Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hidden Treasures

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to work with a generous group of educators here in southeast Georgia. All of the gracious folks in my audience were in attendance in order to learn how to make better use of a Promethean Activboard. Those attending my day-long presentation were very excited at the prospect of finally discovering how to employ a technology resource that had essentially been sitting idle in their respective classrooms. My attendees, like many other educators I work with on a daily basis, had been given a powerful tool for teaching and learning but, due to a lack of funding for professional development and/or an administrative oversight, found themselves waiting for an explanation as to how the device worked or could be integrated into instruction.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens with far more frequency than should be tolerated. In many ways, it's tantamount to making a delivery to overworked doctors in the middle of an epidemic, leaving them with an incredibly powerful medical tool for combating illness, and subsequently giving them absolutely no information about what the tool is, how it can be used, or the kinds of results it will generate. In such a scenario, most doctors concerned with treating the immediate needs of their patients would probably toss the new tool aside in favor of doing what they already know to do. Administrators, teachers, and other educators are no different. We can supply them with unbelievably powerful resources and expect improvements. Without the accompanying professional development, however, it's unlikely that anything--either teaching practices or student achievement--is going change for the better.

Thankfully, though, the individuals I worked with yesterday were thirsty for knowledge about using their interactive whiteboards. I was only too happy to oblige. I took them through the basics of using the Activboard, facilitating their exploration of its robust tools and resource library. They loved the features of the interactive whiteboard and its software. Many were somewhat distraught that such an engaging tool for learning had been at their fingertips all along and they hadn't even realized it. I did my best to help them make up for lost time.

During the 8 hours we spent together I tried to help my audience gain a deeper understanding of the incredible potential for using interactive whiteboards to make concepts, processes, and skills more visiual and doable. In addition to directing them to Promethean Planet, I showed them all manner of free, interactive resources (Thinkfinity.org, a list of Thinkfinity "WOW" sites, Exploratorium and it's favorite picks, et cetera) and repositories for content-specific pictures. "It's not enough to lecture about a topic or concept," I explained, "You've got access to a tool for helping your pupils create a clearer mental image of what you're exploring in your classroom. Even if you choose not to make use of your Activstudio software, you can still use imagery to engage your students and help them latch onto an idea."

Afterward, one of my participants explained that even though she had an Activboard, others at here school did not. "Are there any more projectors and other interactive whiteboards--not necessisarily Promethean--at your school?" I asked, betting I'd hear a familiar response. Sure enough, the lady responded, "Yes, we do have other projectors. They're in the media center but no one ever checks them out. We also have some other kind of interactive whiteboard but it doesn't have an Activpen with it like mine does so the other teachers aren't sure they can use it."

"Hmmm," I said, "I'll bet it's a SMARTBoard," and I asked her to describe the board. After listening to her description there was no doubt in my mind that such was the case. I explained how she and others at her school could be using the newest, resource-rich SMARTBoard software with their old SMARTBoards. The lady was delighted and quickly opened her cell phone to call her school and share the good news.

On a recent trip in one school, a school with a desire to improve student math performance, I just happened to stumble across an unopened pack of resources from a great series called Math Exemplars. It's a program that (when implemented properly) successfully addresses student engagement and performance in math classes. It helps students become masterful problem-posers and solvers. Here was a school struggling with math and not using a resource that would help the pupil. When I asked why the folks there had no idea what Math Exemplars were or what to do with them.

I wonder how many unused technology resources are lying around in classrooms and media centers because no one knows what all the stuff is or how to use it? Why not take a look around in your own school and see what you turn up when you do. You might be surprised.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Way to go Jeff! You're right! I try to do one thing a day to improve the technology in my school. Today, I was lucky, I did two. Mrs. Johnson got a scanner working and Ms. Allen got a laser printer to work with her laptop. Small jobs like this really add up over time to help classroom teachers integrate technology. Who'll join us and do "one a day"?