Using a video projector, a laptop computer, a Bluetooth® connection and an infrared remote control, Hazelwood West Middle School science teacher Chris Link created his own interactive whiteboard.
“I was watching videos on TED.com and those led me to other videos that showed how to make your own Promethean Board,” said Link. TED.com is a non-profit website dedicated to technology, entertainment and design. It features presentation videos given by a variety of people on these subjects.
Link, who teaches seventh-grade students, said he spent less than $50 to create an alternative to Promethean’s interactive white boards, which are common in the District. Link described his students as doubtful then helpful during the beginning stages of the project.
“When I had the kids in my Academic Excellence class help me figure out how to do it, they looked at me like I was crazy at first but as we researched it, and they became interested,” he said. “They started asking questions, ‘How does the stylus communicate to the wiimote [a remote for Nintendo’s® Wii™ game system]?’ ‘How do the wiimote and the stylus communicate with the computer?’”
After they finished their research, they reported their findings and developed a production idea.
“Engaging my students in the hows and whys of the project and getting them to develop a product is part of push toward developing 21st century science skills in students,” Link said. “When they see me hooking it up, they get excited because they helped make it so they feel ownership in this thing.”
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills, collectively called STEM, are reasons to push this kind of technology. Spillover benefits include modeling better computer skills.
“When they get to develop something like this, that’s a big STEM integration project in class,” said Link. “Since having this in class, students have become more efficient at using computers because it allows me to model how to navigate through a computer and through websites.”
“There is 100 percent student engagement with this,” he said. “In the past, students had difficulties following along because it was hard to see the small image on the TV screen. I had to sit at my desktop computer while trying to instruct. It was very difficult. Now, I have an interactive whiteboard and they can see it and me. I can manipulate online simulations, and other software, including Promethean’s ActiveInspire. This is much more user-friendly.”
Prospective users must download free software, which calibrates the location and Link sets the boundaries by clicking an infrared light pen where he chooses. The device uses the Wii game system remote control, which has an infrared camera. The camera in the Wiimote receives and interprets the infrared light which is emitted from the stylus. The Wiimote transmits that data to the computer software via Bluetooth® connection.
“Last week, I told my students that almost anything could be made into an interactive whiteboard and my students encouraged me to use my shirt. So, I set it up and it worked,” he recalled. His students have been using the board for approximately three weeks. “In class, we do a lot of virtual labs and this device allows me to model the virtual investigations for my students,” said Link.
He illustrated a few of these student labs, such as density. In a five-part lab, students had to calculate the densities for specific scientific elements such as gold or chlorine and tell if they would float or sink in water. In the second part, they used a table of known density values for substances and labeled values found in part one with the appropriate substance. In the third part, students had to list, from least to most dense, gases, liquids and solids in an accompanying table. Next, they had to determine whether four density statements were true or false and if false, change words to make the statements true. Finally, using a diagram of balloons at different heights, students had to identify which balloon contained what substance from part three, based on its altitude.
Link can show material anywhere in his classroom. He already had the laptop and LCD projector in class. He said the Wii remote, the Wiimote, cost about $30 and the Bluetooth® connection cost $5.
“You could buy a stylus for $10 but I made this one out of a dry-erase marker,” he said, explaining that he removed the ink and tip, cut a hole for the on/off switch and installed an infrared tip. “This is the first time I have been a computer hardware kind of guy.”
“Mr. Link has been an integral part of our technology committee and supported our entire building through the use of a District computer server to share documents building-wide and most recently creating the ‘pseudo’ promethean to hopefully save our building money,” said his principal, Dr. Allison Klouse. “Chris is an innovator and passionate about supporting our staff with technology needs.”
To view Link’s science web page, go to http://sites.google.com/site/mrlinkscience/
To learn more about how to create an interactive whiteboard, visit http://johnnylee.net/projects/wii/