We hear about interactive whiteboards (SMART, Promethean, Hitachi, etc.) from televised news, parents, teachers, and principals. For the most part people are excited about them being in the classroom. At a recent public forum, Alberta parents expressed to school board officials that technology, such as SMARTboards, must remain a priority for the district amidst financial cutbacks. Even teachers and principals are proud of 21st century initiatives that include purchasing and installing interactive whiteboards.
It is disappointing that so many people have missed the point, or so it seems. Yes, it is nice when students get to use technologies in the classroom that create a novel and exciting atmosphere. But at up to three thousand dollars per equipped classroom we need to expect more than nice. Our students must become disciplined, respectful and ethical (as explained in Gardners ‘Five Minds for the Future’ 2005). Students need to be collaborating, creating and synthesizing. Students need to be doing.
From what I can tell, an interactive whiteboard is perfect for teacher modeling. It is pretty good for students during group guided practice. But as the teacher releases more responsibility towards the students, the interactive whiteboard becomes less useful. When every student is doing, the whiteboard sits. So during this critical stage of gradual release (Fisher, 2006) our expensive whiteboard becomes less than ideal mediums for students to create, synthesize and collaborate.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be installing and using interactive whiteboards. In some respects they have been an important catalyst for a shift in North American pedagogy. But before we spend what few dollars are allocated to education, we must consider how the purchase will change the classroom practice (read: student practice).
The 21st century pedagogue needs to be critical of everything adopted into the learning experiences created. If a lesson, activity, or technology isn’t the most relevant investment for your students, consider not making it.
It was a few years ago when I first heard the term Pico Projector, referring to pocket sized projectors that can run off of batteries, use LED/LAZER technology as light sources, and can project descent sized pictures up to 60″ or even 100″ diagonal.
At first they were a bit gimmicky (they still are somewhat), but the technology is coming around. A descent pico project can be had for a few hundred dollars. You wouldn’t want to use one of these to project for an entire class (but likely in a few years they will be bright enough), but these pico projects open up a serious opportunity for small group collaboration and sharing.
Feasibly, you could use one as a portable 30″-40″ computer monitor by shooting on the wall, allowing small groups of students to gather around and consume content. It doesn’t require outrageous amounts of money to purchase these little items. Best of all, they are durable, and the LED bulbs last from 20 000 – 50 000 hours.
These may also be useful to those of us working as PD professionals and consultants. In late 2010/early 2011, it is expected that these projectors will be bright enough to shine a 60″ image in a semi-lit room. This means I could give presentations to ~20 teachers gathered around a reasonably large screen, and just throw the projector in the side pocket of my laptop bag.
We’ll have to wait and see how far the technology comes, but I have a good feeling about them. In the right teachers hands these pocketable computer screens will be an important tool.
Earlier today I was reading a blogpost over at On The Edge of Tomorrow titled Can Standardized Test Data be Formative. I found blog owner Ben Grey to be quite thought provoking with this piece. He suggests that standardized testing at the end of one school year could become valuable information for instructors in the following year. He goes on to explain how the amount of information from standardized tests should be building year after year. By the time a student enters middle school there will be years of data showing progress, strengths, and weaknesses. While for the most part teachers aren’t looking forward to state/provincial testing, these assessments have become a part of the educational systems in North America. As teachers we can use this data. Ben states,
I honestly don’t know how much valuable information can be found and used in a formative capacity in state standardized testing. I’ve a feeling, though, there might be more there than we realize.
After reading this statement I was reminded of a session speaker (who will remain nameless) I listened to at a recent conference. In response to a question about how to assess student responses during class conversations the speaker shared that the teacher could not and should not comment on students statements and that he didn’t believe student thoughts/conversations could be assessed. His reasoning was given in the form of a question, along the lines of “How can you tell someone that their thinking process is not good, or that your own thinking process is better than theirs”.
This sentiment bothered me. At a teachers conference, an expert and consultant is telling the audience that student thoughts and conversations can not be assessed. And that feedback is not an appropriate part of classroom conversations. How absurd! In what I’ve learned in my struggles and triumphs as a classroom teacher recent readings (Fisher et al. 2008; Kenney et al., 2005; just to name a few) regarding building discourse in the content areas, it is imperative to give students feedback. And in order to give effective feedback, you must first assess the students performance. We have all had discussions with our class that we have altered or adjusted on the fly because we wanted to elicit better responses from our students. Those adjustments are successful, because we assessed student progress and used that information to adjust our instruction. This is, of course, formative assessment.
So now, I would like to both affirm and extend Ben Greys conjecture. Yes, standardized tests can be used for formative assessment. We can also formatively assess classroom discussions. We can gather information from formal assessments, conversations, and observations of student performances. This data can then be used to decide where our teaching goes next. I think that the more informed we are regarding our students, the better judgements we will be able to make regarding their learning.
Maybe everything our students do should be assessed, guiding our teaching and informing our students of their progress. I’m not suggesting that we need to keep more records, make more rubrics, and mark more multiple choice exams. We certainly have a multitude of information coming to us already (as noted in Grey’s article). But maybe we can use all of this information in a more formative manner.