Interactive Whiteboards in Australia

News, ideas and discussion about interactive whiteboards in education

Archive for January, 2009

Exploring 3D shapes on an IWB using Google SketchUp

Posted by rosiemacalpine on January 30, 2009

In a recent post on Promethean Planet forums, Mark Robinson suggested using Google SketchUp to create 3D shapes with a class. That prompted me to have a look at the program. I was initially worried that it would be too technical, but the good news is that it is very easy to start looking at shapes on the board. Here’s a quick video showing how to use it.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “2009-02-17_1055“, posted with vodpod

Step 1: Download and install.

It’s about 40mb and can be downloaded here

Step 1b (optional): Watch this 3 minute video on how to get started in SketchUp.

Step 2. Open the program


I clicked Choose template, then choose the second simple template, then clicked the button at the bottom (Start using SketchUp)

3. Start drawing!

Click on a square or circle to add shapes to the page. Then use these tools to explore.

image Click on this tool, then click on your flat square or circle, and drag. You’ve turned a flat shape into a 3D shape!

image Click here then drag over your picture to view your shapes from any viewpoint.

image Use the zoom tool to zoom and out.

It’s a powerful program but I really liked that it’s simple enough to get started straight away. I would love to leave this on the board for a group of students, leave them to explore and see what they discover!


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Wikipedia for schools

Posted by rosiemacalpine on January 29, 2009

Many schools have a love-hate relationship with Wikipedia. They love the convenience and accessibility, but worry about students relying too much on an unchecked source. Teachers are also (rightly) concerned about students accessing inappropriate content.

Now Wikipedia has released a special free schools edition. You can browse through it online at All the entries have been verified and are based on reliable sources. You can also download it, host it on a school server, or burn it to DVD so students without internet access can still view it at home. It contains as much content as the traditional 20 volume encyclopaedia.


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Using online videos in the classroom – moving beyond YouTube

Posted by rosiemacalpine on January 28, 2009

Recently I’ve blogged about some alternative ways to download video from the internet to play on your interactive whiteboard. Here are three sites that are really worthwhile to look at using in the classroom.

1. Teachertube


Teachertube is a US based site with thousands of videos designed for teachers and classrooms. It’s a great place to browse and find interesting new videos for your class. Inappropriate videos are quickly flagged and removed so you can feel safe using the site.

2. and

The UK site is the original site. The Australian site was launched recently and allows access to much of the UK content as well Australian specific content. This site features professionally made videos (often in series) designed to teach specific content. It also has PD content for teachers which is well made and interesting to watch.

If you are outside the UK, you can access some videos (from the UK site) but not all of them.


3. Videojug

This is a ‘how-to’ video site. It’s similar to YouTube as it has lots of great educational content – but some instructional videos and comments that are not appropriate for children to view! When I used this in the classroom, I let parents know that, like YouTube, it was not an appropriate site for children to browse alone.

It has got a huge range of videos that can tap into a classroom topic. It’s also great for procedural writing as many of the videos list the ‘steps’ in the process. The screenshot below shows the range of videos under the topic of camping.


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Downloading videos from Youtube, TeacherTube etc.

Posted by rosiemacalpine on January 26, 2009

I’ve posted before about downloading videos to use in flipcharts or run on the board. I’ve recently discovered an even simpler way to do this.

Realplayer used to be a common media player, but seems to have dropped out of favour in recent times. When I downloaded their latest version, I found this fantastic option in the installation process:


After I ticked this box and completed my install of RealPlayer, I found that a download link appeared briefly at the start of any video I watched on the web.


When I clicked on the button, it started downloading the video as an .flv file. Flv files can be added as a link to flipcharts in AS3 (they will play in a separate window though). In the new Inspire edition, they will play in the flipchart.

The only disadvantage to RealPlayer is that it doesn’t work on everyone’s computer. I’ve got it installed at home and work and haven’t had any problems. I introduced it to some teachers in training last week and found that it kept closing unexpectedly for two of the teachers. Realplayer recommends this fix if this happens to you.

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Adjusting height fit – do you have trouble seeing all of the flipchart?

Posted by rosiemacalpine on January 23, 2009

Whether you are downloading other people’s flipcharts from Promethean Planet, or making your own, you may have run into this problem.


It’s annoying when you can’t see the whole flipchart on your computer. You can use the scroll bar, but most pages are better viewed in one go. In the flipchart above, some of the resources are now hidden at the bottom of the page – and so are the instructions!

This happens because people that create flipcharts have different sizes of computer screens. For example, you might have a wide screen laptop on which you make your flipcharts.

When you show them at school, your board is (usually) the size of a ‘normal computer’ (a 4:3 ratio of width:height). So it’s going to skew your page.


I’m simplifying this a little bit, but this is basically what causes the problem. And here is the solution.

To stop your flipcharts falling off the page when you put them on a 4:3 board, make in a 4:3 mode. To do this, go to Main Menu on your toolbar image . Then choose Studio Settings… and click on Flipchart in the left hand column.


Change the Default page scale to Height Fit, and the Default page size to 1024*768.

Now when you are on your widescreen computer, your flipcharts will look like this (note the black ‘world’ on both sides).


When the image is projected on the board it will now display properly.

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Activsoftware – Inspire Edition

Posted by rosiemacalpine on January 22, 2009

As a true Activaddict, I downloaded this new edition this at home within an hour of release last week. It’s an great new version with lots of useful new tools and functions for teachers to use in their classroom.

One of the most exciting things about the new program is how it will be licenced. It will still be a free upgrade for teachers who already have the board. But if you have a different board, you now have the option of using this software too! The Personal Edition will be free, and there will also be the option of using a Professional Edition at a cost. This means that you will be able to share resources with other teachers, no matter what kind of board they have. I think this will be a huge benefit for the teaching community.

The structure

Previously there were four versions of the software – Activstudio Windows, Activstudio Mac,  Activprimary Windows and Activprimary Mac.

This has now been simplified into one program. This will make training and collaboration between teachers much easier. Activprimary still has its own interface (or skin) but it has the full functionality of Activstudio.

The design

The look of the new program is based on the Mac version (which had a much more stylish interface). It is still similar enough to the old Activstudio to quickly find your way around and start using the board.

Both the Activstudio and Activprimary skins are attractive and easy to use. But as a former Activstudio devotee, I’m surprised how much I like the Primary skin now! It makes it super easy for new users (teachers or students) to pick up a pen and start writing.

Activstudio skinimage

Activprimary skin image

The features

There are so many improvements in the version that it’s difficult to know where to start! So I’ve narrowed it down to a list of my ten favourite things about the new version.

1. Play downloaded videos from the internet directly in the flipchart window + a snapshot button on the video controller for easy screenshots.

2. The eraser button now acts as a true eraser – not a mask. There is a new ‘Magic Ink’ button that lets you do special X-ray effects like the old eraser did.

3. A one click button inserts a weblink on your page.

4. New connector tool and improved shapes library lets you create mind maps and brainstorms (similar to Inspiration).

5. Students will now be able to access the program at home, so they can design interactive presentations as part of their assessment.

6. Activote and Activexpression (see picture of these voting devices below) now work seamlessly inside the program. It’s a one click button to start voting with either device.


7. Text editing is much simpler, with a fixed editing toolbar.

8. Hundreds of new resources are included for teachers. They are ready to use or can be edited to suit the needs of your class. You still have access to all your old resources (more than 25,000 if you’ve added the free resource packs!)


9. The new side browser makes it much easier to add page notes, change the properties of an object, or add actions. This snapshot of the object browser shows how simple it is to change the layer, position or delete an object.


10. Maths tools have all been redesigned and improved. One of my favourites is the ruler. You can have multiple rulers on a page, view the angle as you turn the ruler and compare different units of measurement.


The new edition is available for download here at Promethean Planet. If you are not registered on the Planet, then you’ll need to sign up (but it’s free!) Remember that you don’t have to have a Promethean board to sign up or download the software. It is a Beta version though, so don’t plan to use with your class until the final release date (March).

There’s also a free course here at Promethean Learning. This flash-based course will guide you through the new features. Happy playing!

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Using handwriting recognition in other programs

Posted by rosiemacalpine on January 21, 2009

Most IWB software (including Promethean) include some sort of handwriting recognition. This means that if you write a word on the board, it will turn it into text.

I used handwriting recognition frequently to tidy up my messy writing in Activstudio. Then I started look for other ways to use it on the board. Here’s some examples of when it can come in handy:

  • Edit a Word document at the board
  • Write directly into excel cells
  • Write a web address or search term into a browser
  • Complete online games or learning activities where text is required in a field.

Here’s a few ways to use handwriting recognition outside your software.

1. Ritepen

Once you’ve installed the Ritepen software on your computer, you will have a pen icon in your start bar. Simply click on it to write. Here’s an example from their website. The only thing I don’t like about Ritepen is that it does “write anywhere” which then makes it difficult to interact with other parts of the software as you have to keep turning the pen on and off. I think a text box would be a nice option. It’s $30 US for a single licence which is very reasonable.


2. Office XP

It’s possible to turn on handwriting recognition if you are using Office 2003 and then use it in any Office software (Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc) and Internet Explorer. Instructions can be found here. When I used XP, I thought this was a great feature and used it all the time.

3. Windows Vista/ 7

With the arrival of Vista, Windows took handwriting recognition out of Office, and put it in the OS. (Unfortunately, that means you won’t have access to Windows handwriting recognition if you use Office 2007 but Windows XP which is a common combination.)

But Vista’s new handwriting recognition is very neat. Once it’s turned on, you have a tablet bar hovering at the side of your screen. Click on it to pull it out and write in it. Then you can use handwriting recognition in any program with a text field. Click here to view the instructions for activating it. As you can see by the screenshot, it is quite generous to those with messy handwriting!


To turn it on:

1. On the Microsoft Windows Start menu, click in the search box.

2. Type the word tablet

3. The Tablet PC Input Panel will then appear in your start menu.

4. Click on it to turn it on.

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Picture books on the IWB (Part 2 of 2)

Posted by rosiemacalpine on January 20, 2009

In my previous post, I reviewed some websites for reading picture books online. Today I’ll suggest some ways to turn a physical book into an electronic book.

Firstly, some notes about copyright. As I understand it, it would currently contravene copyright laws to scan a picture book and show it on the board. But photocopying your workbooks to A3 to show them to students is also a problem, and most teachers do this.

I believe that authors and publishers need to address this issue by releasing a low res (for printing) online version of their book. As IWBs grow in popularity, teachers will want to show these books to their class. It is such a delight to be able to easily view a large copy of a book, and know that every child can see the book and view the pictures.

So undertake this tutorial at your own peril 🙂

In the meantime, I think that teachers can also play fairly (in my experience, most teachers are pretty good at respecting the work of other people). Scan your own or your school library’s copy of the book and don’t share this with teachers from other schools. I made it a rule to use the scanned copy only when I had the physical book in my classroom.

Firstly, you will need to scan the book. If possible, it’s a good idea to enlist a parent or older student to help with this on a regular basis. You can get decent scanners for under $100AUS today. If you really can’t get a scanner, then it is possible to use a digital camera but your results won’t be quite as good.

When you are scanning the book, it is a good idea to rename the files as you scan them e.g. tree1.jpg, tree2.jpg etc. Then put all the files from one book in a folder, and label the folder appropriately.


Once you’ve scanned all your pictures, double-click the first file. This will automatically launch Windows Picture and Fax Viewer. You can simply read the book in this format if you like. Click on the arrows at the bottom of the window to turn the pages.



There are several advantages to transferring the images into a flipchart however. In a flipchart you can:

  • Add page turn effects to make it look like a real book
  • Use white pen to blank out some text and predict the missing words/ put in punctuation/ change synonyms.
  • Add speech bubbles to characters
  • Use the sound recorder to record the whole text or some characters’ voices

To put the book in a flipchart, open up Windows Fax and Picture Viewer and  a blank flipchart. Use the Area camera tool to take a full screen picture of each page. Send the picture to the next page of the flipchart. image

Then you can photograph the whole book from Windows Fax and Picture Viewer without going back to your flipchart.

This is a lovely way to share a text with the whole class and make your literacy lessons more interactive.

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IWB resources for Australian teachers

Posted by rosiemacalpine on January 14, 2009

Promethean Planet have released a collection of resources (known as a theme) for Australia Day. It includes 30 flipcharts about Australia, eight resource packs, and quality web links with Australian topics for IWBs. The theme will be ‘live’ for about a month, but all the resources will remain on the Promethean website after the month in the Resources section.


If you don’t have Promethean software, you can download a Flipchart Viewer from the Promethean site that will let you view the flipcharts.

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Picture books on the IWB (Part 1 of 2)

Posted by rosiemacalpine on January 13, 2009

One of my favourite things to do with a junior primary class and our IWB was to read books on the whiteboard. There are two main ways of doing this:

1. Finding online books.

2. Scanning an existing book and turning it into a flipchart

Today’s post will focus on online books. Here are some good sites I’ve found.

1. Big Universe

This site contains a mix of teachers/ class-made books, and professional books. It’s also got a nifty book creator, so your class can have a go at creating your own and share it on the site.


2. Storyline Online

The books on this site are well known children’s books read by members of the Screen Actors Guild. It gets an extra thumbs up from me for featuring Sophie’s Masterpiece which is a former favourite of my class. The site features streaming video of the actors reading the texts. The pictures in the book are shown and you also have the option of captions.


3. BBC Cbeebies Stories

There’s a great collection of online books here, with clear interesting pictures and some animation. This is the site that I used most with my Year 2 class.


4. International Children’s Digital Library

I only found this site yesterday, and I think it’s an absolute treasure. It has a huge number of books in many different languages. Audio isn’t included, but the text and images are clear, the pages can be enlarged and it has a simple filter function which lets you look for books by age group, length of book, and genre. This link takes you to all the books in English.


5. Lookybook

Lookybook has hundreds of well-known, high quality pictures books. It’s free to register and you can create your own bookshelves with your favourites. The site is designed to attract you to buy the book after having a preview. So the image quality isn’t the best, and the text can be hard to read. Books with minimal text and large pictures work best, so it may be more useful for kindy/ pre-primary teachers.


The next post will explain how you can scan your favourite book to view it on the IWB.

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