My Latest, Favourite Learning Technology

Image via: denablizzard.brinkster.net
Something happened recently at our school that thrilled me to no end.

We introduced some new technology into the classroom that supercharged the energy in the room, got the kids up out of their seats, and had them excited about the lesson - which happened to be economics.

I don't know about you, but when I was in high school, an economics lesson wasn't exactly where I'd go for excitement.  I would put it right up along licking the paint off a house in terms of the wow factor.

So what exactly was the new technology? And what does a picture of a toddler drawing on the wall have to do with this post?

Read on, dear reader to find out.

Do your kids draw on the walls?

Perhaps you shouldn't be so quick to correct them.

The 'technology' that created all the excitement, was in fact a whiteboard... a great... big... whiteboard.

Sometimes, the best learning technology doesn't plug into the wall, or have a battery. 

Actually, it wasn't a whiteboard in the traditional sense, but a product called IdeaPaint, a special paint that turns any flat surface into a dry erase whiteboard. (www.ideapaint.com)

We were made aware of this product by the creative people in our Arts department.  It looked too good to be true, so we decided to try a pilot.

Here's where serendipity took over. 

There were two small whiteboards mounted on the wall beside the electronic interactive whiteboard in the classroom designated for the pilot. The idea was to paint the wall where the whiteboards had been.

I'm not sure of how it actually happened, but somehow the painter painted the wall... and kept going around the corner all the way down the wall to the next corner.

Once the paint cured (7 days later) the magic started.

As you can see in the picture above, having walls you can write on changed the whole dynamics of the classroom.  Students were up in groups, each group working on a separate challenge, helping each other collaboratively.  The flow of the classroom went from front/back to side/front/back/side.  Everywhere you looked, learning was happening!

This abnormal behaviour didn't limit itself to just economics, but to classes in business and several other subjects.  The teachers were estatic. (Which is a really good thing when you are talking about introducing new technology).

Actually, a whiteboard is not a new technology, but a whole wall of white board? THAT'S a new techology.

The pilot has been deemed successful, and several more of our classrooms will be equipped with IdeaPaint.

So what's behind the success?

John Medina
John Medina, author of Brain Rules is emphatic that we do our best learning standing and moving. (I wish my fourth grade teacher had read his book.)

This view isn't based on opinion or the experience of the author (like I find so many books are), but on a significant amount of hard core, rigorous brain research. The key difference is that Dr. Medina can explain the research using videos and simplified language that makes it clearly understandable for the masses.

If you teach, speak, or just wish you could have a a higher functioning work environment you should check out his book and web site.  You will thank me.

The kinetic, visual stimulation of standing and writing on the wall, with several other students at the same time, created the perfect storm for unpacking ideas, and remembering them.

This broke the traditional "sage on the stage" model, where the teacher writes on the board, and the students take notes.  Everyone was writing, and everyone was learning.

But what about interactivity? We are a 1:1 computer school where assignments are distributed, completed and submitted on a computer.  How do you incorporate a big wall of whiteboard into an interactive electronic environment?

One of our innovative teachers found a great solution.

Once the groups of students finished their respective models, he pulled out his phone and took a digital picture.  He then used a graphics program to comment and mark the work and send it back to the students.  Presto!

Where can an idea wall take your class?

Think of the success of RSA Animate...  If you don't know what RSA Animate is, watch the video below.

This video animates a talk by Sir Ken Robinson - most famous for his TED talk on "Are Schools Killing our Creativity?". This excellent video is an example of using a whiteboard to reinforce the spoken word. This particular talk is on changing education paradigms (one of my other favourite topics).

Perhaps you can't draw that fast (or even draw at all) but I know that you see how powerful it can be to have a lot of wall to link ideas with images, models, and other ideas.  A great, big bunch of whiteboard is both the catalyst and the medium for this expression.

This has been so successful that it has been suggested that we re-evaluate our current configuration of Smartboard interactive whiteboards and projectors. 

Two ideas have come forward - replace the Smartboard/projectors with interactive projectors such as the Epson Brightlink, that turns the projection surface into an electronic interactive whiteboard (we are testing these) or secondly, keep the ceiling mounted projector in the centre of the room but have a swivel mount so that it could project on any wall, making the room even more flexible.

As a CIO I am thrilled when ideas like this are bubbling up from those in the trenches - the people we force to use the technology "solutions" we develop for them. Great feedback like this means we are connecting.

One final thought...

The cost of the IdeaPaint for this classroom was much less than one iPad.  The return on this investment was phenomenal.

If you enjoyed Sir Ken's chat, check out his other talks on TED.com here.
More RSA Animate videos can be found here.


  1. Hello, check out what a Mexican company is doing, they created their own paint, but add it the tech part, by using mimio, and transforming the actual walls painted with whiteboardpaint, into interactive walls, it's really amazing and it has the whole wow factor.
    watch this video and see it for yourself

    1. MRR, please explain what is happening there. A wow factor is nice, but we want to understand

    2. MMR,

      We've experimented with the Mimeo product and it certainly provides another facet of interactivity. We are a school that has no shortage of technology but our passion is finding the right blend of tools that unleashes creativity in the classrooms and allows teachers to do things they never thought possible.

      Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I'll check out the video.

  2. What's happening there is that you write on the wall and everything you share in your wall , you can edit it in your computer, ideal for classrooms and brainstorm rooms.

    the video is showing how you can manipulate your computer and write at the same time by using a wall painted with whiteboard paint!