Monday, December 10, 2007

Interesting Discussion Regarding "21st Century Classrooms".

This morning I had a very interesting conversation on the way to work. I need to preface by saying that I'm very fortunate to work at the same school with my wife, Gina. She is an excellent Media Coordinator and wonderful teacher. She has been teaching for over 15 years and has been my mentor (unofficially of course) since I started teaching 5 years ago. Today, she and our Technology Facilitator traveled across the state with our principal to attend a meeting. Consequently, we carpooled to work this morning with Julia (the Technology Facilitator).

I'm not sure how the conversation started, but Julia told us about another district that was currently in the process of making every classroom a "21st Century Classroom". She defined "21st Century Classroom" as containing at least a data projector, a Smartboard, and a laptop. She related a conversation with one of their district instructional technologists in which he commented that they were finding it difficult to engage high school students using the Smartboards. This sparked an impromptu mini-brainstorming session within the van. Each of us speculated about possible reasons that high school students might not be engaged by Smartboard technology. Gina pointed out that turning your back to high school students to write on the Smartboard (As with the traditional white board) is generally a bad idea. Julia shared that she beleived that the teachers were not putting the technology in the hands of the students. I must say that I beleive both are correct.

Speaking from the perspective of a Math teacher who has taught using a Smartboard, these are two pitfalls inherent in the Smartboard that are not easily overcome. As Gina said, it's generally bad practice to turn you back on students (particularly high school students). If you don't write at the Smartboard, it becomes a $1000+ pull-down screen. The alternative puts students at the Smartboard. This is an improvement to turning your back on students, but I've found that having a student at the board does not engage the rest of the class. Even when my eighth graders are excited about the prospect of using the technology, the technology doesn't inspire them to focus on the content presented by their peers. I suspect this effect is considerably different at the elementary levels. Gina related a visit she had with a second grade class where a Smartboard was used very effectively with hands on activities for students who were highly engaged. The students were playing some type of educational game that they had obviously played before. The teacher's role in the activity was observation only.

The most effective lesson I've taught in eighth grade was rotational symmetry. I opened a powerpoint slide and inserted an image of objects that were rotationally symmetrical. I copied the image and pasted the copy beside the original. Using the rotate tool, I was able to specify the angle of rotation. Students could visually see that the original image and the rotated image were identical. This lesson was the exception rather than the rule. Most of the lessons I attempted using the Smartboard could have been accomplished equally effectively with an overhead projector. I acknowledge that some of this might be due to my own inexperience or lack of creativity. I welcome any advice on using Smartboards for engaging instruction.

There were more interesting comments during our commute, but I'll save that discussion for another post. This one has become far more longwinded than I had originally intended.

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