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Friday, January 16, 2009

Hi-Tech Classroom Substitute...

The job as substitute teacher is difficult at first because there is little or no training provided.

Fortunately, door key use, light switch activation, using a phone, overhead projectors, and using books are all intuitive functions that most people over the age of five can handle without instruction. I would have included operating heat and air conditioning controls to the previous list but there was that one time…but that’s another story.

Over the last year or so, I’ve seen the introduction of some hi-tech gear introduced in the classrooms. In addition to the Apple computers (for some reason IBM/PC’s aren’t so popular) for the kids to use in web searching and reading tests, the document camera is the newest addition to the classroom.

This is the Hi-Tech replacement for the overhead projector that required teachers to make transparency pages to display on one of those pull down movie screens in the front of the classroom. The idea is the same, but this technology displays any image placed under the camera using a high quality video projector.

This major technology leap eliminates the time and materials “making transparencies” step. I’ve encountered these in about a third of the classrooms this year. It’s a positive, direct, intuitive replacement for an older technology (overhead projector). I like it. On the plus side, the video projector can be shared with other devices like…the “SMARTBoard ™”!

A more recent classroom development is the introduction of the “SMARTBoard”. This is the interactive whiteboard replacement. In the simplest use, it’s just a white screen you write on with one of four electronic pens and an eraser. When attached to a computer, it’s an interactive touch screen extension of your computer.

You can see a demo here:

Each teacher receives (or should receive) extensive training on how to operate the board and interface it to the classroom computer. Almost every piece of paper a teacher needs for a lesson can be stored in electronic form and presented using the SMARTBoard.

So, what happens when you have a substitute with no training on the SMARTBoard try and run the class? That’s what I got to find out in last Friday’s in a 4th grade classroom.

The computer was already running (good) when I entered the classroom and the PowerPoint lesson plan was on the computer screen. Fortunately, there was a hard copy paper printout for reference. I did a dry run through the lesson before the kids arrived.

Plan note: Touch the math book picture to start the lesson.
Result: Error screen indicating a broken link to the desired book.

Plan note: Touch the Social Studies book to start at chapter 5.
Result: Social Studies book opened to a template where chapter 5 should have been but wasn’t.

Plan note: Touch worksheet answer spaces one at a time to reveal correct answers.
Result: (that worked ok)

Final score: 33% success

As a result of these problems, I had to scrounge around to find the actual Math and Social Studies books. In a non-tech class, the books should have been stacked on a table with a paper copy of the lesson plan.

After fiddling with the computer in an attempt to “fix” the broken things, I had somehow inadvertently switched windows being displayed on the SMARTBoard and could not figure out how to switch back to just a blank white screen so I could use it as a plain old whiteboard.

It was only after class that I discovered that it was the “document camera” that had controls for which source to use with the projector. Had I found this earlier, I could have selected the DocCam source and placed a sheet of computer paper under the camera for display on the SMARTBoard.

Needless to say this day didn’t go so well…

What would have happened if there had been a power outage during the night? Janitors are notorious for turning off everything in a classroom at the breakers.

Would a substitute know the password to the reboot the computer after a power failure? Would a substitute know how to restart the SMARTBoard application? Would the computer automatically have recovered to the “lesson of the day”? All good questions and I still don’t know the answers.

I imagine that, over time, I’ll get proficient using this new classroom technology but for now, I suppose, it’s no different for those first time users of “THE BOOK”:


rattln along said...

What would happen if someone had been surfing the web with the classroom computer, looking at things one should not show students and the sub inadvertently projected the last page surfed to the classroom? Technology is not always the best thing to facilitate learning.

Good Luck!!

katnpat said...

Yikes! I haven't used the smartboards yet, but I LOVE the document cameras! They are so awesome.

.bethany. said...

Esh..I have to disagree with what katnpat says above me. I do not love those document cameras. I usually try to avoid using them at all costs, because one minor break down and the class goes nuts. I had one horrible mishap when there was another substitute in with me (he was in for the special education teacher) and he INSISTED I use it...I couldn't, the kids could tell and the rest of the class period was an embarrassing disaster.

On the other hand, I'm pretty jealous your school system has gone Mac...I wish mine would. I became Mac proficient during my undergrad and am a walking Apple commercial...PCs now give me panic attacks.

The MAN Fan Club said...

I've yet to get a Smartboard, but I have that red document camera. It is hard to explain how to use it. I usually train a student in each class that I trust who could possibly assist a teacher. When I know I am going to have a sub I usually have a poster assessment day where they illustrate what they know about a topic. If they finish early they have to add color. I'm all about an easy sub day, but yet keep the substance with it.