The debate on Interactive Whiteboards continues to dominate the pages of many blogs and my Twitter feed on a regular basis – and what an interesting and divisive one it is! The extremes of views cannot be more diametrically apart from the best thing to land in the classroom through to an abomination in the classroom. From the off, I fall into the camp that favours the use of the board – when used correctly in the classroom.
Yes, at times, there is nothing that couldn’t be done with a big screen and a projector – nothing to be spent on a large scale interactive board. However, as a teaching tool in the Primary School, I have found it invaluable for illustrating points, bringing videos through to support teaching and being interactive with games / and set lesson plans. But, hey ho, each to their own.
Table Top Activities
One of the biggest criticism levelled at an IWB is that there is not much interactivity from the children. This can be true on many levels but, again, it comes down to the skill of the teacher using the resources at his/her disposal. It can be a very expensive flip chart or a very engaging tool in the hands of the right teacher. But, what if you could take what was on the wall and put it into the collaborative hands of the children as well as the teacher?
Today, we had the opportunity to play with Promethean’s latest offering – The ActivTable. I had seen the table in BETT2013 and was eager to give the teachers and children in the school the opportunity to see it in action and measure up their opinion. Personally, I liked it a lot. I had gone to BETT with the intention of looking at how to support our SEN teachers and develop early Digital Literacy Skills in my Foundation pupils. The table offered a level of ‘easy to get to grips with’ collaboration and highly engaging visual stimulus for the small groups withdrawn for SEN support. As well as this, it isn’t too daunting for those teachers amongst us resistant to change and learning new skills. I won’t do the selling job – that’s Promethean’s job, however, I must commend the rep. who spent the day with us, Peter Jackson, for his patience and work that he did with the staff and the pupils in what was an extended session!
It is highly engaging, easy to use and certainly had the ‘WOW’ factor for those pupils that got the chance to play about with it. I gave 6 of my P7 children to chance to put it through it’s paces in a number of ways and, although it did struggle at times with the volume of play they were giving it, the table did an admirable job with what they threw at it!
Does What It Says On The Tin?
It certainly is ‘Activ’ and gave a good feeling of collaboration in the children guided sessions. It runs Window 7 as the OS under the skin of the ‘ActivTable’ software so is easily accessible and, should(?), work within the proposed scheme of the new C2K provision (though I await further clarification). The apps that were on show would support basic numeracy and literacy groups but there needs to be more than what was on show. We didn’t have access to the App Store proposed by Promethean but I have seen a broad range of Apps that can be used within the software and these raise the table above a ‘Games Arcade.’ What I also liked was that the teachers could bring in any previously prepared ActivPrimary Pages and use these on the table – something that gives more of an interactive nature to the lesson. It is easier to see this being used in the means of withdrawal support with the small group. However, our Foundation teachers did make the point that it could certainly support the main teaching group after a lesson has been delivered – take what was done on the board and bring it to the fingertips if the children needing support.
It isn’t a cheap option – Promethean can do their own pricing adverts – and I have had a bit of ‘advice’ from my Twitter PLN advising the purchase of 20 iPads and a 42″ TV screen to do the same job! (Point taken!). However, to me, there is something inherently different about a teacher working at this level with the children and guiding them through the medium – encouraging and demonstrating collaboration, cooperation, etc. right there at her finger tips with the children joining in. I am all for my Tablet Solutions (more on that in the future) but I feel that this may be an opportunity to move away from the individual screen to the group work screen – having up to six children working at once is an inviting prospect.
Granted, the large set of tablets would look well but would it do the same job for my children in this context? I’m not sure….
None taken, yet. There are still a few questions I would like answered – for example, would it be possible to upgrade the processor from i3 to i5 / i7? Something that I think would make a massive difference to the longevity of the table as time and technology move on at a apace. As well as this, will there be the option to create our own apps that are suited to the teaching that is going on in the group as opposed to being pushed into the Promethean idea of what is suitable (some of our teachers were already asking how to change some of the Phonics sets to reflect the teaching of the Linguistic Phonics scheme in school). As well as this, there are a couple of other things to ask – however, I was genuinely impressed, I think the staff were and so were the children.
To date, there is only one other table being used in Northern Ireland.