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Stop Teaching from the Shadows

BoardshadowTeaching in the shadows at the whiteboard is equivalent to teaching in front of a dusty chalkboard. It’s what drove the overhead projectors out of the bowling alleys and into the classrooms more than 20 years ago. If your teachers have only the interactive technology to block the board and cast a shadow on a lesson, it's time to stand back to get a better view. And if you're an administrator just looking for interactive choices, and not sure if teachers will use them, there's a few helpful thoughts here for you, too.

Getting teachers away from the from the front of the classroom, and into the mix, with students won’t quite look like individual instruction, but it will get more actors to participate on the learning stage. And that stage can be the entire classroom.

In my day, the only way to teach interactively (with tech) was by using a projector and whiteboard with a cheap, wireless mouse. If you walked around the room, but not too far, you could control the teacher-station computer with the wireless mouse, and if you had a wireless keyboard, you could let students around the room type in answers and sentences. Having said all that, I’m certain there are teachers out there still doing it, or thinking about trying it. In the old days, I did more, I actually bought a wireless keyboard and mouse for each of my staff members. Oh, I bought a lot of batteries, too! That was then and this is now...

There is no reason you should go the wireless mouse/keyboard direction today. Almost every whiteboard, document camera, response system, or projector company makes or supplies a far better tablet/slate classroom teaching/presentation device. And many interactive device companies will, or are offering software solutions that will work with iPads and other computer tablets. That software will allow teachers the same classroom instruction opportunities, and most likely more, and the options for getting teachers out of the shadows continues to expand.

If you still question whether teachers will use the equipment, maybe this answer from a recent interview will help. After observing many teachers in a school using tablet/slate/pad controllers easil, I asked, “You seem to handle teaching from anywhere in the classroom, and operating software on your whiteboard easily with that device. What would you say to teachers, who may be a bit leery of walking away from the stylus at the board?” The teacher looked at me, smiled, and said, “I pretend it’s a mouse.” Now, that was simple to understand, and it reminded me of my wireless mouse and keyboard years ago. It was easy to do, because she thought of it as familiar.

Because there's a choice when it comes to these devices, my advice is to try them out to see which is best for your needs. Choosing one that fits into your existing tech mix may be best, but testing outside possibilities is always a good call, too. You may find a gem that teachers find easier to use. Remember, this may be a purchase you'll live with for a long time. Check ease of use, set-up, battery, wireless distance and compatability, as well as support and upkeep. Unlike my cheap wireless mouse and keyboard, running these products through actual teaching lessons, before deciding, makes a lot of price/common sense.

Here are some companies (random order) that provide interactive ways (Pads, Slates, Tablets) and software to interactively launch a teacher out of the whiteboard shadows and into the classroom light with their students:

eInstruction

ELMO

Promethean

Dymo/Mimio

Qwizdom

QOMO HiteVision

SMART Technologies

Luidia

Califone

Apple (iPad)

Curriculum Driving Technology

Marin Photo[1]I’ve just returned from visiting a wonderful school and district. Dr. Barbara Marin, Assistant Superintendent of the Hempfield Area School District near Pittsburgh, PA, invited me to visit classrooms, where teachers and elementary students were using technology in the right way. That correct use wasn’t an accident. At the Stanwood School, and other schools in the district, curriculum drives the technology use, and also drove its initial purchase.

Administrators and teachers at all elementary levels, including special education, as Photo[3]well as parent and student stakeholders have bought into the use of technology. One of the reasons is that everyone absolutely adores Dr. Marin, and I’m certain the feeling is reciprocated, because Marin’s eyes light up when her staff shares what they do and how their teaching has changed for the better. I also think that this district, under Marin’s leadership made technology important for everyone, in all classes, by making it a part of each classroom and not by singling out one or two educators as test pilots. There are no pockets or islands of pioneers here. Every teacher has equipment, and guess what? Each teacher is a teaching technology pioneer as well as an across-the-district team member. The curriculum is first, of course, but the use of technology is ubiquitous in Marin’s district.

Photo[2]Each classroom has four student computers for reading and math center programs, a projector, and Mimio solutions—MimioTeach, MimioVotes, and MimioView to make classrooms interactive and engaging for students. All teachers use MimioPads to direct and lead teaching in a mobile way. It is the first time I’ve seen this many teachers so positively use this much technology seamlessly with so many elementary students. There are no behavior difficulties because all students are engaged—and I don’t use that word lightly—they are involved in their learning.

The Hempfield Area School District is the poster/billboard for how technology should be done, and what teachers and students can do with it. I've visited many, but to see a complete school technology package, which began from the curriculum rather than the device side--is brilliant and refreshing. And hey, look at the products they chose for that curriculum.

It was a pleasure to visit, and it must be a pleasure to teach there. I’m hoping there’s an invitation to return, because it certainly was an academic hug for this old chalk pusher.

Photo

Over 1 Million Inhabit This Planet

Planet
Close to 5 years ago, I was invited to hear about a new online place for teachers. The place was Promethean Planet, begun by the Promethean Interactive Classroom folks as a way to help teachers use whiteboards. Right from the start, teachers and teaching resources were the prime objectives for this new planet. Today, more than a million educators have landed at their Planet as members.

I’ve long been a proponent of online teacher resources. When companies get involved with them, it can be interesting. It really is a necessity today, but Promethean thought it 5 years ago, and made an effort to keep it more educator than commercial. I think they've done a pretty good job. Many companies have followed their lead.

While there are some lesson packets for sale at the Planet, there’s plenty for free download. I like that teachers using other types of interactive products are invited to join and use whatever is there as well. It’s a place where teachers can go to easily get good teaching materials, lessons, and advice. Oh sure, you can also get more information about Promethean, and their Activ devices and assessment tools, too, if you're interested.

Here's a bit more about Promethean Planet:

Luidia's VP Jody Forehand: InFoComm

Jody Forehand, Luidia's VP of Product Planning, gets The Royal Treatment during an interview at InFoComm. Learn about Luidia and eBeam, as well as their interactive role in the education marketplace. With Luidia, its about doing what they do well, and having great partners, including HP, Chief, Hitachi, and Claridge for support. Forehand talks about how to outfit new and old classrooms for education interactivity. Watch the Interview:

Great School Fundraiser: Promethean & PTA Team

ActivBoard500 As a teacher, and then as an Instructional technology specialist, I discovered early on that parent/teacher groups offered support for ideas, as well as funding for those ideas. There were times when the district had no cash to float a great idea, but the PTA, or PTO would jump in to help. For me, and other staff, it just took writing an understandable proposal, and then presenting it to the parents' group. So, when I came across news of Promethean’s Great School Fundraiser, I immediately thought back to my own parent group support. This community effort awarded a Promethean ActivBoard System as top prize.

JimM “Today’s economic times are challenging us all to become more resourceful and this showed in the contest submissions. When it comes to supporting schools, no one does more than parents and community members. We applaud everyone who participated in our contest this year,” said Jim Marshall, President of Promethean North America.

More about Promethean’s partnership with the National PTA can be found online at www.prometheanworld.com/PTA. Learn more about the Great School Fundraiser there, the 2011 winners and their community projects, as well as how to register for the next contest.

About Promethean www.PrometheanWorld.com
Promethean products and resources can be found in classrooms around the world, and PrometheanPlanet.com, provides its almost one million members access to free teaching resources.

About National PTA  http://www.pta.org/
National PTA is devoted to the educational success of children, and the promotion of parent involvement in schools. Membership in PTA is open to anyone who wants to be involved and make a difference for the education, health, and welfare of children and youth.

Teaching Max

Max Recently, I visited the John’s Creek Elementary School in Georgia, where whiteboards, laptop carts, as well as bring your own technology (BYOT) is the norm. Visiting schools and observing kids can teach you a lot. A group of 3rd graders walked into the Library Media Center (LMC), headed for the teacher standing at a multi-touch Promethean ActivBoard. When the lesson began, the small group of students was allowed the controlled freedom to interact with the board. Interact is such an overused word—these kids played learning.

There's probably a study or two in this, but the girls, as a group collaborated naturally, while the boys were a little more boldly wild. One boy, Max, walked back and forth, always keeping the whiteboard and other students in view. At first glance, he didn’t seem to be engaged, but as I watched, he seemed to be taking in everything. I noted, he missed nothing, but it wasn’t obvious at first.

When things settled, I asked the group if anyone knew how to activate the whiteboard keyboard function. The young, hovering boy, Max, walked quickly over to the side of the whiteboard, grabbed the pen, reached and tapped the left tool bar—bringing up the keyboard. He beamed.

“How did you know that?” I asked. “Watched the teacher do it,” said Max.

Right afterwards, some fifth graders came in to return laptops to mobile carts. They had to find the right placement, and plug them in. I asked one young lady how she knew where to place them/return them correctly. She said, “They’re in numerical order.” Yikes, like I should have known, right. I was impressed. They weren’t just numbered—they were in numerical order.

I discovered that the school was experimenting with a BYOT, bring your own technology classroom, too. I admit, I have a lot of questions about that, but it’s an incredibly innovative idea that can increase the classroom technology quickly, as well as save a district some cash, too.

I’d want to know how different technologies would play together in the BYOT classroom, and also if a teacher could handle the heavier tech burden of knowing/working with many devices and not just one or two.

BYOT is a refreshing idea, and worth more coverage. I’m all for putting tech in kids’ hands. When it comes right down to it, using technology can be the goal, but it’s still really all about understanding—how to teach Max—and others like him.

Marzano: Whiteboards, Responders, 1:1, and PD

Marzano I had an interesting conversation with education researcher and author, Dr. Robert Marzano. He’s written about education strategies, and decision-making based on research for years. His Marzano Research Laboratory is interested in researching and discovering ways to make teaching and education leadership better. We talked about his 3rd party interactive whiteboard research, which was funded by Promethean, as well as his thoughts for the short term—3–5 year future of technology in the classroom. I enjoyed his fair and honest assessment of his own research, as well as what we should take away from it.

“After playing around with different study designs we used a meta-analysis approach—over different subject areas. In our 2-year, 4, 913-student, 123-teacher, and 36-district study, we found, that in general, the average effect was that we had a 16-percentile improvement in student achievement in the interactive whiteboard classrooms,” says Marzano.”

Marzano finds one part of his findings doesn’t get as much attention as it should, and that has to do with the importance of good teaching. “But let’s qualify this, an average effect that people don’t focus on enough is that 24% of the time teachers did better without the technology. So the 2nd part of the study is what explains the differences, and because we used video, we can say here’s why,” says Marzano.

More research needs to be done—so what’s next? “We need to rewrite the book on teaching strategies… the ones that many of us have written about for years, just won’t work anymore. For instance, classroom brainstorming used to be done on paper… but you couldn’t do anything with it. It was difficult to move those thoughts around, and debate efficacies—like you can with interactive technologies,” says Marzano.

Administrators struggling with budgets don’t necessarily have the funds it takes to make technology happen in their districts. “Sometimes I get asked whether interactive whiteboards are worth it from a financial standpoint—I don’t come from that perspective, but my heart goes out to administrators having to make those decisions. I know that they are not small ticket items. If money weren’t the issue it’s pretty much of a no brainer—three technologies—interactive whiteboards, responders, and 1:1 computing get good results for teachers,” says Marzano.

Professional development is an important finding. “Don’t forget, these technologies have to be used in the right way. What to do and what not to do with them. In my research, a huge piece for an administrator to understand is that their needs to be training to get the best out of classroom technology. Envision it as a another leg on the stool,” Marzano concludes.

Find out more at Marzano Reasearch, or more at the Promethean site.

ViewSonic Education: More Than Finches

Viewschool2 ViewSonic products, with their colorful Australian Gouldian finch logo, was something I was very used to seeing in large department store chains and warehouse stores like Costco, but my thinking began to change after a booth stop at the recent InFoComm show in Las Vegas. There I saw an education set up that could rival any whiteboard solution. It wasn’t a case of where had ViewSonic been, but rather that I hadn’t been looking in that K 12 direction.

ViewSonic is more than pretty finches and displays.

Today I found out more about ViewSonic by interviewing Adam Hanin, vice president of marketing, and Melinda Beecher, senior manager of national channel marketing for ViewSonic Americas. “We have always played a role in education, but now we’re looking to do it in a bigger way,” says Hanin, a lifelong K 12 marketplace expert. Beecher, who thinks of her own children using technology, wants educators to know—ViewSonic has ways to “outfit classrooms for the needs of tomorrow.”

Back2School

A short look at the ViewSonic online site will give you a broader understanding of their products. ViewSonic’s ViewBook computers, with Back2School pricing http://www.viewsonic.com/back2school/ ,and their eReaders are two K-12 options that need more sharing. If you’re like me, you might not have looked beyond their displays to other products.

Look into ViewSchool

Check out ViewSchool at http://www.viewsonic.com/viewschool/ where education tech and district leaders can go to learn about tech ideas and solutions, and get the best discounts for purchasing them. If you don’t know what you need, ViewSonic can match needs with designed programs and partners to make an interactive classroom happen. Check out the options at http://www.viewsonic.com/.

Whiteboard More Like a Computer?

Why can’t a whiteboard be more like a computer?

I know that seems a bit more like something out of My Fair Lady, but alas my dear Pickering, why can’t a whiteboard be more like a computer?

Whiteboard At this point whiteboards are an extension of a computer and cannot stand-alone—they need projection of some sort and a computer connection. Whiteboards also rely on computer software—that in its simplest form, can open files on the computer that can then be presented on the board. That software can be of two types, one is most likely a lite or default software, and is limited in what it can do. It may just open files, annotate, zoom in, and save work. Another type of software is usually available by the whiteboard company, or a 3rd party, and it might be proprietary—specific to the particular whiteboard brand. The best of all worlds would be to have all software, regardless of brand, work on any whiteboard. We’re getting closer to that, but not there yet.

So Miss Doolittle, how do we get from a board that is essentially a clone image of your teaching-station computer to something autonomous? Wouldn’t it be brilliant to have a whiteboard that really is your computer, too? No need for any other hardware. Educators wouldn’t have to fire up disconnected hardware and software and convince them to work nicely together during a lesson. If the whiteboard were an autonomous device, it would be more like the chalkboard it replaced, and more like the computer most teachers know. I will bet that it’s being worked on somewhere.

There have been a few interesting, recent breakthroughs, such as the Epson BriteLink, which houses its whiteboard and projection technology together in a projector, and Samsung’s interactive eBoard display, which is really not a whiteboard at all, but acts like one by using software and touch screen technology. And then there’s PolyVision’s interactive magnetic strip control idea that has removed any wiring from the board, making pen replacement the only upkeep. Furthermore, for tight budgets mimio and eBeam hardware attachments fit to the side of any dry-erase board. In a snap, they can be detached, and carried in-hand to another classroom. Hitachi even has a three-touch whiteboard, which relies on three camera pickups. I may have missed a few, but In this competitive marketplace, no one is resting on laurels—for sure.

You also have to appreciate what companies like Promethean and SMART are doing—talking more about the interactive classroom, rather than one device, and making educators a part of the plan. They not only offer resources that can be used, but show educators how to use them as well. Add HP and Dell to that chorus, too. Their work with educators, in real classrooms, may pave the way for the reality of school-cloud technology, which should make it easier to move a presentation board to that central, autonomous, interactive-teaching tool. Why can’t a whiteboard be more like a computer?

So Higgins, while we don’t have it yet—"Just you wait!"

Epson's BrightLink 450Wi Different

Epson's BrightLink 450Wi is different.

Brightlink1 I had a chance to try out Epson's new BrightLink 450Wi at TCEA 2010. If you don't know what it is, let me make it simple. For $1799 you get a projector that not only projects, but makes any wall interactive. I watched Hall Davidson put a white piece of art board inTCEA0058 the projection areaand write on it. Later, I told Hall that it was the most impressive thing I had seen. We both laugh about the elaborate stand Epson was using, when a sheet of art board worked quite nicely.

I know all the interactive whiteboard solutions, and appreciate their differences. Hall thinks this one is a "game changer". I will agree that it is different. The projector's ultra-close position above the work area avoids shadow, and it can work with just a dry-erase marker, but those things don't make it different. For me, the difference is that the projector does it allit projects and makes whatever it projects oninteractiveit's all contained in that projector housing.

TCEA0053 That said, the reality is that it still has to be installed, not sure what that cost would be, but I know installation and codes are variables to consider in each district. I don't know what further upkeep is required, but looking into that is important—for any technology. I enjoy cool tech, but my technology specialist side keeps me grounded in the real world, too. There are many interactive whiteboard solutions out there, and we're seeing the technology change and improve, so I look for more innovation like Epson's BrightLink. When it comes right down to it, a district's needs determine the solution. Right now, Epson has added one more choice to think about.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in The Royal Treatment are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.