Visualising the real world of STEM in the classroom

2011 marked the 20th anniversary of the SMART Board Interactive Whiteboard and 20 years of touch technology in education. Today, the descendants of those first innovative boards can be found in over 2.3 million classrooms, being used by over 40 million students around the world.

SMART Technologies’ product development group is the largest department in the company, with over 350 designers, engineers and developers working on both software and hardware.

So it is not surprising that this most innovative of educational companies became involved in the inGenious programme, or that it has developed a whole suite of exciting practices.

SMART’s Education Program Manager, Ainhoa Marcos, took the time to discuss the what, how and why of her company’s involvement with STEM education. 

SMART has produced a great range of activities. Is there an overall focus to the practices?

Ainhoa Marcos: Yes, in the sense that all the SMART Technologies practices for the inGenious project help students experience the wonder of maths and science. And every practice has been designed with the three goals of increasing student engagement, learner motivation and knowledge retention.

That said, the practices are very diverse and flexible and can be applied to whole class, small groups and one-to-one learning environments, and to a very wide range of learning styles.

Can you take us through some of the individual practices?

Ainhoa Marcos: Of course! They are all intended to take the lesson and material that the teacher already has, and add something special that will really engage the pupils and bring the subject to life.

Take The SMART Notebook™ Math Tools, for instance. You can input numbers – and the software draws graphs, and updates them if you change the figures. Or you can use it to draw polygons, and show the relationship between their sides, angles and vertices. If your class is about algebra, the tool lets you input different formulae and show your pupils how to solve equations.

If you need to add depth to a subject, 3D tools for SMART Notebook™ allows students to look at, rotate, manipulate and explore three-dimensional images from any angle. Whether they are looking a molecule from the inside out, or entering an active volcano, they gain a perspective that makes even the most complex topics easier to understand.

SMART Response™ enables teachers to give students both planned and ad-hoc tests, and take quizzes using any of their favourite Internet-enabled devices, from anywhere. It’s visual, engaging and helps the teacher check that students are really learning their STEM lessons.

SMART Ideas® helps students visualise and analyse complex ideas by building multilevel interactive maps. It brings whatever you would normally put on the board to life, and lets you and your pupils explore how the world fits together. 

Why has SMART Technologies developed these particular practices?

Ainhoa Marcos: We wanted to help teachers bring the physical world into their classrooms and create lessons that are vibrant, interactive and easy to understand. In this way, the classroom becomes a hub of inquiry, discovery and collaboration, where students are inspired to learn and explore. Combined with appropriate pedagogy, they’ve been designed to increase student engagement, motivation and participation.

Why is focussing on STEM subjects in the classroom so important, in your opinion?

Ainhoa Marcos: It improves academic achievement and instils a lifelong interest in the subjects. And that is so important, if Europe is serious about pushing ahead in these areas. That’s why SMART Technologies became involved in the inGenious project, and why we continue to support it. 

Why is industry collaboration with education important, in your view? 

Ainhoa Marcos: Because it can bring real life right into the classroom, and allows students to learn from genuine experiences. The more students practice and the more interest we can generate in STEM careers, the more and better STEM experts we will have.

For more information on SMART’s educational activities join Ainhoa Marcos on 12 December from 6-7pm CET for an inGenious webinar on the subject.