Thursday, December 8, 2011

Technology in School: Where's My Hovercraft? Part 1

The #pencilchat discussion on twitter has rekindled something I've been thinking about a lot...

There's a big difference between being handed some technology and then figuring out how it's useful and having a problem and finding (or creating) a technology to solve this problem.

Let me get my Interactive SmartBoard bashing out of the way.  Just to be clear, my definition of interactive does not include a tool that:
  • lives at the front of the room
  • must be connected to a computer to work (and even then...) 
  • freaks out when it is touched by more than two people at a time
That said, I am still trying to find ways to make this (expensive) thing that covers my whiteboard more than just a whiteboard that occasionally spontaneously erases everything (it's the only time kids are allowed to use the word "dumb" in my class). A few weeks ago I got together with three other great teachers to pow wow how smart boards could be useful.  In the end, we spent a bunch of time sharing "here's something else that's kind of neat" but someone's insightful question at the end asking if we'd learned anything brought everything back into focus. We hadn't yet found a way to make this *much* more than just a chalkboard you can take pictures of.

For me, the smartboard falls into the tech category of "here's some tech, now make it useful."  This is too bad, because I have lots of unresolved tech issues that I'll address in the next part of this series.


  1. The thing that I've discovered having an IWB is that every website, applet, Geogebra sketch, or demonstration I identify as really great to SHOW my students gets me thinking how much more effective it would be if THEY got to use it themselves. I'm in a 1-1 school, so I have the freedom to do that easily, but that isn't the norm. Being able to show something instead of tell them or draw an elaborate diagram on the chalk/white board is a time saver. With attention spans as short as they tend to be nowadays, that is a pretty valuable advantage to using one.

    That said, mine loses calibration randomly, draws a bouncy line due to noise that gets in the system, and other annoying behavior that usually results in a Nelson style "ha-ha" point and laugh at least once a period. That I could live without.

  2. As a big fan of tech, tech that changes what I can do not just how I do it, I have been struggling with the same issue. I can't seem to find how an IWB is a significant improvement over a computer and a projector alone, especially given a tablet of some variety.

    I rarely use a whiteboard or chalkboard, but when I do I often want lots of space or I want the content to be persistent, i.e. a formula or quote that I want up for several days or weeks. IWB's do neither of these.

    IWB's seem to have become a social norm at least at independent and or private schools. We have them, we brag about them, but we don't really know how to use them or we don't use them to do anything new. Its like buying a sports car to drive in a congested city... It might look good, but that's about it.

  3. I, on the other hand, much prefer to teach with an IWB. I've enumerated all the many, many reasons in an opinion piece in The Mathematics Teacher ( I'm happy to send it to you if you don't have access to that link. The piece was based on a blog post (

  4. OMG, Avery. You made me laugh out loud with this post, mostly because I've encountered many of these same problems with the smartboard in my own new classroom. I too have gone NUTS when it freaks out because more than one person has touched it!

    I end up using just the built-in projector capabilities most of the time, because Keynote, Math Type, and several other apps together are so much more capable than the Smart Notebook app is. Also, I have noticed that very few administrators really understand how the IWB works. As a result, they are free to be more blown away by my radio-controlled hands-free remote while I'm circulating than they are by the fact that I'm not using the technology the way some purchasing committee in the late Pleistocene imagined it would be used.

    On the other hand, I find the document camera to be a miraculous, life changing technology. Go figure

    - Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf on Twitter)

  5. @elizabeth/cheesemonkeysf: Is the reason you find the doc cam to be a miraculous, life changing technology because you show student work on it? I don't think it's the tech that makes the difference; I think it's giving more time and respect to student voices that changes the way I teach. I have to keep reminding myself to do that as much as possible.

    1. Exactly - it's the ability to share student work on it and also to have *students* share their work on it.

      No reason why *I* have to be the one driving the technology bus.

      I also like that students can share more than just two-dimensional pieces of work. One student recently shared how she creates her foldable and pop-up study guides. It was like an old Macworld keynote!