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What does it mean to "Use the Interactive Whiteboard" in the daily numeracy lesson?

Penny Knight, Jennie Pennant, Bracknell Forest LEA

Jennifer Piggott, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

It is really easy to make assumptions about the role of technology in the classroom, its introduction is often accompanied by sweeping statements which assume the reader (or listener) is interpreting the context in the way the writer (or speaker) intends. There have been a number of reports on the effectiveness of the use of the interactive whiteboard to motivate teachers and pupils and to give pace to lessons (BECTA, 2004; Latham, 2002). However, there is little evidence to suggest that we all have the same image of how the whiteboard is being used in the context that gives rise to the evaluation. Too easily we describe the type of software or the mathematical activity assuming the way the whiteboard is being used is a given.

This incongruity became evident when six teachers from Bracknell undertook some research in their classrooms on the use of the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB). As their individual research questions took shape, all the teachers were making reference to "the use of the IWB" and it soon became apparent that they were all interpreting this phrase in slightly different way, even when they were referring to the same software. (The research questions chosen by the teachers are listed at the end of this article).

One key issue throughout the study related to how much of the activity was very specific to the IWB and how much could have been achieved with a data-projector and/or technologies, such as overhead projectors. The purpose of this article is not to detail this aspect of the work but to identify contexts and purposes for IWB work, even when alternative technologies may have enabled similar goals to be achieved.

This article attempts to make explicit possible meanings of the phrase "using an interactive whiteboard" and to encourage further debate.

Out of the initial discussions with the six teachers we began to identify the connections between the roles of the hardware and software and the teaching approaches being used. It was this variety of interpretation that we felt it important to unpick. Key to this was their descriptions of the teaching and learning contexts.

The teaching and learning contexts:

  • Teacher control - didactic approach with teacher taking the lead and having control of the IWB and software. This reflects the findings of Smith (2001). In these cases the IWB was used to:
    • demonstrate/illustrate teaching points
    • demonstrating technique of features of the software for pupils to use independently
  • Structured interplay between teacher and pupils. Here the teacher is leading the discussion and controlling the use of the IWB but inviting pupils to engage with the interactivity of the IWB to demonstrate understanding or develop a point.
  • Pupils can take control. They use the software on their own (probably after demonstration and/or modelling. Pupils adapt software by changing settings and investigate the mathematical environment.
From these we were able to identify five basic contexts for the use of IWB:
  • Teacher as demonstrator
  • Teacher as modeller
  • Teacher in control - inviting the pupils (shared ),
  • Pupils in control with the "teacher" advising (guided ).
  • Pupils working independently
"Demonstration " was used to describe teacher input that simply demonstrated the mathematical process e.g. how to add two 3 digit numbers, or software features.
"Modelling " suggests the modelling of mathematical thinking with the aid of the IWB software (metacognitive modelling).
Sharing occurs when the teacher has control of the IWB but invites pupils to participate in a task.
Guided use refers to pupils leading with guidance for teacher concerning content, direction or technical issues.
Pupils working independently either in small groups or alone on IWB The size of the image and the interactivity means small groups can share ideas with greater ease than if they were sitting around a single computer screen.

Implications for the teachers involved in the project

The teachers adopted models for the use of the technology, at least initially, with which they felt most comfortable. Although the IWB was felt to change the flow, content and pace of the lessons, to begin to use it, teachers did not feel that they had to make large shifts in their classroom practice.

Whilst the teachers recognised the first two teaching contexts, demonstrating and modelling, as part of their general classroom practice they could offer little anecdotal evidence of pupils participating in any form beyond the "come up and show us" model in the whole class activities at the start and end of the numeracy lesson (Kennewell, 2001). The identification of the lack of pupil involvement led to discussion about teachers' everyday IWB practice. As a consequence teachers considered the need to expand the sphere of influence of the IWB into parts of the lesson where they were not taking the lead.

Certain software encouraged the adoption of particular approaches to the use of the IWB by the teachers. The majority of the software being used was for whole class- teacher centred work. Where the software had the potential for pupils working independently it required additional impetus for change. Even when the software had the potential to support pupils working independently this facility was not utilised.

IWB context Types of software      
  Easiteach maths*- using Venn diagrams Interactive Teaching Programme called difference found at Smart notebook on division... ...grouping and sharing models. Devised by teacher. Easiteach maths Function of the software features.
Demo Showing the process of dividing data into the relevant circles. Drag and drop. Gives whole picture. Indicates areas where data can be put. Play the animation to demonstrate the structure of difference Demonstrate the features of the notebook, the way items can be moved around to model grouping or sharing and pages used to compare models. Show machine and how it works. Feed in several numbers and predict outcomes. Check by using machine function.
Model Speaking aloud the process of where to put data. Discussing the reasoning process. Play and pause with explanation of the process and questioning to challenge and extend pupil thinking about the subtraction model of difference. Explore the way that division can be represented as a grouping or a sharing model and how this affects the way that we divide out our items on the IWB. Consider the number sentence that relates to each diagram. Discuss what the machine does and how we know to predict the outcome given the input and function. Consider what happens if we have the output and function given. What reasoning can we apply to find the input? How many examples of input and output do we need if we are to predict the function?
Shared Pupils invited up to classify data. Assisted with reasoning process and questioned about decisions. Pupils choose numbers and the explanation of the process is rehearsed again by pupils and teacher together. Teacher investigates, with pupil involvement further examples of division number sentences and how they can be represented as a grouping or sharing model. Pupils invited to share in the posing of questions using the function machine, discuss reasoning needed to solve them and to manipulate the function machine on the IWB. Teacher leads the work.
Guided Blank for pupils to fill in. Talk through reasoning. Teacher supports the reasoning process. Pupils choose numbers and are invited to explain to the class how the difference model is working with these chosen numbers. Teacher supports with prompts and questions as required. Pupils try to represent division number sentences using both the sharing and grouping models with teacher support where needed. Pupils carry out activities as above and teacher takes a prompting and questioning role as needed.
Independent Other examples as in guided. Pupils share reasoning with each other. Pupils rehearse the model, choosing a range of numbers and giving the commentary. Pupils evaluate the clarity of each other's commentary. Pupils consolidate their understanding of the sharing and grouping models for division by carrying out, and discussing with each other, a number of examples on the IWB. Pupils use the function machine to pose and solve problems for each other. They justify their answers to each other and describe their reasoning.

*Easiteach Maths is an RM product used in many Primary Schools. The latest version is now part of the Easiteach Studio package. More information can be found on the RM website

The examples illustrated above are those that the teachers came up with in the session. They are not necessarily presented as the best practice in these areas.

Although the purpose of this article has not been to discuss the role of alternative means of achieving similar practices with other technologies -it does appear to be the case that the "interactiveness" of the IWB comes more into its own as you move "down" the contexts that appear in table. That is, models of teaching and learning that are more open and social are more likely to result in the IWB offering a unique feature to the classroom.

By identifying a framework for "the use of the interactive whiteboard" the teachers were alerted to a wider variety of teaching and learning contexts and possibilities. This has begun to influence their practice and enabled them to engage their established understanding of the flow of pupil/teacher activity in a lesson with their developing use of the IWB. The IWB thus becoming as instrument of change as it becomes more fully adopted and teachers adopt new models of classroom practice that more fully utilise the potential of the whiteboard (Cuban, Kirkpatrick, Peck, 2001; Becker, 2000).

The mapping of a possible framework for the use of the interactive whiteboard meant that teachers now had a way to refine their research questions so that the reader and writer could have a greater chance of having the same understanding as to how the IWB was being used, rather than relying on assumptions as discussed in our introduction. The need for such a framework is clearly evident, the one presented here is intended to stimulate debate as to the precise nature of such a framework.


  1. Penny Latham,Teaching and Learning Primary mathematics: the impact of interactive whiteboards , Beam Education (2002)
  2. BECTA, Getting the most from your interactive whiteboard; a guide for Primary schools (2004).
  3. Cuban, L. Kirkpatrick, H Beck, C., "High Access and Low Use of Technologies in High School Classrooms: Explaining an Apparent Paradox", American Educational Research Journal 38, 4, 813-834 (2001)
  4. Becker, J., "Findings from the Teaching, Learning and Computing Survey: Is Larry Cuban right?" Education Policy Archives , 8 , 51, ISSN 1068-2341. (2000)
  5. Levy. P., Interactive Whiteboards in Learning and Teaching in two Sheffield schools (2004) ( )
  6. Report from the ATM's Interactive whiteboard working group, Micromath 19 /3 (Autumn 2003)