ActivInspire Training pt. 2

12 Jun

For my second day of Activinspire/Activboard training, I was involved in trying to complete a project. Of course this was supposed to be aligned to the state standards, and this is where I had some problems. I’m concentrating on math because those standards are SO far away from anything my students can do. They simply are no where near doing anything with coordinate geometry or algebra. So I downloaded a few flipcharts from Promethean’s extensive library and began to modify an activity with shapes.

My kids need a whole lot more that just some objects/pictures to move around, so the first thing I did was associate some sounds with it so they could do some sound matching along with the shapes. It’s a lot of work and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to use very much of it in whatever setting I happen to be in this fall. One thing that I wanted to mention about the software is that it is platform independent, as there is Linux support for the Activinspire software. Kudos to the Promethean team for making that extraordinary effort toward making this available to a wider audience. It’s exceedingly rare for commercial educational software vendors to support Linux.

And thanks to Mark and Beth for clearing up the over-priced pen controversy in comments to my last post. I did make corrections to reflect the updaterd information. While it does make the price of the hardware upkeep a bit less onerous there’s still a large gulf, and the serious monetary outlay causes some unintended consequences that I’ll outline in a minute.

The best part of the day was probably the end when we got to see what other teachers were doing and ideas they had. I’m a total believer in getting teachers to share and collaborate more,but that might just be me, since I often feel so isolated in my own little space. Seeing what others were doing gave me ideas as to what I might try down the road. It looked to me like every teacher universally liked the Activboard and ActivInspire software. But that may change through no fault of Promethean or our own technology department.

I was talking with an elementary teacher from another county yesterday who has been teaching kindergarten for the last 4 years and taught other elementary grades in previous years. She’s a great and dedicated teacher whose student test scores are consistently higher than many of her peers, as she amazingly seems to get most of her students reading within the 1 year she has them without doing any test prep. She simply teaches her kids, the kids learn and the byproduct is that they pass the test. She is also one of the most technophobic teachers I’ve ever met.

Her school bought Activboards and is requiring every single one of the teachers to integrate the Activboard into every single lesson plan and to put the actual plan on a flipchart. Egad. I can not think of a surer to way kill enthusiasm and motivation than to require teachers (or anyone else) to do something. The Activboard is one tool among many, and is not always the best tool for every job, all the time, for every student. Technology offers a way to customize an educational experience toward individual learner needs, but school systems seem determined to force uniformity, conformity and homogenization upon every person in the building!

In order for technology to be leveraged correctly, it needs to be so transparent, in that it can go unnoticed in favor of the learning that is actually taking place. Chalkboards were the major marvel and innovation of 1801, and the model of one board, one teacher and a roomful of students looking on has been mostly unchanged since then. The technology is less important than actual student engagement. And engagement alone isn’t going to allow for substantial learning as much as an environment that is rich in feedback and reinforcement. This is why kids are so easily hooked by technology (especially video games) because the feedback is immediate and individualized. It allows for learning to take place much faster and more efficiently than raising your hand and waiting for the teacher to come around and look at your work.

This is why I advocate schools using lower cost solutions, because when they invest so heavily in hardware they have to justify the huge expense. By making its use mandatory and universal, they suck the fun out of it, and begin killing innovation and creativity which are exactly what active boards are supposed to inspire!

We also did get a chance to see and try a student response system, ActiVote. Many of our schools are getting a set of these. While they do offer a degree of participation and interactivity, it functions alot like the Buzztime (formerly NTN) system I first saw in various Atlanta pubs around 1990 where you could play trivia synchronously with other players around the country. Basically a multiple choice question is posted and kids vote on on it using their little egg-shaped clicker. Collective results are then shown on the screen. The next step, is the ActivExpression hardware, which allows short answer responses and thus more open-ended questions. This represents a significant improvement, but I’m wondering at what cost.

I like the increased focus on interactivity brought by the Promethean technology, but dislike the large cost to schools and the way schools often decide to implement it. I admit I have a large bias towards open-source software and low cost “off-the-shelf” hardware solutions. But Promethean makes the technology more accessible to technologically-challenged teachers through extensive support and making the hardware fairly easy to use. There is a bit of trade-off between the cost of the material and the amount of training required to use a tool. In my opinion, schools should invest more in the training of teachers than the technology hardware that they will use. In other words, teaching teachers to use lower cost tools often costs more than teaching them to use more expensive tools. But since schools always spend more on recruitment than retention, ease-of-use becomes the more expedient bet.

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