Making Math Learning Come Alive:
SMART Boards in the Immersion Classroom

The ACIE Newsletter, November 2009, Vol. 13, No. 3

By Marcie Dunham, Second Grade Spanish Immersion Teacher, Minnewashta Elementary, and Dave Eisenmann, Director of Instructional Technology & Media Services, Minnetonka Public Schools, Minnetonka, Minnesota

Five years prior to the start of the six early total foreign language immersion programs in 2007, voters in the Minnetonka School District, a suburb of Minneapolis, approved a levy referendum for technology and instructional equipment.The funding resulted in the integration of many technologies into the curriculum for teachers and students, a key component being a standardization of technology hardware in every early childhood to grade 12 classroom. Each one of the 500+ classrooms in the district contains a computer connected to a digital projector hung from the ceiling and a wall mounted SMART Board. This technology is a natural match in the immersion classrooms that makes language learning come alive.

What are SMART Boards?

SMART Boards are interactive whiteboards. They are about the same size as a standard dry-erase whiteboard but are connected through a USB cable to a computer. The surface of the board is touch sensitive, much like the laptop touch pad used to move your cursor around a computer screen. The image of the connected computer is projected onto the surface of the interactive whiteboard, allowing you to see exactly where to touch the screen to accomplish a task.

For example, instead of using the mouse, you can tap your finger on a link displayed on the SMART Board. When you want to drag an object across the screen, you simply touch the object and slide your finger across the board. There are pens and drawing tools that you can use to write on the screen. Any program you use on a computer can be used on a SMART Board, allowing you to navigate with your finger and annotate on top of it. Teachers use the SMART Board software, called SMART Notebook, for their daily lessons and activities. The software is similar to a mix of PowerPoint and an art program. Students interact with these lessons on the board using their fingers (or some type of pointer) instead of a mouse to draw, write, drag, sort, match, and more.

SMART Boards cost about $1,500 each, which is about the cost of one school computer. In our district, this technology has been funded by a referendum. Other districts in the area have used fundraisers to pay for SMART Boards or applied for grants, such as Federal E2T2 dollars.

SMART Board implementation
The Minnetonka Public School District is a high performing suburban district approximately 15 miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minnetonka serves 8,265 students in grades K-12. In 2007, a language immersion program began at each of six elementary schools. Two schools offer Mandarin Chinese immersion to students K-3 and four schools offer Spanish immersion to K-3 students as of the 2009-2010 school year. The program will expand each year through 8th grade as these students progress. In September 2008, at the start of the second year of the program, 40% of the incoming kindergartners district-wide were registered for language immersion.

Our implementation of SMART Boards began seven years ago after school administrators were introduced to one at a conference. We piloted the interactive boards in eleven classrooms, starting with one fourth grade team, sixth grade science teachers, and high school physics teachers. The pilot was successful, and it quickly became apparent that a SMART Board was a useful tool in all subject areas and grades. During the following years we added SMART Boards to all grades and subjects in stages.

Along the way, we were careful to provide technology staff development training for our teachers so that they could successfully earn how to integrate this tool into their instruction. All staff received a four-hour, hands-on beginner class where they learned the basics and practiced using the board. During their first year of using a board, staff receives follow-up trainings for approximately eight additional hours, where they work with other beginners in similar grades and subject areas. They attend these classes either during the day with a reserve teacher or after school for a stipend. In the years that follow the implementation of a SMART Board, a variety of classes and training options are provided to teachers in their second through seventh year of implementation. SMART Boards tend to accelerate the level of technology used by each teacher, so there is an overall increase in interest to learn how to use other software programs and technologies that further enhance the curriculum, such as digital photography, audio file recording, and using SMART Board student responders, called SMART Response, which allow the teacher to poll and assess every student in the class instantly.

Immersion + SMART Boards

SMART Boards have been an essential part of the success of Minnetonka’s language immersion programs. The visual interactivity of a SMART Board complements the students’ immersion learning experience. Our immersion classrooms have used their SMART Boards for video conferencing with other schools in another country. Teachers can easily embed images, sounds, and videos within their daily lessons for their students. There are many multicultural websites that teachers and students can interact with on a SMART Board versus passively viewing on a normal computer screen.

Information is not only displayed on the interactive whiteboard, but students manipulate this information. They can match written or recorded vocabulary with pictures, sort spelling words according to phonics patterns, move shapes and numbers to form patterns, or turn the hands on a giant clock. Teachers can zoom in on a portion of a picture or shine a spotlight on a focal point, while the rest of the screen fades to black. Interactive flashcards flip back and forth, and words and pictures “magically” disappear or appear. The SMART Board is a useful tool that allows an immersion teacher the ability to draw attention to something visually that could be difficult to understand or even more time consuming to explain without these features. It’s no wonder a SMART Board is an easy way to hold students of any age captive, while increasing participation and engagement.
It is important to note, however, that immersion teachers should not forget the value of verbal communication in the second language (L2). Although high quality graphics are readily accessible at a simple click, it is up to the teacher not to become dependent on visual communication only.

Easily accessible digitized files

An added benefit of the SMART Boards is that because everything the teacher uses it for becomes digitized, it can easily be shared with other teachers and stored for future reference. This has been extremely helpful in the Minnetonka district, where each of our six programs is housed in a separate school, and collaboration across programs is essential for their success. Teachers can build on each other’s great ideas rather than reinvent activities and lessons individually. A web-based, password protected portal is used to archive all files for easy access to upload and download lessons submitted by teachers. This web portal can be accessed from any computer with internet access.

Additionally, having a digitized copy of a file helps students easily recall lessons and material from a previous day or week. The file can simply be opened up for instant visual recognition of the previous lesson, triggering the memory of new vocabulary and content learned the day before. These digitized lessons and activities can be quickly posted online for students to review and practice from home, as well as for parents to understand what is being taught in the classroom.

Teachers’ SMART Board lessons incorporate a variety of multimedia components that students find very engaging. Lessons come alive as students take turns touching and interacting with the SMART Board. Teachers report increased motivation and interest among students. Overall, Minnetonka schools have seen dramatic increases in student test scores that are partly attributed to the implementation of interactive whiteboards.1 Technology is seen as such a benefit to education in Minnetonka that it is referred to as an “accelerator of learning.”

SMART Board use in a second grade immersion classroom

As teachers become more accustomed to using a SMART Board, it may even feel difficult to teach without one. In my second grade Spanish immersion classroom, we use our SMART Board throughout the day, not only for lessons but also for classroom management and transitions. For example, when my students first arrive, they make their lunch choice in the morning and read the morning message on the SMART Board. We use the interactive whiteboard to play games, check the weather report, and even to read a story aloud. For transitions, I have slides that display the materials they need to take out or put away before the music that is linked to the file stops playing. This frees me up to continue working with my small group, while my “helper of the week” goes to the SMART Board,inds the transition page, and clicks the music to begin. Without a word being said, the rest of the class looks up at the board, sees their task, and follows the direction—sometimes while singing along to the music in the target language.

In my classroom, the students use the SMART Board just as much as I do. In addition to using their fingers to navigate, the students use pointers with plastic or rubber-coated ends, fly swatters that I found at a dollar store, and even little stuffed toys. They easily write words, flip objects, lock items in place, and manipulate the sizes. Sometimes they learn cool tricks from their music or art teachers, and come back to my class and teach me how to do things! The possibilities are endless, which is why collaboration of ideas is so beneficial.


Minnetonka Public Schools 2006-2007 Annual Report, Technology page 20,

  • Sample Lesson

    Subject and grade: second grade math lesson
    Topic: Subtraction of double digit numbers using “trade-first” algorithm

  • Content objectives: The immersion learner will…
    • Distinguish between double digit subtraction where trading is needed and not needed
    • Apply and explain the trade-first algorithm
    • Demonstrate understanding of place value while subtracting using base ten block manipulatives or graphic representations

  • Language objectives: The immersion learner will…

    • Content-obligatory:
    • Use key nouns related to the algorithm: la decena (ten), la unidad (one), los bloques (the blocks)
    • Use the phrase tener que (have to) in first, second, and third person singular: tengo que (I have to), tienes que (you have to), tiene que (s/he has to)
    • Use the infinitive form of the key verbs related to the algorithm: restar, cambiar, quitar, tomar (subtract, trade, take away)
    • Count by ones and tens

    • Content-compatible:
    • Use the phrases: No es necesario cambiar porque (It is not necessary to trade because)…; Es necesario cambiar…por…(It is necessary to trade... for); Estoy de acuerdo; No estoy de acuerdo porque... (I agree/I do not agree because); No te olvides…(Don’t forget to) when working with their partner to explain their thinking.
    • Use the language of sequencing: primero, segundo, después, luego, finalmente (first, second, then, next, finally) to perform the steps of the algorithm in sequence.
    • Use a rhyme to help them remember when trading is necessary and when it is not: Si hay más en el cielo ya está listo, si hay más en el piso cámbialo primero. (If there’s more in the ‘sky’ it’s already set, if there’s more on the floor, trade it first.) The Spanish rhyme is based on the English rhyme “If there’s more on top, no need to stop. If there’s more on the floor, go next door to get ten more.”
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