The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Day: November 27, 2010

For whom are Interactive Whiteboards Interactive?

I get asked a fair bit, are interactive whiteboards (IWB) a worthwhile investment for schools? The answer I have to say, is no. To follow my reasoning, first ask the question for whom are they interactive?

They seem like they are interactive for teachers. They give the teacher the opportunity to interact with material and to demonstrate materials for students in a more engaging way than the traditional white board. This is provided that the teacher has the time to develop the materials in advance for the students, or the time to find said resources that have been shared by other teachers. It is also provided that the teachers have been given some training on how to use the IWB as very few teachers will experiment and figure out the full potential use on their own.

This is a false interaction though since given that the teacher has invested the time and training into developing the materials themselves, they are not interacting, they are intraactive instead. The teacher is reacting to their own creation, rather than something new created by someone else which we could really call interactive.

If we allow students to use the IWB a real problem is suddenly you’ve turned a parallel activity (as in an activity in which all of the students are doing something) into a series activity (each student takes a turn doing something). Changing parallel activities into series activities is inherently inefficient and in the classroom, inefficiencies lead to kids who are not engaged, who do not have something to do. The activity will be interactive, but only for the small number of students who are actually engaged in using the IWB.

So don’t spend your money on IWB for your school. Spend it on individual devices for the student, or a class set of video cameras, or some other device which is really interactive. Spend it on staff training in the use of technology for all of your teachers. Spend it on anything which will introduce real interactivity into your classrooms.

 

Update: There are students who have a variety of different issues with fine motor skills and one large advantage of interactive whiteboards for these students is that they can actually manipulate mathematical objects and even type whereas pencil and paper or laptops may not be useful for them. When the technology is being used for the purpose it is designed (as an interactive surface) then I think my objections above do not apply.

 

If you think you know something, you should quit

I just watched @Nardwuar at #TEDxVancouver. He is amazing, and I can’t believe I had never heard of him before. What an inspiration!

Nardwuar is a citizen journalist who interviews music stars and politicians. He has a couple of suggestions for life which he shared which I think are excellent advice.

  1. Just ask. Don’t be afraid to ask because the worst thing that can happen is that you can be rejected.
     
  2. Do your research in advance and find ways to be creative.
     
  3. You will learn something in every thing you do. If you think you know everything, it’s time to quit.
     
  4. Be curious

I think this is good advice for our students too.
 

I’ve got him hooked on science

I did two very simple experiments with my four year old son yesterday. Actually, I set up the experiments, showed him how to do them, and let him run them.

The first experiment was the classic mixing of baking soda and vinegar. I gave him three bowls, one with baking soda, one with vinegar, and a 3rd empty bowl to mix the two. I also gave him two spoons so he could move the baking soda and vinegar into the mixing bowl. I showed him how to mix two small amounts together and watched him giggle as it fizzed. I then walked away and told him to experiment with it, and went to do some dishes. I kind of watched him out of the corner of my eye and noticed that he did the predictable, which was to mix more and more of each of the ingredients, trying to make more bubbles and fizzy sound. Lesson learned? Mix more stuff together and you get a bigger chemical reaction. All I did was give him the language to describe what he was watching, he did the rest.

The second experiment I took 2 different sized salts and some more baking soda and 3 bowls of water. We mixed each bowl of water with the dry ingredients and stirred the bowls. My son was amazed as the baking soda, "disappeared." We stirred and stirred and then the regular salt "disappeared." After much more stirring, we finally got the coarse salt to disappear. We talked about what happened, and my son tasted the water (oops! I told him that he should ask me next time if it is safe to taste our experiments) and said, "Daddy, it’s so salty!"  Lesson learned? Stuff that "disappears" in water doesn’t actually "go away" it dissolves into the water.

We also played with a couple of other simple ideas, like filling up an upside down bowl with water without it pouring it out. We also figured out which makes ice melt faster, warm or cold water.

Basically my son did the work, and I set up the experiments. At the end of our 45 minutes or so playing around with the experiments, he still wasn’t done. He wanted more experiments. I couldn’t think of any more examples off the top of my head, so we sat down and I Googled some more experiments and we decided together on some experiments that we want to run.

Today I watched as my son stacked more and more cookies underneath his fork during dinner. When I asked him what he was doing, he said, "I’m doing an experiment Daddy!"

I’ve got him hooked.

Jose had 100% attendance

I had a student, let’s call him Jose, who had 100% attendance all the way through school. He attended almost all of his classes, he participated in class discussions, he did everything he could to understand and learn what we were teaching. Jose worked very hard, at least during class, and always made sure to turn in his homework. He was a nice kid. He was very polite and was well respected by his peers. He graduated, a feat only matched by about 35% of the freshmen with whom he started high school.

The problem was, Jose was illiterate and we all knew it. He struggled to complete even the most basic of sentences in his writing and couldn’t read the side of a cereal box. However Jose managed to meet the requirements for graduation because of a few simple things he had learned.

  1. Always do your homework, even if you have no idea how to complete it. It’s okay, teachers are grading for effort anyway.
  2. Never cheat. It makes teachers mad at you and people are mad at you are less likely to pass you.
  3. Come to class and ask questions and try your best all the time. Your participation mark will be excellent!
  4. You can take your Regent’s exams (NY state exams) multiple times.
  5. A 65% is the official passing percentage (at least in NY) but no one fails with a 60%.
  6. 20% for participation and 20% for homework is 40% leaving the final 20% to come from assessments in class, or 20/60 (which is close to 33%).
  7. You can get 33% on tests if you fill in everything with whatever you know and guess for the multiple choice, with a little bit of luck.

I don’t think Jose ever got more than 65% for anything he turned in, or for any of his classes. He met the minimum requirements which, honestly in the school I was in, were not that stringent. He failed some of his classes, but because of our credit system, he could easily retake classes, even multiple times, and still graduate in four years.

We failed Jose though because he left high school completely unprepared for the real world. We had certainly not given him any skills he could use because our school focused on "getting students to pass the Regent’s exams". He didn’t learn enough academic skills to continue his studies, although he did attempt University, at least for a semester and yes there were universities which accepted him, thanks to open enrollment.

Jose came to school and wanted to learn. He really respected teachers and did everything he knew how to do to be successful. He was a model student in every way, except he struggled with the written word. There is something seriously wrong with a system which lets a student like Jose graduate unprepared for life. 

I don’t have any answers for this problem but I do know that Jose would have been far more successful if we had not accepted the absolute minimum from him. We needed to set higher standards and then provide him with additional support to meet those higher standards. We needed to invest more in Jose’s future rather than just passing him onto the next person.