Miami-Dade schools purchase thousands of interactive whiteboards with bond money

By the next school year, every classroom in Miami-Dade County will boast a high-tech teaching tool that is a cross between a touch-screen tablet computer and big-screen TV.

They’re called interactive whiteboards and they promise to turn old school blackboards into chalk-dusty history.

On Thursday, Miami-Dade announced the purchase of 10,000 of the boards from a company called Promethean — a volume that Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said would make the district home to the largest installation of interactive whiteboards in the world.

Carvalho said the boards — a $20 million purchase bankrolled by bond money — are part of a “digital revolution” in education that is vital for Miami’s Millennials.

“They are natives, we are immigrants into this strange new world,” he said, referring to how students have grown up in a digital age.

“The way they access information, the way they entertain themselves, the way they read, the way they view video, the way they educate themselves, sometimes out of school, goes certainly well beyond a 19th or 20th century classroom,’’ Carvalho said.

This “strange new world” was on display on the last day of school at Hammocks Middle in West Kendall as students answered math questions from the board on their smartphones, and teachers spiced up their lesson plans with educational music videos.

Each board, about the size of a projector screen, can display lessons and other material from a teacher’s computer and can also be used like a traditional whiteboard. Students and teachers can also write on it.

The devices allow teachers to pose questions that students can answer from their desks on their cellphones or laptops. Chalk is no longer needed. If selected, the answer will be displayed in front of the class.

School officials, who pledge to complete the installations by the beginning of the school year, said the district will adopt a BYOD policy, which stands for “bring your own device.”

No longer will students be forced to keep their cellphones out of the classroom. Instead, they will be encouraged to use them in class. For students without cellphones, the district hopes to provide a device such as a laptop so all students can participate, said Richard Benvenuti, an instructional supervisor.

There are 1,100 boards already installed throughout the district, and some teachers and students are already beginning to take advantage of the technology.

Damon Veras, a seventh-grader at Hammocks Middle School, said he watched CNN in his law class and participated in a mock trial using a Promethean board to discuss the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that integrated schools.

Jovana Maximilien, a science teacher also at Hammocks Middle School, has been using the board with her special education students who she said has been “very engaged” by the new technology.

“It was about time,” she said.

Though the influx of interactive boards are new for Miami-Dade, Leslie Wilson, CEO of One-to-One Institute, a Michigan-based non-profit dedicated to helping schools acquire new personalized technology, said they’ve been around for years in other cities and are somewhat outdated.

Students can now get the benefits of an interactive whiteboard through the right combination of portable technology, she said.

The whiteboards are just one component in Miami-Dade‘s technological overhaul. The school system is already wireless and the district is also purchasing tens of thousands of laptops and tablets to give to its students.

The upgrades are funded by the $1.2 billion bond approved by taxpayers in November of 2012. Though $38 million was budgeted for the interactive boards, they only cost about $20 million for the technology and its installation, according to school officials.