Most trainee maths teachers will be familiar with Interactive Whiteboards, and will remember them from their own days as a pupil. They were probably used in conjunction with Whiteboards, particularly as the interactive versions were expensive for schools. Any trainees who are career changers might remember Chalkboards in the classroom and be less familiar with the new technology. (Chalkboards were last seen fully operational in the 1990s in the UK.) One interesting quirk of university mathematics departments is that many still use Chalkboards. Even when a new building is constructed, they still fill it with Chalkboards. (Perhaps including the odd whiteboard for any visiting lecturers from departments who don’t have chalk to hand.)

There are several reasons why universities choose Chalkboards. There is obviously the love of tradition, but there is also the practicality of writing long mathematical proofs – if your text covers more than one board then you need a Chalkboard or Whiteboard, unless you are blessed with six large screens. It is important to be able to see the whole proof in one go, which isn’t normally possible with projector screens.

As a new teacher, have you thought about your use of the Interactive Whiteboard? Are they genuinely better than the traditional Whiteboard or Chalkboard? Are you using your Interactive Whiteboard to the best effect? Given that your board will be switched on for the whole day, it is important that you reflect on your use of this important tool.

There are some important practical considerations of Chalkboards/Whiteboards.

- Accidental marks are very difficult to remove from clothing – suggestions include using alcohol or hairspray, but neither option seems to fully work. As a trainee teacher you might also have a horrible moment when a pupil accidentally writes on your Interactive Whiteboard using a traditional Whiteboard pen – luckily your IT department will have some special removal spray.

- They are difficult to recycle, but not impossible. If your school doesn’t have a recycling programme then take a look at this Terracycle website.

- It is easier to write neatly on a traditional Whiteboard than on an Interactive Whiteboard – but this difference will slowly be reduced as technology improves.

- They are a lot cleaner for the teacher – no dusty marks.

- Teachers write mathematics on the board at a slow and accessible pace – having maths which appears instantly on a PowerPoint can be confusing for pupils. However, ‘live’ mathematics can also be written on an interactive whiteboard.

- Teachers and pupils are breathing in dust. No major health problems have been uncovered – but surely it can’t be a positive thing.

- Chalk dust covers your clothes – teachers who wear black beware when writing with chalk.

- That horrible noise if you write at a certain angle.

- It probably has a lower environment impact versus whiteboard pens (probably).

- Popular in the developing world as they are low cost and readily available.

- These come at a much higher financial cost to a school – however they are now considered to be a basic feature of any classroom, meaning that headteachers need to automatically budget for them.

- You could find that your Interactive Whiteboard doesn’t work properly (this might sound a bit doomful, but it is a very common problem!). First question – have you calibrated it properly? If you don’t know how to calibrate a Whiteboard then ask a colleague. Second question – has anyone reported the problem to the IT technicians? Nobody might have reported the problem, simply due to a lack of time.

- But what about the amazing benefits of using an Interactive Whiteboard for mathematics teaching – these are significant, but only if the teacher uses the board well.

- Your pupils are technology focused, this means that using an interactive whiteboard makes perfect sense to them, as they do everything else with their phones and tablets.

- There are topics in maths which are hard to illustrate on a traditional board. Being able to physically rotate a shape on the screen, or show a graph of the sine function can make a big difference.

- Interactive whiteboards allow teachers to share great resources – there is often no need to make lessons from scratch, when there is so much material already available. A good teacher will often take existing lessons and then tailor them to the needs of their class.

- Endless possibilities – digital textbooks, monitoring learning in class, live voting on different answers – more functionality is becoming available all the time.

- They can improve teaching – but only if the teacher uses them well. Take a look at this research paper which looks at the use of Interactive Whiteboards in mathematics teaching. It warns that many teachers simply use Interactive Whiteboards as a glorified Chalkboard, not utilising the other functionality which exists.

As a Mathematics Teaching Scholar you should be reflecting and researching from day one – how can you use your board effectively to aid mathematical understanding? Have you read any research papers on their benefits? Are you learning from other teachers and their best practice?

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