Technology Shmechnology

(Not my best title, I know. But it’s 4pm and I have yet to post!)

Teachers, at least elementary school teachers, are hoarders. We heart saving things with the rationale that “someday I might need this for (enter name of obscure project here) and if I throw it away, I’ll just have to go buy it again.” I have used this reasoning to justify mountains of dried beans stored in old tin coffee cans, toilet paper tubes, assorted scraps of cardboard and old glitter shakers that may or may not have remnants of usable glitter in them, but hey, you never know.

Teachers can also be a little bit jealous of one another. Like, for example, the year one of my Super Colleagues got all new classroom furniture because she moved into a previously unused classroom space. Suddenly my well-loved (read: CRAPPY) old furniture looked, well, even crappier. And I was a little jealous. Orrrrr, the time when another Super Colleague of mine wrote a Donors Choose grant that got funded and suddenly tons of beautiful new bottles of paint, pristine paint brushes and glorious watercolor sets were delivered to her classroom. Sure I knew she would share, sure I knew that she put in the effort to write a grant proposal, sure I knew it didn’t mean I was a bad teacher. But I still felt jealous. So imagine how some of us in the lower elementary school (who are painfully nerdy and enjoy new gadgets) felt when the upper grade teachers started to have Smart Boards installed in their classrooms.

I mean, there’s enough of a divide between upper elementary school teachers and lower elementary school teachers as it is. I have no idea why, but my impression is that many upper elementary school teachers imagine those of us down in first and second grades doing nothing but singing with children as we strum our guitars, painting pinch pots and gluing macaroni on every available surface. (P.S. – totally NOT what we’re doing by the by…I mean sure, I like arts and farts as much as the next girl, but usually only have time to do that in between, you know, teaching my friends how to READ, WRITE and COUNT.)

I think I have strayed from my initial point. The point I was trying to make is that teachers like to hoard things. And that we also eye each other’s things longingly and with occasional twinges of hoarder-jealousy. These feelings, which were previously limited to objects such as paint brushes, easels and extra sentence strips, now extended themselves to superior technology.

I remember walking by classrooms with Smart Boards, glancing inside and imagining what I would do if I had the power. I imagined powerful scenes…usually with children clustered around the board, engaged in furtive, productive conversation, pausing only to pay the utmost attention to my teaching brilliance and to interact with our learning through this amazing technological advancement that was the Smart Board. We would high five each other, drunk on our mutual learning and then maybe make a pinch pot or whatever. Sigh. It was going to be great. If only I could swallow the jealousy down and wait until it was my turn to receive what we had come to view as the Educational Holy Grail.

I never did get to use a Smart Board. I left before it was our turn down in the lower grades. I felt a little cheated. And then I read this article, which questions whether or not technological advances, such as the Smart Board, are the game changer we thought they were.

At the beginning of the piece, I have to admit that this Lonnise Gilley person sounds like she is a rock star of a teacher. I mean, rock on, sister friend! However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Ms. Gilley could probably rock it out with a piece of chalk and a chalkboard or an old dry erase marker and a scratched up easel. My point being that the fancy pants high-tech whiteboard didn’t make her great, she made the technology great.


Okay. These super fancy white boards may have the ability to put my stick figure diagrams to shame with full color images pulled off of Google and offer a ton of opportunities for high tech student involvement but…

How do you even turn it on? The article mentions that a lot of teachers are “ignoring” it’s interactive capabilities.

WHOAH! (insert incredulous tone.)

Before we go blaming the teacher, has anyone ever considered that no one thought to teach the teacher how to use those features? Or point out that they even exist? Or do anything besides hand her a billion page manual and say “good luck”? OF COURSE I’ll read the manual, you know, during all my SPARE TIME. Sure, I’ll just stick it into my schedule right here in between rehabilitating blind dolphins and folding paper cranes for charity!

I began to wonder if even Ms. Gilley, my new teacher crush, could make this high-tech whiteboard sing with educational genius without the proper professional development. (Notice I didn’t say “training.” We are not talking about the potty here people, we are talking about insanely expensive pieces of technology.) I mean, have you ever tried to pull off a new science experiment in your classroom and you probably should have done a dry run of the whole thing first, but you know , with your non-existent spare time and report cards looming in the coming weeks, you didn’t get around to it and then your lesson kind of bombs because you spend more time fumbling around with the battery and little wires and totally lose the attention of your friends in the process? (C’mon….be honest with me here. We’ve all been there.) Now imagine trying to incorporate a new piece of technology that yes, has unlimited potential, but a) you have no idea how to successfully integrate it in to your teaching because it was literally dropped in your classroom with not even a whisper of subsequent professional development lurking on the horizon or b) you’re not a very skilled teacher in the first place.

New technology is not going to turn mediocre (or worse BAD) teachers into Educational Trendsetters. And without effective professional development, even the best teachers are going to have trouble realizing their full potential.

So while yes, high tech whiteboards are very fancy and shiny and may spur feelings of Teacher Jealousy, let’s stop parading them around as Saviors of the Classroom and recognize that supporting, promoting and encouraging GOOD TEACHING (with or without technology) is our best investment.

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  • You so hit the nail on the head! My classroom got a new promethean board this year and while we have had "some" training, we have not had enough time just to play with our new technology. Along with the writing of lesson plans that have differentiation for the different types of learners, the RTI meetings, planning meetings and the different committees that we are assigned to…ahhh I long for the days of just being able to "teach!"

    January 24, 2010 at 10:17 pm
  • My Smartboard is okay. My biggest gripe is that it's made everything I teach take LONGER. From fiddling with equipment (which always has a mind of its own), to trying to be fair with kid usage (each kid must get up, come to the board, etc — wasted time, people!), to creating lessons (you all know we have no extra time for this!) I'm less pleased than I thought I'd be.

    I love the internet capability and the occasional game, but most of the teachers in my school use them as big overhead projectors. I try to avoid that, but I'm afraid I don't use it as much as I could. BTW, I've noticed no significant difference in my friends' performance based on how I present new material. It's a nice tool to have in my teacher box, though.

    January 24, 2010 at 10:17 pm
  • Amen! However, I totally love the crap out of my promethean board! I could definitely not imagine my classroom without, but I still agree. The teacher makes or breaks the classroom ultimately!

    My school is fortunate enough to have boards in every classroom but that's only Title I money being pumped into our school in an effort to "save" us from restructive since we haven't made AYP in however many years…

    So frustrating! Did they ever think that maybe it's not all the "stuff," it's just the kids…

    January 24, 2010 at 10:53 pm
  • you're right, you're right, you're right- smartboards are not the holy grail of education. But please do not tell my principal because I love teaching with it. You can get all your interactive experiences lined up and ready to go while sipping wine at home. And (while this isn't worth the money spent on it) but when that white screen is on those six year olds cannot take their eyes off it. So they're actually paying attention, which is something.
    My school was only going to give them to upper-grade teachers until I plotted with our tech person and wrote a proposal to my principal about how my goal for the year was to use the smartboard with first graders. She laughed at me in a staff meeting, but a few weeks later the glorious board was rolled into my classroom. Now there is one in every K,1, and 2 room. And it saves us hoarders from keeping all those laminated charts we fill in year after year. You make the chart in the smartnotebook software, and hit save year after year. Worried that it wont be up in the classroom for them to read through? Hit print and put them in a book for the classroom library, or just tape them up where kids are bound to look when they're board.
    Ok, finished with my smartboard gloating. Just shhhh… I don't want it taken away.

    January 24, 2010 at 10:53 pm
  • I'll make you a deal – when the PTO buys us Smart Boards next year (like they're threatening), I'll send you mine. I DO NOT want one. I am perfectly happy with a white board and my array of Expo markers. Even our head technology person says you can do 90% of what you do on a Smart Board with a projector (which we got last year) and a white board.

    There's a difference between using technology and using it for technology's sake. I for one am tired of reinventing the wheel. After five years in fifth grade, I'd like to not still be creating new stuff all of the time. I'm trying to work smarter, not harder, and making PowerPoint presentations for every thing I teach is not smarter.

    Want to increase student achievement? Spend that SmartBoard money on individual white board slates for kids to use at their desks. My math teaching and students' scores have greatly improved since they have to show me their work on the board during whole group lessons. And they love it. (They cheer when I say to get them out and groan when I say to put them away.)

    Technology does not always make things better!

    January 25, 2010 at 2:54 am
  • Mrs. Mimi,
    First let me say that I adore your blog posts. They make me smile (something I don't get to do often enough).

    I am one of those upper-grade teachers…WAY upper grade. The maths department (well, 7 of 9) got SMART Boards this year (three weeks into the school year). Teachers in my district were offered choices of different "cohorts" for our PD this year. I, of course, chose the IWB cohort thinking I would get wonderful training on how to use all the bells and whistles and interactive capabilities,etc. (read: blah blah blah).

    The reality: Not so much. I am the most advanced user of this awesome technology in my cohort. You know where this is going…I'm getting nothing out of my "PD" but the credit for being there.

    I have a two-thousand dollar whiteboard in my room. The money would have been better spent elsewhere. Before districts jump on the tech bandwagon, they really need to decide if they are going to support the purchase.

    Be glad you don't have one. It's a $2K piece of equipment the kids all want to touch, but I don't have the training, support, or time to allow them to touch it effectively.

    January 25, 2010 at 2:54 am
  • You forgot to mention SCAVENGERS!!! When I started, I had a bare room. Over the years, I was able to "upgrade" my furniture several times when a teacher would transfer out. I had wanted tables for the longest time, and got lucky one year as three teachers were transferring. I made sure I got them! 🙂

    January 25, 2010 at 2:54 am
  • Oh, this post speaks to my heart, from the hoarding to the jealousy to the ActivBoard I like my ActivBoard because, if for no other reason, I can print out everything we did in class for the kids who were absent. I use a lot more colors and color-code math problems more than I did with the overhead. I also enjoy not having blue fingers from the dry erase markers.

    Creating the flipcharts, especially the interactive ones, and the tests for the responders takes a butt-load of time. If I had more time that didn't involve my alarm clock going off earlier, I would do more.

    My word verification word is peeme. It's just a little pee!

    January 25, 2010 at 2:54 am
  • We had a one hour training on a SmartBoard, two months before we actually GOT the SmartBoard. That really helped. Then only about half of us got the boards. I'm the only Primary Grade teacher that got one, and then I ended up using my own laptop and my own projector and sound system.

    Still, I would seriously have a hard time going back to being without one.

    January 25, 2010 at 2:54 am
  • AMEN!!!

    The Smartboards are filling our school this year. I'm not going to get one because I'm not a classroom teacher (reading specialist/interventionist), but, like you said, they started in the upper grades and have begun to move down.

    We had a little bit of money for some…and then the PTA pitched in to buy a couple more. The principal, in his wisdom, decided that the best way to assign them was to have a lottery. Talk about jealousy! The antagonism around the building was awful!

    Professional Development? None…

    The good teachers in the building are just as good as they ever were with, or without the Smartboard. The mediocre teachers are just as mediocre as they have always been…whether they have a Smartboard or not. The one poor teacher (imho) is still poor…nothing will help her except retirement.

    The real winners in all of this? SMART Technologies ULC.

    January 25, 2010 at 12:26 pm
  • I'm an orchestra teacher and I heart my SMART boards! I teach elementary orchestra at 3 different schools, so being able to create the board part of my lesson once is really nice. Plus, I adore the essentially unlimited board space. Now, I can create an awesomely amazing diagram and not have to erase it because I need to put something else on my board. I also like how I can move stuff around, have kids drag and drop instead of writing rhythms (must erase and redraw the rest 10 times because it must be PERFECT!) and all I have to carry is my laptop-not all the 9 quadrillion things I would otherwise need for the same level of awesomeness.

    January 25, 2010 at 12:26 pm
  • I am participating in a 2-year technology grant, and do have money available for technology such as whiteboards. I think I would like one, but the biggest issue I have right now is space. My classroom is the school library, and I am concerned about the size. I can't see leaving it out, but I also can't see moving it around all of the time. I would love to use how to use one, and my one colleague who is actively using hers has had some bumps in the road, but loves it. I'm just in a weird un-decided place about purchasing one. Sigh….

    January 25, 2010 at 12:26 pm
  • I worry about how much time our kiddos spend looking at screens. Although the boards can provide opportunity to be interactive, we are training our kids to look at screens and not people. Kids need to learn all those soft skills and need to have more time to look at people's faces and read body language and affect. I am all for modern technology (love my iPhone!) and appreciate what those Smartboards can do, but like you said, we need to quit jumping on new and improved as The Answer, The Solution, and make sure we have ample opportunities for human interaction with our kiddos.

    January 25, 2010 at 5:04 pm
  • I agree that SmartBoards are overrated. For most classrooms, they're a glorified computer projector or whiteboard. We do use it a lot like that, but for certain standards it has been worthwhile. We still use manipulatives for whole class practice, but teaching counting coins is so much easier when you can manipulate and move coins on-screen where they can all see.

    I actually learned something about the SmartBoard from the ELMO training we had. They showed us the Lesson Toolkit in the Notebook software, with lots of pre-programmed lessons that you just had to plug lessons in to. Easy practices, especially for a quick review or center. Takes me no time at all to set up.

    I agree, though- I was really excited to have one this year, and then a little disappointed that I still haven't seen all that many extraordinary things done on it. It takes a good teacher, and most of the time I think that money could do a lot more good somewhere else.

    January 26, 2010 at 4:09 am
  • I love, LOVE my Promethean board! I agree that technology isn't the magical answer to student achievement and many teachers "waste" their board without training. I've sought out training and put effort into making lessons that are more than just a glorified overhead (instead of the time it takes to create those overheads), so I can't imagine not using it.

    The students *do* pay more attention and I find that they take in more information when I use it (what's more interesting, me drawing a diagram or them getting to see a musical video about photosynthesis? And yes, my 1st graders can accurately explain photosynthesis, which I don't think would have happened without the board).

    But the board is only as good as the teacher, or at the very least, as good as the effort the teacher puts into it. Now don't get me started on what to do when the dang thing won't work… (back to chart paper it is!)

    January 26, 2010 at 1:01 pm
  • We have that lower-upper problem here, but it's more like high school vs. elementary school. I begged, pleaded, and went to numerous technology conferences before I could swindle just a projector from my district. At the same time, a high school teacher said that she just had to ask and got a Smartboard. Like they have a closet full of them just waiting for the teachers to ask!

    January 26, 2010 at 7:41 pm
  • I find all these comments super interesting. My school was getting one Promethean Board and I was the one who begged for it – so I got it. I never got any professional development – I had to learn everything on my own. Now that there are a few more boards in the school, guess who is running the pro dev for the rest of the teachers?

    I LOVE my board! I think it has made me a better teacher because I have to think "outside the box" and really try to come up with interesting was to integrate the technolgy into class. Would I be doing the same thing without the board? Probably – but I think it helps a teacher see a subject in a new way. That said, the teacher has to be ready, willing, and able to do that in the first place. IMHO, if you aren't willing to see/teach outside the box(or board) than what are you doing anyway??

    I think the magic pill for education is teachers, regardless of the tools they use.

    February 1, 2010 at 3:48 am
  • Our school does not have them and I am glad. Not because they're 'overrated' or I dislike technology, but because I know it would become just another piece of dusty equipment in my room when it's discovered that we don't have some other piece of technology needed to make it useful for the classroom. For example, while I have a projector in my room, I do not have a cord long enough to be able to connect it to my classroom computer and still have it seen by my students. I can usually rustle up a lap top for power point presentations, but it's so old that that's about all I can do with it. And who knows what would happen if everyone had one – the electrical system would probably explode.

    Mostly I spend my days desperately trying to keep my students from touching the projector since it was placed in the middle of the classroom. Doing anything else was 'too expensive'.

    February 7, 2010 at 1:53 pm
  • I do enjoy using my interactive whiteboard. I find thatI can effectivley reach all learners in my classroom. One thing that I do have a problem with is finding the time to create original lessons. It is vey time consuming trying to add clip art, videos, and fancy text to the slides. I am fortunate to be at a school where a company has created lessons based on state standards to use in the classroom. I can use these lessons and adpat them to fit my needs.
    I do agree that training on how to effectively use the boards is limited. I have learned more from watching my colleagues create lessons that from actual trainings.
    My students also enjoy creating their own lessons. I have them use them to teach other about academic vocabulary and social study concepts. They really get into being the teacher.

    May 5, 2011 at 2:54 pm
  • I do enjoy using my interactive whiteboard. I have found that it brings my teaching to a new level. I do agree that there is very little training and support out there. My school tries its best to help but funding for technology is just not on the priority list.
    Another issue I have is that creating lessons is very time consuming. I am fortunate to be at a school where many lessons were already created. I can adapt these lessons to help save some time. Once you have created a lesson, it is there for years to come.
    My students also enjoy creating their own lessons. I use this as a tool to have them teach each other academic vocabulary or Social Studies.
    I do believe that these boards hold a students interest better than the average whiteboard.

    May 5, 2011 at 2:54 pm
  • I think the addition of Smart Boards in classrooms are great. However, how can teachers be expected to use the Smart Boards if the district does not provide teachers with training? The state is spending thousands of dollars on equipment that is only collecting cobwebs. There is a world of possibilities out there with all the new technological advances, but teachers are not provided with the proper resources to use them. Therefore, I believe that all teachers should be provided with training sessions for any new technology installed in classrooms.

    November 9, 2011 at 7:13 pm

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