Are Activboards a Waste of Time?

What’s this?  A poll?  Well yes, it is in fact a poll.  See, recently I have done a few workshops where I trained other teachers on how to start using their Activboards with ActivInspire.  It went over well and the participants gained practical and exciting things they can use in their classrooms once the school year starts up again.  Although these teachers were generally optimistic about the potential an Activboard can have in their classroom, I have spoken with or read the thoughts of many educators who are unimpressed with Activboards.

So…..where do you fall?  Do you think Activboards are a good tool that can be used in the classroom or are they a waste of money and a fad?

After voting, please leave your comments below and discuss!

ActiveInspire(d)

Next week I will be presenting at a conference in River Falls, WI about using Activboards and the accompanying software, ActivInspire. Most of the educators I will presenting to over two different sessions are either first time users or are trying to increase their knowledge, familiarity, and ability with the board and software. My aim over these two workshops is to appeal to and aid two very different groups using the same tool.  Something not always easily achieved.


Personally, I love using the Activboard and ActivInspire, and I say that with a complete realization that it makes me sound like a fanboy. I’ve run in to many teachers (both in and outside of my district) who either can’t see the point in using an Activ (or Smart) board, or have actually tried it themselves and have found it limiting in some way. I’m not trying to convert all of teacherdom into using a tool they don’t want to use, but I do think that it’s worth giving it a chance (resources permitted of course).

To the naysayers who don’t believe it’s a worthwhile tool, I would say:
Activboards aren’t engaging.” Well, then you’re probably not creating a lesson that’s utilizing a tool that’s designed to be engaging. I “played” the French horn and tuba when I was in band in high school. I never really sounded very good because I didn’t take the time to know what I was doing. If you dint take the time to push the boundaries of what the board and the software can do, then you’ll always be playing second chair French horn (or third or fourth as was my case.)

“I don’t like to be tied to the board or a wall, I like to move, man.” Ok, so, move. Using the board doesn’t anchor you to a wall. Yes you need to be there occasionally to tap the board, but no ones stopping you from designing a lesson plan where your time spent at the board is minimal. Some of the most profound lessons I’ve done with my students is when I have a simple set of pictures and/or questions and I cab stand back and let the students absorb what’s on the board.

Have students interact with something "simple"

“I can do everything you’re doing with that expensive board by just using my laptop and the Internet.” Mmmm, doubt it. Certainly, there Are so many good, useful, and free utilities on the web that are useful, but very few of them allow you to I interact, change, and manipulate what you see as an Activboard does. And – and this is the biggy for me – the software allows me to create what I want to teach my students in a seamless and efficient way. I may be able to do the same thing using web resources (which I do use and love, by the way, in conjunction with my board) but I would have to use 6 different websites and wIt for those websites to load and pray our Internet connection is good that day.

“The equipment is so expensive, I can’t justify buying this for my class/school/district.” Well, it is kind expensive, sure. I guess that’s a monetary decision every district has to make for themselves. I won’t pretend to know how to best allocate a districts money, but I will say that there are far less credible and useful tools in education than an Activboard.

So, in summary, everyone should run out and buy an Activboard. No, just kidding, do what you want.   But don’t knock it until you try it, and don’t bash it until you’ve actually had some real-time and experience using it.

You know what they say, don’t judge a French horn player by the chromatic scale they’re playing. Or something like that.

Cell Phones in the Classroom

This week I attended a workshop downtown Minneapolis hosted by the MASSP.  The workshop was  Anytime, Anywhere Leadership! Mobile Learning and Web 2.0 Tools for School Leaders hosted by Kipp Rogers.

Is this a useful tool for education?
Is this a useful tool for education?

Kipp is a principal at Passage Middle School in Newport News, VA.  Prior to becoming the principal at Passage Middle School, Kipp was a classroom teacher for 9 years.  He now runs workshops all over the country in addition to his principal duties at Passage Middle School.  As the name implies, the point of the workshop was centered on mobile learning, and in particular using cell phones in class.  Most of the activities we did together were texting based with our cell phones.  We were also encouraged to bring a Nintendo DS if we had them.

Although Kipp gave us a lot of information on what he how he has used cell phones in the classroom and why he believes they are effective teaching tools, some of the highlights for me personally were:

  1. Drop.io Drop.io is a free private file-sharing system that allows users to easily create a place to store things and share them with multiple users for easy collaboration.  What’s interesting in terms of cell-phones, is that a number is generated that you can call and record a message.  Once that voice message is on Drop.io, you can take the html from that recorded audio and embed it on a different site.  The idea that any student could create their own podcast of sorts this way and embed it on to a wiki or blog is very intriguing.  Only downside that I saw: the phone number listed was long distance, so, costs extra.
  2. Poll Anywhere I have ActivExpressions that I use with my Activboard, so I don’t have a huge need for a polling service like Poll Anywhere.  However, if I didn’t have those Expressions I could definitely see the benefit of using Poll Anywhere.  It’s easy to use and quickly allows a teacher to see and interact with student ideas.
  3. Cell Phones are Mobile, So BE Mobile An exercise we did was to go outside of the conference room and take pictures with our cell phones.  We then uploaded these to a site and shared the information with other people on our team.  If it is structured well, this can be a lot of fun and students could learn a lot from it.  The whole point of a cell phone, is have a communication device with you wherever you go.  If students are confined to stay in their seats during an entire class, it limits the potential learning opportunities and uses for these devices.

Kipp presented these ideas very well and I was encouraged by the potential for using cell phones in class.  I often get frustrated by technology that is viewed as a “must have” in the classroom by some, but there really is not meat to it.  It’s all flash, and learning doesn’t really take place.  But, as these ideas were presented, I definitely had some cool musings rattling around in my brain for things I could do in my class that students would actually learn from.

That being said, I’m not sold on cell phones in the class…..yet.  A few questions still remain before I hop on the bandwagon.

Full Disclosure: I had to leave the workshop early, so some of these questions may have been addressed in my absence.

  1. Equity It’s a gross exaggeration to state that “ALL kids these days have a phone and know how to text” as many teacher often do.  Not true.  I have a lot of students that know how to use a cell phone, and many that don’t.  Some kids text faster than they write, and other kids text too slowly to make it worthwhile.
  2. Who Foots the Bill? Cell phones aren’t cheap and neither are the plans they depend on.  If classwork is done in class that requires texting (or voice calls for that matter), is it fair to have student’s or there parents absorb that cost?
  3. School Policies What is a logical and practical way to carry out a cell phone policy for a school that now is against the usage of cell phones?  What if not all teachers are on board?
  4. Do Student’s Need To Use Cell Phones? A lot of the argument to be made for increasing technology use in the classroom is that student’s will need to use these skills in the future.  Will they ever text Google as part of their job or during their college careers to get an answer?  Is the type of “collaboration” that is done with cell phones in k-12 schools the same type of collaboration that will be used later in life?  I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a colleague in this way using a cell phone, and can’t think of a time when I would want to.  A smart-phone, maybe, but not just a regular phone.

While I see the potential for cell phones in the school, I think there is a lot of logistical wrangling with the school itself that needs to be addressed before they phones are allowed in the classroom.  My classroom, at least.  I want them to be meaningful and impactful for learning, not just a new toy to play with, a diversion.

Do you use cell phones in your class?  How?  Are they beneficial to learning?  Please, ring my bell….

Get Inspired One Step at a Time

If you’ll be in the Twin Cities area on December 12th, and you’re an educator, and you’re an Activboard user, and you like to do super sweet things with really radical people, then I hereby personally invite you to the TIES conference in downtown Minneapolis.

I will be presenting an Activboard and ActivInspire focused workshop Get Inspired One Step at a Time.  Here is the workshop summary:

ActivInspire works in tandem with Promethean Activboards. This workshop is designed to explore the features of the software that will promote a better use of digital learning tools in the instructional process. We will review basic functionality of Inspire and introduce new tools while providing time for customizing flip chart pages from existing templates. This workshop is perfect for teachers new to the Activboard or those who have been using it for a year or so who still feel a little intimidated the complexity of the tools. Get ready to have fun, be challenged and get Inspired.

Migrating to Inspire from Studio can be a tricky and sometimes frustrating experience.  If you love using the Activboard but want to get more out of it, than this is the workshop for you!

Hope to see you there.

If you are planning on being at TIES, but can’t attend my workshop, make sure we connect.  I’d love to hear what you’re up to in your classrooms or school!