Saturday, January 23, 2010

Are Interactive White Boards What They're Chalked Up To Be?

It’s been an interesting start to 2010 as far as my opinion of interactive whiteboards is concerned. I was lucky enough to begin my teaching career in a brand new school with IWBs in every classroom and I was off and running. I planned all of my lessons using it in one way or another and I couldn’t imagine teaching with out it. Since that first job, I have been a strong proponent of raising whatever money (and it’s a lot!) necessary to get one for every teacher. In my current position as an elementary tech leader, one of my many hats is that of Promethean trainer giving large and small workshops, helping teachers who are new to their board or who have just had one installed. I am very enthusiastic and love to show off what you can do given this amazing piece of technology.

The new year has begun and I have been involved in some meetings and discussions that are changing my beliefs. While there is still no doubt that IWBs have a place in the classroom, I am beginning to see how they, along with many other exciting technologies, are just tools. It is still the hands and minds who are using these tools that are the key to successful integration. Good teaching practices are the key to educating our students, not the tools that are used.

Now, when I'm asked "do we need to spend that much money for interactive white boards?" I waver... Yes, me - the one who would have shouted "YES!" just 1 or 2 short months ago. I guess there are two main reasons why I'm backing down.

One of them has to do with the benefits of having one board at the front of the room that someONE is using. While it brings many new engaging experiences into the classroom, the students aren't really learning some of our most important 21st century skills such as communication and collaboration. I believe that these boards are a step along the path towards 1:1 computing. The real answer is to get some interactive, connected device into the hands of every child. We are currently working on a large grant and have priced out a complete "21st Century Classroom" using Promethean equipment. This would include IWB mounted with short throw projector, speakers, a portable slate and set of student response devices. The cost is roughly $7,000 per room. Think of how many iPod touches, netbooks or even Apple tablets we could get instead!

This leads me to the next reason that I have lost a little enthusiasm for the gorgeous piece technology heaven that I used to get so excited about. There are some really great alternatives now that deliver all of the benefits at a fraction of the cost. There are creative people out there who have rigged Wii remotes and pens into configurations that can make any surface interactive. We have a teacher in our district who even found a way to turn his MacBook upside down and use it as a document camera. I've heard that there's also a new projector that includes the same technology as the Wii remote so you can install just the projector and get the pen and you are up an running. This past week we had a representative from AverMedia give us a demo of their new document cameras and AverPens. Together with their software you have a nice IWB alternative. This set up actually replaces the IWB, the slate or Airliner device and the student response devices for half the price of one IWB. It was pretty incredible! The best part about this option is that you are bringing the interactivity into the hands of all of the students at their seats. Check it out:

It's all very exciting and I am having a great time keeping my mind open. As always, the hardest part is making change happen once people are set in their ways. But it's my job to try!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Diigo May Help Lead Our District Into the 21st Century

This week was spent digesting an amazing workshop on 21st Century Skills with all of the administrators in our district. The participants included everyone from the Superintendent, principals, and curriculum leaders, on down to department heads and technology leaders. The focus was on how kids learn today and how we need to begin to make change happen now. The presenter became my new hero. Everything he said validated my feelings and personal goals for education today. In the days that followed there has been much discussion on where we are headed in terms of 21st Century skills, technology purchases and long-term goals. Do we purchase more interactive white boards, or are there cheaper alternatives that offer the same results? Do we purchase new textbooks or move toward 1:1 computing and online information? Can we really consider 1:1 computing allowing students to use whatever devices they already have access to at home? How much should we block or deny access to our students when what they really need is to learn how to navigate the world they are living in?

I have recently discovered the value of PLNs online and am immersed in the sharing that is going on in the clouds. I could feasibly spend every waking hour following leads to blogs, articles, wikis, videos and lessons displayed for all to see on the internet. Sadly, I now spend most of my free time on Twitter and following everyone else's lead. I have "tweeted" a few things, as I feel it is important to try and contribute as much as I take away, but feeling very inadequate at this point.

Most recently, I have discovered Diigo. I was just discussing better ways to share articles and information with staff and co-workers. Everyone is inundated with emails and the old way of forwarding a link to an interesting article is fast becoming obsolete. I think Diigo may be the answer! I have transferred all of my Delicious bookmarks with their tags and notes over to Diigo and that worked great. I have found a few interesting people to follow and joined a few groups. I can tell that I will soon be addicted. Here is a link to a video that helped me understand the concept.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

This is a Test

I am writing this post from Windows Live Writer. It came pre-installed on my new netbook. Just checking it out…

Computing in the Clouds

I'm finally starting my blog and I'm really excited! I began an interesting experiment and this will be a great way to document my discoveries. I broke down and purchased a netbook over the holidays. I am going to test my hypothesis that students can use just a netbook to learn, create and integrate technology in their daily lives without purchasing any additional software or equipment. Cloud computing for all! I bought a Dell Inspiron Mini at BestBuy and the only thing that I paid extra for was the larger battery. I want this computer to be similar to what a typical student user would buy and use it as is. Stay tuned!