“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” I’ve seen that quote attributed to John C. Maxwell, but it may have originated elsewhere.
Change is certainly happening rapidly in our district, especially in the area of technology. Our Superintendent was even named one of 10 “Tech-Savvy Superintendents” by E School News. We have a new student information management system, cloud computing at our high school, administrators madly tweeting and blogging, and I no longer have computers with Windows 98 in my classroom, but a network CPU with four linked stations and an operating system from this century.
And then there’s the Interactive White Boards (IWB’s). Six new IWB’s arrived this year to provide one per grade in addition to the wall-mounted integrated unit in the computer lab we received last year. Pretty impressive for a school with only 23 homerooms.
I was ecstatic! I’ve played around a bit with IWB’s already – in the computer lab and at sites where I’ve taught as an adjunct. I love using new technology and will wax poetic about my Kindle, how we can use my iPod Touch and Kodak Zi6, and my yearning for an iPad. I text, I tweet, I Facebook. I keep my family organized with Google Calendar and my news aggregated with Google Reader. I bookmark on Delicious and highlight on Diigo. I’ve created 3 websites and a wiki, and now, oy gevalt, I blog. E School News may not name me a top 10 Tech-Savvy Educator but, for an old fart, I think I’m doing OK.
I immediately rearranged my room to make space for the new IWB and projector cart. I purchased CD’s with lesson materials developed specifically for IWB’s, looked for online materials and lessons, and imagined a year of being able to quickly share the many applets, video clips, and other materials I’ve collected over the years in a rich and fluid learning environment.
So why am I less than thrilled with my IWB? Because in the race to purchase as many units as possible for the money available, the everyday realities of elementary classrooms were overlooked. Wanna bet that no one in our central office has ever had to set up and use a non-mounted IWB with a classroom full of elementary-aged students on a daily basis?
Let’s start with why I call the IWB “my” SmartBoard – note the quotes. Nominally, it’s assigned to all four 5th grade classrooms. But, given the space it takes up with the wide base (for stabilization, sort of) and the accompanying projector/computer cart, no one else is willing to give it a long-term home. That same wide base means moving 4 tables and 18 chairs to get it out my door. One of our 5th grade classrooms is on another floor. Have fun making the two trips down in the elevator needed to get both the screen and the cart moved. The screen will fit diagonally if you hold your breath. Whoever says there’s no prayer in school has never watched the elevator door close just inches from the new IWB.
Then there’s the set up. In the time it takes to move the work table off the rug, properly position the cart in front of the IWB, turn on the projector, reposition the cart because it wasn’t really properly positioned before, and plug the laptop into the projector and IWB, the classroom flow is interrupted. We’re into “can I orient the board, please, please?” There’s no spontaneous leaping on that teachable moment here, folks. Forget that cool applet that would answer your student’s question on sound wave interaction and letting them experiment with different types of interference just because someone took the conversation beyond the “need to know.” Plan ahead or don’t bother. Better yet, grab a dry erase marker and use the old passive board. It’s so great for demonstrating motion… not.
So, let’s say I use my lunch time to do all of the above set-up. IWB base and projector cart wheels are locked into position and the board is oriented. Two student contributions later, the board or projector will be out of alignment. Those wheel locks are simply not up to 5th grade students’ bumping, writing, highlighting, or even pointing. There’s not enough room on the rug, especially with the IWB taking up so much space, to prevent a child from leaning against or bumping the projector cart or screen.
Oh, and the shadows! I’ve put the projector on every shelf of the cart, made platforms of various sizes and slopes, but as soon as one of us steps up to the board, a shadow falls on the areas where we want to highlight or write. This leads to a lesson on how to stand to the side and s-t-r-e-t-c-h! Righties use one side, lefties use the other. Whereupon, one ends up grasping the board frame to keep from falling, putting the screen and projector out of alignment and making it impossible to mark the correct spot anyway.
I haven’t even addressed the fact that there has been no training. Not an inconsequential factor, but perhaps one for another post.
I do “get it.” I’m not as dumb as I look to my students and teenage children. Movable IWB’s are cheaper than the integrated mounted models like the one in our computer lab. Hence, the decision to purchase as many units of this model as possible and share what we have. The problem is, they aren’t making it from room to room and aren’t even used as much as many of us would like in the rooms where they reside because of the work involved. Those CD’s with cool interactive activities lasted two days because equipment issues meant I couldn’t let a small group use them without me while I ran a guided reading group.
New technology is great, but it has to take into account the realities of classroom life. Sometimes, fewer of the right technology beats lots of the wrong. Otherwise, we don’t have change or growth, just dusty IWB’s.