Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The interactive whiteboard

This weekend a few parents got together to build an interactive whiteboard and drink a few beers. With a little work we were able to get things running pretty well!

For those of you that don't know about this, the idea is to use a wiimote (the remote from a Wii game system) to record the placement and movement of an IR light on a wall. If you combine this with an LCD projector, a computer, and some special software, you can make a very cheap interactive whiteboard. We found out about the wiimote approach from Johnny Lee's TED talk.

You need software to allow your computer to interpret the signal from the IR light. The software we used to do this was from Uwe Schmidt. Uwe has done a really nice job making Johnny Lee’s original WiimoteWhiteboard software functional on a mac. The Mac we used was obviously not from the public school system.... We used a MacBook Pro with built-in blue tooth. I doubt any of the computers at the school have built-in blue tooth, so we'll probably have to rely on the USB bluetooth adapters for the classroom setups. For the IR light source, we ordered an IR pen from WII Teachers.

The experience using the system was much better than we had anticipated. The ability to interact with the computer was very similar to what we had seen in Johnny Lee's TED talk. Just playing around with the system, we realized the kind of potential that exists for our teachers to work with our children in classrooms. We could imagine the children drawing pictures, writing group stories, or working on math problems using this system. The work could be saved and used later not only as a recorded document of the work but also as a learning exercise with teachers saying things like "look how differently you thought through this problem last week". Without sounding too geeky, it seems there are clearly ways that more abstract concepts could be easily taught using this system.

The other thing that we really started to appreciate from this process was how much teachers could benefit from having a projector connected to a computer. As adults, we all remembered when we were in school and teachers would use overhead projectors to show transparencies. A simple LCD projector coupled with the wiimote and a webcam similar to IPEVO could provide a much richer learning experience. We could imagine a teacher displaying a chapter from a Mark Twain book, followed by images of boats on the Mississippi from a Google search, followed by finding quotes from the web from the recent Mark Twain autobiography that might explain some of the imagery. These kinds of interactive and integrated approaches, natural extensions of the wiimote, can allow children to begin to appreciate the historical context of literature and become easy to do with these tools.

We're excited to show our work to the teachers so that they can start to imagine different ways to teach our children.

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