’ve got rhythm. A student claps a simple rhythm into the microphone.¬† The next student listens to the sound, then uses the musical notation resources to represent the rhythm.


2. Exploring adjectives. Put a number of pictures on the page. Students come to the board and record a phrase for one of the pictures, using two adjectives e.g. “the blue, sparkling ocean.” They drag their sound clip on top of the picture for other students to hear.

3. Story chain. Children take it in turns to come to the board and record two sentences of a story. The next child listens to it, then records the next part of the story and draws a path between the sound icons.


4. Learning another language 1. Record some nouns on the board in your chosen language. Add a picture for each word. Students listen to the word and then drag the correct picture to match it (if using Activstudio, you could use containers here to check the answers).

5. Learning another language 2. Student 1 records a phrase. Student 2 records the translation of that phrase. Other students could listen to them and match the phrase and the translation.

6. Celebrating each other. Put your class picture on the board. Each student records a sentence saying something they like about another student. e.g. “Harriet is good at maths and is kind to her friends.” They drag the sound clip icon to that student”s picture.

7. Phonics 1. Sound out the phonemes of a CVCC word e.g. ch-a-n-t. Students click on the sound icon, listen carefully to the phonemes, then write the word under the sound clip icon.

8. Phonics 2. Type the 44 graphemes on the board. Record the matching phonemes, and attach them to each sound. As students drag the letters around to make words, they can click on the graphemes to listen to the phonemes and sound out the word.

9. Following instructions. A student makes a simple drawing on the board while recording instructions e.g. draw a line from top to bottom, draw a circle in the top left hand corner. They hide their drawing under a coloured square, then the second student comes to the board and recreates the drawing, listening to the instructions from the first student.

10. Representing numbers. A student records a number as a sound clip e.g. “ten thousand, three hundred and seventy one”. Another student listens to the sound clip and uses virtual MABs or number arrows on the board to represent the number.

11. Recording instructions. The microphone makes it easy to use your board as a learning station. Leave the activity on the board (e.g. sort 3D shapes into groups according to their properties). In addition to your written instructions for the activity, record these instructions. Students who have trouble reading instructions can then listen to them and read them simultaneously, then work independently of the teacher.

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Recording sound on your IWB

Posted by rosiemacalpine on December 11, 2008

Recording sound for your IWB activities is an exciting way to make interactive presentations for your class. To do this, you will need:

  • A microphone
  • Speakers
  • Software to record sound (such as Activstudio)

First, the microphone. In my experience, you don’t need a particularly expensive one to get started. The most important thing is that it is near the board. If your computer is at the other side of the room then ask for an extension cord at your local electronic shop.

If your microphone isn’t working or is too quiet, go into the sound control settings and make sure that Microphone volume is turned up. Sometimes there is an advanced setting in this volume control. If so, check this. You may have the option of turning on Microphone Booster. This makes a HUGE difference to the volume.

I visited one school where they hung the microphone over the corner of the board so it would pick up any volume near the board. I prefer the handheld option myself (mostly because of the volume restrictions).

When you got your board, hopefully you had decent speakers installed –¬† not just the computer monitor speakers. (Although this is a great way to get a class to be very, very quiet when they watch a DVD!) If not, this might be a good time to see if you can get better speakers for your room.

And finally, you will need software to record sound. Activstudio includes a Sound Recorder (it’s in the Power Tools Toolbox). Click on this icon to record your sound. When you’ve finished, you have a icon on your page.¬† Click on it to hear the sound, or drag it into your Resource Library to save it for another time.

If you don’t have Activstudio or other whiteboard software that will let you record sound, there are some other options.

Audacity: This is a free, powerful audio recorder. I haven’t had much experience with it but I know it is very popular and widely used.I just can’t help wishing that it had a simpler, more attractive interface for teachers and students.


Vocaroo: This is even easier! Record your voice online, then share it via an email, website or download as a WAV. (Wouldn’t it be a lovely way for a child to send good news about test results, or a merit certificate to a working parent via email?)


Tomorrow’s post will have ten teaching ideas for using recorded audio in your teaching.

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Using Google Images more effectively

Posted by rosiemacalpine on December 10, 2008

When I’m making a flipchart for my whiteboard, my first stop for images is the Resource Library. The Search function (magnifying glass symbol) is quick and effective, and I’m often surprised how many resources are available for my topic.

If I’m doing something more specific though, or would like a change, my next stop is Google Images.

Here’s my five top tips for getting the results you want with Google Images.

1. Be specific. Typing cake into Google images returns 44,400,000 images. Chocolate cake returns 3,120,000. Slice chocolate cake returns 216,000 – much better. I’m still not going to go past page 1 or 2, but at least nearly all the images returned are slices of chocolate cake.

2. Change the image size. At the top left just above the results, there is a drop down menu allowing you to change the image size. This is particularly useful if you are looking for something that will cover your whole screen, like a background or a painting. When I wanted to search for Monet’s Water Lilies, I changed the image size to Large, which brought the results I wanted.

3. Change the content. Next to the image size menu, there is a content menu. You can change this to Photos, Faces, or News to refine your search.

4. Use Advanced Image Search. This is to the right of the search box. I particularly like being able to change the colour. If you search for black and white, it will often return clipart/ drawings. Greyscale is also nice if you are looking for old-fashioned photos.

5. Have a quick link to Google Images. You might want to include it on your links or Bookmarks bar, or set your search box to go to Google Images.

If you use Firefox, there’s an even easier option. You can set up¬† Firefox Quick Searches in your address bar. So if I want to search Google Images for chocolate cake, I type gi chocolate cake into the address bar and press enter, and the results come on my screen. I also have similar shortcut searches for YouTube, imdb, wikipedia etc. Have a look at this blog post if you’d like to try it.

Once you’ve got your picture, use the camera tool, copy and paste or drag it on to your flipchart page. And as always, checking copyright is a good idea.

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Searching the web – alternatives to Google

Posted by rosiemacalpine on December 9, 2008

Do you remember the web before Google? When I did my first web search in 1997, AltaVista was my search engine of choice. I also remember  putting the same search term into different engines like AskJeeves and Yahoo!, and getting completely different results!

Nowdays I use Google for 95% of my everyday searching. However the following search engines are worth a look, primarily for exploring a new topic with a class and seeing results from encyclopedias, images, and video.


SearchMe displays your webpages or images as a flow of snapshots (similar to CoverFlow in iTunes). This looks great on an IWB and can be very handy if you are searching for a site that displays text and images in an uncluttered, attractive style so it is accessible for your students.

The other great thing about Searchme is that you can create collections of pages to send to collegues or students. Much more interesting than just sending a page of links! To try it, click on the following link to see the search engines in this articles displayed as a stack: Alternative search engines



Searching in Quintura produces a tag cloud of related terms. Hovering over a word produces a new tag cloud. Web results are on the left hand side. It’s an excellent way of exploring links in a topic.



Powerset is a Wikipedia search engine. Why do you need this, when Wikipedia has a search bar? Powerset has lots of additional features that are worth exploring if you use Wikipedia a lot. I particularly like the keywords results organised into brought, lead to and resulted in sections.



Keyboardr puts YouTube, Google Images, Google Webpages and Wikipedia results on the same page which makes it an great launching pad for an investigation. You can use your keyboard to navigate – but you don’t have to – your mouse and pen/ finger will work fine.goldrushkeyboardr1


Kosmix is similar to Keyboardr but provides much more information on the page. Additional search results include audiobooks, blogs, resources, shopping and Yahoo! answers.


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Saving time with drag and drop

Posted by rosiemacalpine on December 8, 2008

As I’ve become more confident with using my whiteboard and the software, I’ve discovered some quick tricks to getting things on to my flipchart page. These tricks have been tested with Windows XP and Activstudio – however, it’s worth experimenting with other software and nd operating systems in case some of them work for you, too.

1. Arranging windows.

This is something I use a lot and it’s a big time saver. You can use the buttons in your right hand corner of the screen to minimize your window or change the size of it. Instead of manually adding files or pictures through a menu, you can just drag them on.

When you use these buttons to restore down a window, it usually makes it only slightly smaller (which is not all that useful as you still can’t see your other windows). However, you can now drag the¬† drag this window so it only covers half the screen. Next time you arrange¬† it,¬† it will automatically go to this size.

One more thing:  You can also double-click the title bar (the blue bar at the top of the window) to make your window smaller or return it to the full size. Much quicker!

2. Dragging things from your web browser

In the picture below, I’ve got a Wikipedia page about quokkas in one window, and my flipchart page in the other.


To drag a picture, click on the picture then hold down your left mouse button and drag it onto the other page. In Activstudio you get a pop-up menu asking if you want to add it as text or an image. Choose Image – choosing add text will add the web address of the image to your page.

To add text, select it with your cursor then drag it across.

3. Adding things from your desktop/ other windows.

You can also add sounds (wav or mp3), videos, and other files from your desktop or from folders.  For example:

  • A downloaded YouTube video of building a bridge to kick off your lesson on forces
  • A Word file of the worksheet that accompanies your lesson – so you will find it again next time you use the flipchart
  • A sound file of a rainforest parrot, which you have made transparent and added over the top of a picture of the parrot (found on google images)
  • A picture of your class on excursion, set to the background of your page

When you drag these types of files on, you have the option of adding them as links or as embedded files. I would also recommend adding them as embedded files. If you add them as links you have to keep the original file in the same place. If you’ve made a flipchart for school using a picture from your home desktop you won’t be able to see it on another computer.

Choosing the embed option keeps a copy of the file inside the flipchart so you can always get it. You can share it with other teachers and they will also be able to see your added videos, sounds or other files.

And as always, check copyright before using other people’s stuff.

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Visuwords online graphical dictionary and thesaurus

Posted by rosiemacalpine on December 7, 2008

For a dictionary with a difference, have a look at Visuwords.

Type a word into the search bar and a beautiful web of movable, colourful words will appear. Here’s a¬† screenshot of a portion of the results for “milk”.


The words bob and sway gently. You can zoom in, drag the screen around to view different parts, grab the words or hover over them with your pen/ mouse to see a pop-up definition.

I love the idea of using this to introduce or explore a topic, to find out about new words, imporve grammatical understanding and discover links between different subjects. It also has some encyclopedia type functions – typing in Perth produced some information about our beautiful state capital (but no results for Perth, Scotland).

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