DIY semi-interactive whiteboard

There’s been a bit of a debate on Twitter, hosted by @oldandrewuk, over the last few hours about the benefits of different display technologies in classrooms. Alongside interactive whiteboards (IWBs) like Promethean and SMART boards, people have been reminiscing about overhead projectors (OHPs), ‘traditional’ whiteboards with marker pens and extolling the virtues of visualisers.

In my incredibly short teaching career I have used all of those – yes, even OHPs, ‘modern’ touch screen TVs (awful – you can’t write on them properly, at least the two different models I’ve used) and I’ve done an observation in a classroom that still has a chalk blackboard in use daily. (Personally, if I had the choice I’d have an ‘old-fashioned’ Promethean board & projector with a mahoosive normal whiteboard right next to it. And a cheap visualiser – webcam on a gooseneck connected to the computer.)

Slightly flippantly, I suggested that perhaps this is a case of ‘a bad workman (or woman) blames his tools’, as I can’t say any of these different display technologies made much difference to my teaching. But it was interesting to see some people with a love for a ‘traditional’ whiteboard and a projector combined. I can see glare problems here – but no worse than you get on those AWFUL glossy touch-screen TVs some schools are fitting (ripping out perfectly serviceable IWBs in the process).

And that gave me an idea for a cheap semi-interactive DIY whiteboard:


Have a big ‘traditional’ whiteboard, with marker pens in a magnetic holder, magnetic board rubber, and a projector on the ceiling hooked up the class computer or teacher’s laptop. Here’s the clever bit: you wrap tin foil round the caps of your marker pens. Connect a MakeyMakey* to your computer and wire up the left and right arrow pins to left and right arrows you cut out of tin foil and stick to a corner of the board. Between the two foil arrows you have another strip of foil you connect to the earth on the MakeyMakey.

This means that you can display, say a Powerpoint / Keynote / Prezzi, annotate using whiteboard pens, and you can use the foil caps if your pens to flip back and forth through slides without having to reach for the computer keyboard. Perhaps you can come up with some ideas for other buttons you could make on your whiteboard to trigger other things. What’s that at the back there, yes you in the Creeper hat? Minecraft controllers..?

UPDATE: I’m grateful for my old friend and colleague @jameswest for pointing out this awesome cheap IWB solution made from a Wiimote and some pens with LEDs fitted:

*the MakeyMakey is an awesome gadget that you plug into any computer’s USB socket, and you can trigger keyboard presses using switches you can make out of anything that conducts even a small amount of electricity – not just tin foil but also PlayDoh, fruit, vegetables and even small human beings.

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