Wednesday, March 21, 2012


As I set up my Apple TV at home over spring break and used it to integrate a ton of different things, like any good teacher, I thought about the ton of different ways I could use it in the classroom.  There are a lot of good articles out there about "untethered teaching", using ipads wirelessly to replace smartboards, so I am definitely not original in my thinking.

When I started at my current school 5 years ago, we had a couple of computer labs, but they were mostly used for recovery credit and things like that, which were definitely needed as we had a grad rate around 43% that year.  For my part, I had my notes on transparencies that I put on an overhead projector.  I was okay with that since I'd worked at a small private school that wasn't on the cutting edge of technology.  I had done the blogging, bulletin boards, help students through IM for a few years before that, but I was ok with leaving it behind, after all, most of my students at my new school didn't have the same tech at home that my private school kiddos did.

In my second year, we had a smart board for the science department and since no one else was really using it, I appropriated it and began to use mostly power point to replace my old notes.  Yes, I could have done that with just a projector which I would have been fine with.

Year 3 rolled around and we got a massive technology grant at our school, and began to add what will eventually be something like 8-9 computer labs in our school.  Every single classroom got a SmartBoard and projector and some cursory training.  I kind of liked the Smart Notebook software so I spent that year of 4 preps turning all of my notes into Notebook presentations.  I loved the ability to play videos, etc easily without a TV in my room.  The system was spottily used though...most of us did not (and still don't) have the speakers  hooked up.  Most of the teacher computers are about 7-8 years old and thus are slow to be as generous as possible.  I would guess that for most teachers, the actual "Smart" parts of smartboards don't get used a whole lot (recording, clickers, etc).

But here's the deal.... we spent who knows how much implementing this system, with very little teacher input, though we were excited to get the chance to do it.  But we're locked in now to some degree.  Now that it is apparent that you could replace the $3k or so for each smartboard with an ipad, an apple tv and a projector and be able to move it wherever you want for around $1k-$1.5k max, it seems like a bad investment.  Soon at least a 5th of our school might be getting ipads for the students (hopefully for teachers too).

Of course we are totally not prepared for it either...we have an ipad lab this year, but most don't know what to do with it.

My point behind this long ramble is that school systems seriously lack any sort of flexibility, spend hundreds of thousands on teh new hawtness and then lock everyone into using it to justify their expense.  I have a way to make it a little cheaper and more flexible:

Ask teachers what they individually want/need in their room.  Provide funding for that instead of ridiculous amounts of money thrown into a school or system wide solution that will be passed by and outdated in 5 years (at best).  Teachers would have to be reasonable and work within the confines of that system, but I bet it would save in a lot of ways.  There could still be some school wide things, but if a teacher says that 6 ipads or chromebooks would make all the difference, that is probably a cheaper solution in the long run.  If they need an airport to allow kids access to the wireless in their room on their own devices, let it roll.

And what matters more to me is that it is a more flexible and probably pedagogically sound solution in the long run.  We want to teach students about the eduspeak term "21st century" skills and then stuff them into a computer lab that hasn't changed its basic setup since I learned basic in 1984 or so on TRS-80s.

I'll admit, I know that there are tech issues and perhaps more soul crushing, legal issues that interfere with all of this.  I'm going to state something that is going to make me a jerk and unpopular...I don't really care.  I want to educate my students, I want my urban students to be on an equal technological footing with their more affluent peers on the other side of the county.  I can't do that if I have to submit a form in triplicate to install an app that would take me 20 seconds to download.  I'm all for protecting the kids from things they shouldn't be doing.  I'm about as conservative as a public school teacher gets, I don't want the kids viewing pron or any of the other dangerous stuff that's out there any more than anyone else.

The problem is that the legal part of all this is decades behind the technology, as 19th century copyright law in the 21st century illustrates.  The kids I have now can't wait 10 years for us to figure it out.

Trust your teachers, make the system flexible, fear graduating uneducated and unprepared students more than lawsuits.


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