Networked Learning Project Week 1 -or- Why Technology Outranks Dessert (at least this time).

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So much potential…

Initially, I wanted to learn to make baked Alaska.

I’ve always marveled at the fact that one can experience both a frozen and fresh-out-of-the oven dessert simultaneously. I mean, what could be more exciting that defying the cardinal laws of cooking? On Sunday night, I had pastries on my mind.

Fast forward to the beginning of my work week. In July, I acquired a SMART board in my classroom which my former teaching partner, with whom I had worked closely for three years, bequeathed to me as during his move to Massachusetts.

“You’ll have to teach me how to work this thing,” I marveled.

“I won’t be around,” said he, optimistically. “But you’ll be able to figure it out.” Hmmmm.

For the first two weeks of school, the SMART board has faced north, south, and east in my classroom. It’s been rolled toward my desk, toward the window, and toward the cubbies. My students have tripped over it; the brand new teacher I’m working with has experienced it obstructing her view to my desk; and I’ve become increasingly more nervous by the day that something, heaven forbid, is going to happen to it.

“Aerrgh!” I sighed on Thursday, exasperated.

“You sound like you’re about to explode in there!” my newbie laughed. Enough is enough, I decided. I know this board is going to be incredibly helpful as well as inspiring once my facility with it sufficiently increases, and also I’m tired of feeling like an underachiever. Tech support or no tech support -and let’s face it: the latter is definitely my reality here- I have got to learn to integrate this blessed piece of technology.

Thus, suddenly and quite unexpectedly, I bid my confection aspirations farewell and committed to enhancing my teaching (and fulfilling my educational technology class project requirements) with -wait for it- successful integration of new educational technology.

Before I really began the process, however, I needed to evaluate how my board was going to best serve my students. I could think of a multitude of ways to use it that might be interesting and cool to my students: demonstrating how to use certain apps on their iPads, editing pieces writing during writing workshop, displaying and manipulating websites and the like. However, the question I always return to in moments of decision regarding technology is: “How is this technology going to improve student understanding and achievement?” That is the central question, after all.

I began to reflect: In which subject area my students might benefit from a technology-based intervention. The district’s GAN (Greatest Area of Need) is currently math. Already my teaching teammate and I mix our classes and work with our special education provider to pre-test and differentiate instruction for our 60 students. We are working to structure our Everyday math curriculum around a math workshop format and we have flipped our instruction using our student iPads and Explain Everything. Using the SMART Board to highlight important segments of instructional videos, demonstrate skill concepts, organize and categorize math concepts, and give students opportunities for guided practice, seemed excellent ways to support and extend the math structure we have in place.

Armed with a clearer vision, I was ready to learn more about the SMART technology in order to conceptualize what it might look like in my classroom. Since I needed to work my way from the ground up, my first step was to consult the wealth of knowledge that is Google. The first YouTube tutorial I explored was called, “SMART Boards: Why Are They So Easy to Use?” Wow. Thanks a lot, 656,000 viewers, for making me feel like a total ignoramus.

Next, I located a video called “Complete SMART Board Tutorial,” created three years ago. Now that’s more like it. Nothing like going back three years in the field of technology to create yourself a little efficacy. The tutorial was pretty basic and included some stellar use of freeze-frame, but it was just what I needed to get my feet wet.

I found out the first step to setting up a SMART board is to orient the project to the screen. I was mentally transported to my ophthalmologist’s office as I tapped the little red triangles that acclimate the board to the projector. Once that was accomplished, I familiarized myself with the wonders of the right-click button. Controlling my desktop using my own hand was practically breathtaking. Minority Report had nothing on me!

All of my oooohing and aaaahing -If you think I’m joking, you’re thinking erroneously- came to a halt, however, when I realized my projector was oriented far above my board. No problem, I thought, I’ll just hop up barefoot onto my kidney table. What other course of action would I take wearing a dress?

So up I scurried and manipulated the projector to match my board. The lens now perfectly centered, I ambled back down…only to watch the projector angle back upwards again. Much to my surprise, the technology office sent a tech the day after I submitted my request to adjust the projector to fit my SMART board screen!

Now that I’ve taken the first step off the cliff and actually begun to enjoy a modicum of success and develop a proficiency with the hardware, I’m eager to further explore what else I can learn about how to use the SMART board software specifically in the content area of math. Having centered in a topic, I can begin to conceptualize what improvements the board will bring to my classroom and explore options from teachers in environments similar to mine, keeping math as my focus area for student achievement. The situation reminds me of what our assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction is always telling me: “If people don’t make specific commitments to their new learning, no matter how top-notch the professional development is, it will not transfer to the classroom.”  Perusing the readily available tutorials and chronologically organized, task-oriented videos, I am optimistic that I will be able to commit to adding some much-needed, readily applicable tools to my toolbox with the continued help of YouTube tutorials and, moving forward, the added assistance of help forums. Here’s hoping!

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