Thursday, March 18, 2010

Interactive White Boards - (A Rant)

Coming to a classroom near you...

OK - so if you haven't noticed, interactive white boards seem to be the latest craze in public schools - at least they are in my neck of the woods. I have had the luxury of installing about 3 dozen SMART Boards and about a dozen Prometheans. I have even went through training to become a certified Promethean trainer. I have also used some other popular units in the past but please know that I am not here to advocate for any particular brand. I am here to speak about how they are being used.

Here is my beef...

This is a student tool not a teacher tool. Over the last several years I have watched excitement grow over the interactive white board (IWB) - and with good reason. The IWB is an awesome tool to have at one's disposal. Any brand, while different in construction, design, and software basically affords the same general possibilities for interaction with your students. Most of the vendors will even tell you that you can use other IWB software with their system (if appropriately licensed, of course) All this aside, the key word in the name of this tool is INTERACTIVE. Unfortunately, I have watched way too many teachers use this tool as a glorified projection screen or PowerPoint clicker. The IWB should be used to engage your students so, teachers, I urge you to take advantage of the power of your technology.

Make the most of your IWB... A few simple suggestions to start...

  1. Design lessons that bring students to the board. Add some kinesthetic learning to your routine. Have students construct sentences, build molecules, or count change by manipulating objects on the board. Find what works at your level and content area and get them out of their seats.

  2. Record the session. Some teachers may not know that they can record what happens on the board. Get a wireless microphone (it is cheaper than the IWB setup you have...) and start archiving what you and the students do at the board. Combine this with the internet, and I would recommend, a CMS like Moodle and you have a great way to retain activities and make them available for absent students or those that need to review.

  3. Take time to learn the features of your software. Invest your time. Don't use the "I don't have time excuse" - make time. If you want to excel at what you do, you need to be willing to go the extra mile. Attend trainings and create engaging, student-centered lessons after hours if you have to. Be creative with the tools. Revealers, spotlights, layers, quizzing and polling, graphic libraries, magic ink, screen capture, duplication, transformation, opacity, animations, and so much more can all be harnessed to excite your students. I bet your students could probably help come up with some great ideas. In fact, I will go so far as to say that if you had them creating some of the lessons as an activity, not only do you save some of that time but you might even help some of your students reach higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy with your content area at the same time.

An interactive white board is capable of so much more than just displaying what is on your computer desktop and advancing PowerPoint slides. Please, I beg of you, do not insult the wonderful technology you have by reducing it to performing such mundane tasks. Get beyond the PowerPoint and start really using the tools in a more meaningful way. Don't your students deserve better?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

BrainStorm 11.0 Day Three

Day three started off with some nicely fresh cooked omelets to order. The cooks were proficient at flipping the fixins around in the pan. It was fun to watch. My first session was on managing netbooks and laptops with Linux but I changed it since I did not want a repeat of the same material that I got twice the day before. I went into a session on Community Area Networks instead. It was not really something for me at this time though so it was a loss anyway. The second session of the day was on Google Apps, Linux, and Open Source in an Economic Downturn. This was the best session of the conference, at least for me. There was a lot of great Q&A that took place and I felt as though I actually got some things that I can take back and consider or try out from this session.  My third session of the day was on mobility for the end user in a 21st century classroom. This was an OK session but there was not a whole lot that I was able to take away from this. Finally, after lunch, my last session was on migration to Open Office. It was nice to hear about some of the roadblocks that were encountered by other districts and how they dealt with them.

After it was all over, another 5.5 hours in the car back home was on the schedule.

So this was my first BrainStorm conference. Ultimately, I did not really get out of it what I was expecting. I did not go to "get sold" on something but to get educated on things. I really wanted to learn some stuff about Linux but mostly got some sales pitches about how someone else could do it all for me. Perhaps I simply did not pick the right sessions. Next time maybe I will be a bit more savvy about how to choose the sessions that are less sales pitch and more professional development.

I was pleased enough to desire a trip to BrainStorm again next year.

BrainStorm 11.0 Day Two

The day started off with a small continental breakfast followed by the keynote by Andy Ihnatko. The keynote kept my attention and was entertaining but was, in many ways a small push for the iPad. He did make some curious points that will require some thought but overall was not especially inspiring. We then moved on to some round table discussion sessions. I chose to sit in on one about networking electronics. It was nice to hear some opinions on what others thought of various pieces of equipment.

Lunch time already? Yup.

Then we went to some breakout sessions. I was looking forward to these. The first one was called 'A Comprehensive Linux Back-End Infrastructure'. I must admit that I was expecting more information on how to accomplish creating one than getting a vendor description and being told that it is possible.

The next session was called 'The New 1 to 1: Scalable and Affordable Ubiquitous Computing Using Open Source'. OK - believe it or not, I got an almost carbon copy of the last session from the same vendor but different presenter. I left early.

To wrap up the day, we had the vendor expo. It was fun to walk around and see all of the stuff available although most of it was not new.

I was asleep by 7:30. I have four more sessions to go and really hope that I can latch on to something exciting that I can take back and use.