Robbinsdale gets second whiteboard grant

  • Article by: NORMAN DRAPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 23, 2010 - 5:34 PM

Teachers who are using it say the interactive whiteboard technology gets students more engaged in learning.

The Robbinsdale School District is on an interactive whiteboard kick.

The district has received yet another federal grant to fund the high-tech classroom technology, which serves as a 21st-century replacement for chalkboards.

This latest grant comes courtesy of federal stimulus spending provided by President Obama's Reinvestment and Recovery Act. It's for $272,727. That will buy 35 new interactive whiteboards for Robbinsdale schools and fund a specialist to help train teachers in their use, as well as other technology.

The grant builds on another federal grant the district got last year for $160,000, which paid for 25 interactive whiteboards, training for the teachers using them, and a study to find out whether interactive whiteboards improve student achievement.

That study is ongoing, said Jane Prestebak, Robbinsdale's program director for media and instructional technology. But a survey of teachers, all of whom volunteered for interactive whiteboard training and use in their classrooms, showed overwhelming support for the initiative.

"The results were amazing," Prestebak said. "Four out of five teachers used it every day, many times a day. They were saying, 'My kids are engaged, they're active.' "

Prior to the federal grants, the district already had installed several dozen interactive whiteboards, or IWBs, in its schools, but the grants have allowed it to expand the program at a much faster rate.

IWBs are large screens installed at the front of classrooms. The high-tech advantage is that they can be connected to computers and the Internet.

Teachers can access programs that allow them to design lesson plans tailored to the capabilities of IWBs. That often involves students going up to a whiteboard and manipulating the images shown on the screen.

The boards are not cheap. Combined with the necessary hardware, projector and wiring, a working IWB can cost $3,500. But teachers who have used them say IWBs are perfect teaching tools for kids accustomed to the hands-on, interactive approach of a video game. In fact, using IWBs has been called "Nintendo learning."

Prestebak has stressed that other Twin Cities districts have been taking the plunge into IWB technology. She said the district is trying to focus placement of the IWBs in its fifth-grade classrooms, as well as English and math classes at higher grade levels, because part of the IWB achievement study will focus on how much the new technology helps students in English and math classes. District teachers are not required to use the IWBs, however.

Prestebak said funds from the schools themselves are being added to the federal grant money to cover the IWB initiative. She said the district will keep trying to get more IWB grants.

"Every classroom that could benefit from it, everyone who will make that extra effort and go that extra mile, would get one," she said. "That would be a kind of goal."

Norman Draper • 612-673-4547

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