Smart Decision, or Smart Disaster?

Posted by Paige on August 11, 2009 in Best Practices, Technology |

I have been teaching for 11 years, and while I wasn’t a super fantastic teacher out the gate, I can now say I’m a good teacher. I don’t think that is an arrogant statement, it is simply a fact. How do I know I’m good? Sure my students always improve on the state tests, but I know I’m doing something right because my students improve period. They always get better. From September to June I watch as my students become better readers, better writers, better thinkers and yes, better test takers (not that it matters, but I’ve never even looked at a state test, so no, I don’t teach to the test). So where am I going with this? I just got an interactive whiteboard in my classroom. Around school I am known as the techno geek and all around go to person when it comes to anything technology related, so it only makes sense that I would have an IWB in my room. I’ve been super excited about this for a month, thinking of hardly anything else (see, I really am a geek). Now it’s finally here, in the flesh, and… I’m not sure I really want it.

I spent the better of this past week going through the software, searching online for extras, watching video tutorials and essentially thinking about how I will incorporate this “tool” into my daily lessons. You see I found out this board, and all the accessories, cost the school about $8000, so I feel a huge sense of responsibility for using the heck out of it.

After spending the some time doing all of those things a thought hit me: why do I want this? I’m already a good teacher, without any technology in my (physical) classroom. How is this going to make me a better teacher? How will this make my students better?

Then as I’m thinking about all of this I start going through some old blog posts that I am (very!) behind in reading and there is this one at The Tempered Radical , Bill Ferriter’s blog, that further confuses things. His post about technology in the classroom is actually a spin-off from another blog I follow, Will Richardson’s, Weblogg-ed.  You should most definitely click over to those posts, but the gist is a back-and-forth conversation about technology being useful in the classroom. Bill quotes Marc Prensky’s comment which essentially says that verbs are skills and nouns are the tools we use to teach those skills. Verbs are essentially static, changing little over time, yet the nouns will continually be dynamic. Bill response to that was what really hit me:

Prensky’s right when he argues that fixating on individual tools is a dangerous trap that schools fall into.
Look around any building in your community and you’re bound to see thousands of dollars of wasted resources: Classrooms outfitted with interactive whiteboards that students never touch, sets of student responders used to ask low-level knowledge and understanding questions.

Now I have all these thoughts swimming in my mind. Add to that the realization that if I really am going to use this tool properly it requires an immense amount of pre-work. It isn’t like walking up to a whiteboard and writing a journal topic. There are slides that have to be pre-programmed, etc., etc. Sure, there are some pretty cool things I’ve found, but they all require pre-planning like I’ve never done before.

So here’s my bottom line… I have to wonder, is this going to turn into a “be careful what you wish for”, or am I just not seeing the big picture yet, and once I get into the school year will find my new IWB to be the best “noun” since sliced bread?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

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  • Paige says:


    Thanks for the input. Your point about writing good questions is well taken. I’ve already been formulating in my mind how I could use the system for our weekly vocabulary quizzes (going directly to my paperless classroom idea).

    Thanks for the input! You’re awesome!

  • cathy glaser says:

    I read your concerns and wanted to tell you about how I used it last year. My remedial kids love it because they come to the board and manipulate it in a fashion that pen and paper doesn’t allow. The color aspect is very important for low functioning kids especially because it makes their brains more receptive to new ifo. In the art class I was able to focus in on aspects of art that we would NEVER have been able to see in an image in a textbook or on a print. Someone said that they are concerned that the responders only permit low level responses. That is true ONLY is you aren’t adroit at writing questions that make the kiddies stretch their minds. ABC choices are not always evil!!! In teaching writing to be able to manipulate the students’ writing right in front of their eyes is worth the ridiculous cost. Everyone can have input while the student is changing/editing his writing at the sametime. I like the idea of comparing the SmartBoard capacity to Inspiration on steroids. There are so many “tricks” that I learned about during training this summer that I also came to the realization that I am not interested in trying to master everyone of them. It is akin to trying to master every facet of one of Microsoft’s over-blown programs. Just because “it” is there doesn’t mean I have to use “it”. As with the introduction of computers to the classroom (remember, I was there when “computers” in the classroom were Radio Shack cassette players the kids did programing onto) this is not going to turn education on its ear. It is just one more piece of equipment to use. I believe that like anything else, too much of a good thing will become boring. So to me the idea of being in front of the Smart Board 75% of the time is ridiculous. When are you just going to dialogue with the kids? When are you going to individually peer over their shoulder at their writing or sit 1:1 and listen to the story they are reading at the moment. I have no intention of using it 75% of the time, although I will use it everyday. Now this is something I am going to have my students blog about! Sounds like a good research project!

  • Gail Desler says:

    Paige, I hope you’ll be posting throughout the year your journey with your IWB. I share your concerns about the cost justifying the benefits to students. Don’t know if you’ve seen Marzano’s keynote from the 2009 CUE Conference, but I hope he’ll be posting more of his findings.

    I’ll look for you in the Bloggers Challenge;-)

    • Paige says:

      Thanks Gail! I will definitely be updating throughout the year. Probably under my “rants” category. 🙂

      I appreciate the link to Marzano’s speech. While numbers generally get lost in my English teacher head, what I got from it is to give it time. It seems that the more a teacher works with the IWB the higher the gain. That’s encouraging, and takes a bit of pressure off. Now I don’t have to be brilliant my first year out. LOL! I think the most interesting part of of the data is the amount of time the technology was used in the classroom. Here I am thinking I need to be at it 100% of the time. It turns out 75%-80% is more optimal (still overwhelming at this point, but more manageable).

      Although it is interesting to hear 23% of the teachers were more effective without it. As a tech lover, I hope that isn’t me.

      Overall this is a great speech which helps ease my mind. 🙂 Thanks Gail! And thanks for visiting my new blog.

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