Sunday, February 27, 2011

SMRT... I mean S-M-A-R-T

I was going to post next about the day my students all tried to kill me, but instead I think I'll jump into the interactive whiteboard discussion. I'm of both minds when reading Gary Stager's article on the Tech and Learning website.

I've been a Smartboard mentor in my school district for nearly 3 years now. I don't know if what I feel for the board is love, exactly, though for the first few months the very sight of it would make the butterflies in my stomach flap around like crazy.
That was the feeling of fear, not of love? Oh dear.

Over these last 3 years, I've amassed quite the repertoire of tricks and abilities related to the interactive whiteboard (as I will now refer to it in order to avoid brand name related conflicts) and please note: I choose the word 'tricks' deliberately. After all, a lot of what the board and its software does are simple and simply that: things flash, or spin, or change size or color. You can even add sound to most things- the roaring bear icon is an oft-used personal favourite. These are the elements of the board that I demonstrate first during a PD session, and here's the story I tell when I do it:

"When I first started teaching (grade 7 Language Arts), I would often lament to myself that if only I could make my notes flash and change color then maybe, just maybe, my students would finally stop fooling around. They would finally stare at the board as intently as they stared at Tetris Battle, or whatever fad was at the forefront that month. When I got an Interactive Board, I finally could make the notes do that, and guess what? Students still fooled around and looked in whatever direction they pleased. Gasp."

note: The gasp at the end can be either read aloud, or replaced by an actual gasp. Either way.

Now, is that a lesson that's worth the $3000.00 price tag? Of course not. And did that realization make me want to rush into my classroom and tear the board down or deface it with permanent marker? No man, that thing is worth $3000.00. Besides, it was the wrong realization. My mistake in the first place was wanting students to stare, transfixed, as my notes spun around in circles like the hypnotic vortexes of the Notebook vortex game. (Another personal fave).

If I were more clever and able to add, I would probably format this next bit with prices beside each element, and magically have the sum be worth more than the cost of the board in my room. Thanks to those old Mastercard commercials, just mentioning that idea is now more effective than its execution will ever be. 

  • The Van Gogh painting, above. I've long been a fan of impressionist art, though I'm not educated enough in that field to fully understand why. (Pictures are pretty!) With my current set up, I can project these paintings onto my walls and share their beauty and emotional effect with my students. Not really for any reason, you understand, but those pictures are so pretty.
  • I do quite a bit of close film study with my students. With the board, I can project very large still images of the films onto the board; analyze or have students analyze the images using pen tools to highlight; spotlight tools to, uh, spotlight; or the roaring bear to add roaring bear emphasis to important speaking points.
  • My handwriting is terrible. The board's software will normally recognize my words and turn them to typed text for ease of communication, or to the incorrect word for hilarious effect and enthusiastic derision of my terrible handwriting.
  • The Whirling Vortex game. So handy for a quick starting lesson on connotation, character trait review or other binary sorting activities. Also super handy for when students can point out that my sorting skills are flawed and deliberately leave certain words "between" the vortices on the board. And who am I to insist that 'sober' has a negative connotation and not a positive one?
  • The fact that I can save whatever is on the board and call it up again the next day, month or year. This may be notes, it may be instructions, it may be a picture of a walrus that my block 8 class seems to have adopted as their mascot. It may be last month's lesson on Paul's Case where I know we were talking about the -ide suffix and... see? Oh that wasn't you, that was block 5? Well, check out what they came up with, because it was great.
Now before this entry fully enters into the world of blogs that I hate, the realm of "I have all the answers and because something worked out once, it's clear that the reason was ME", I must mention that for every positive experience there was an equal amount of fumbling. Though, by equal, I mean that it took me almost two months to figure out how to get my coloured pens to work. And it took about a year to realize that I could save my files as PDFs if I wanted to. And that I still haven't really used the recorder tool in class. So yeah, I'm still learning, if that wasn't a given.

Heidegger warned us (between paying his Nazi dues, of course) about technology encroaching on us bit by bit, and while I will readily admit that I actually read Ted Aoki's interpretation of that particular essay,   I hear the warning loud(ly) and clear(ly). We have created tools so powerful and pervasive that we risk becoming the tools ourselves, both metaphorically and colloquially. I worry that that is what's happening with the 'clickers' and response systems that are also making their way into schools, but that's another post entirely.

I think that all of us know it's not exclusively teachers who are making the decisions to install these boards on every flat surface in the school. (Parking lot, ha!). I also must point out the futility and frustration of the 'this money could have been better spent' argument. It's gone, like the thrill, the love and the wind before it.

To conclude, I've long thought that the conclusion was the least important part of any piece of writing.

1 comment:

  1. Erin,
    Thanks for sharing these ideas. More and more of our student teachers are encountering interactive whiteboards in their placements. These ideas will be helpful to them.

    I'd also suggest reading Ellin Keene's "To Understand" given your profession and interest in art. (sorry, made a huge assumption that you haven't already read it - in which case, wasn't it good?)