This made me smile this week.
It’s football. And statistics!
This may have something to do with education.
Inspiration, Part 2
Inspiration, Part 1
A few days ago, I posted to my Twitter feed that my district had abandoned our plans to purchase 40 new Promethean ActivBoards, instead opting to connect Apple TVs and iPads to existing projectors and use AirPlay. I was contacted by a parent advocacy group in Maryland who indicated that their district had recently just ordered 2,000 ActivBoards (which I’d imagine would have cost the district mega-megabucks), and was looking for information on alternatives. They were asking about the rationale behind our decision. I’ve posted the bulk of the email (minus the introduction, because you don’t care about those anyway) here. What did I miss?
I wanted to start with a little background. Our district is located in rural Northeastern North Carolina. We have approximately 2,800 students, about 90% of which qualify for free or reduced price meals. Through a grant, we were able to install Promethean boards in all of our elementary school classrooms approximately five years ago. Our middle school principal was looking to expand the use of ActivBoards and other interactive technologies in his school, but outfitting his school with boards would cost well over $100,000. This simply wasn’t feasible in a district our size. In addition, some of the projectors and boards already in place have started to fail. Absent any new grant funding or initiatives, each ActivBoard that needs to be replaced (at an approximate cost of $5,500) represents about 8% of the total IT budget this year, and if funding cuts hold, would represent about $35% next year. It’s simply not feasible to replace even one of these boards when they break. In addition, the projector mounts are proprietary - we must purchase a Promethean short-throw projector should a projector fail. These projectors cost about $1,000 more than a lower-end short-throw projector, and about $1,500 less than a regular ceiling-mount or cart-use LCD projector. Finally, all of our classrooms have standalone LCD projectors, many of which are relatively new.
In addition to the equipment initial cost, we looked at the total cost of ownership. The short-throw projector bulbs that are used by most IWB vendors are very expensive, to the tune of about $300-350 each. Typically, they need to be replaced one per year. I have no data to back this up, but it seems they need replacement more frequently than other projectors. The only thing I have to prove this is my own observation, and there are many other factors that could lead to that. Most newer cheaper projectors have cheaper bulbs.
The two other things that we looked at were usage/pedagogy, and the evolution of the technology. While all elementary teachers have IWBs in their classrooms, most teachers use them most of the time simply as projector screens, and not the interactive capability. In every classroom I ever taught in, I had an IWB as well. Again, much of the time, I used them to project, but usually abandoned the use of the whiteboard in favor of the document camera, again making the board a very expensive projector screen. Also, the board still favors a teacher-centered classroom, and limits interaction to the teacher, or a single student or two. In short, while the IWB definitely has a value-add in the classroom, the cost of the equipment still (in my opinion) isn’t worth the return for the percentage of time the boards are used for their interactive capability.
Also, while there have been incremental improvements, IWB technology is almost a decade old. While the IWB has stayed relatively consistent, a whole new generation of technology has emerged in human-computer interaction. Whereas a touch interface was revolutionary ten years ago, it’s now commonplace, almost to the point of expectation. Purchasing a whole-system solution like a Promethan Board locks us in such that we can’t try new things as easily as technology changes. While the IWB is the most mature technology, Microsoft is bringing the Kinect to education markets (http://www.microsoft.com/education/en-us/products/Pages/kinect.aspx), a device by a company called LeapMotion is poised to make a huge impact on the human-computer interaction market (http://www.leapmotion.com/), a company called SmallLab learning is bringing a movement-based system to the classroom (http://www.smallablearning.com/) and Windows 8 is going to be designed around touch interfaces, which means that we will be seeing many, many more touchscreen devices in the months ahead.
While all of these products are in the developmental phases, Apple has moved forward with their new solution called “AirPlay” (http://www.apple.com/ipad/features/airplay/?cid=wwa-us-kwg-features-00001&siclientid=6381&sessguid=18279e0f-07d9-4d81-a633-0bf8a006fd7a&userguid=18279e0f-07d9-4d81-a633-0bf8a006fd7a&permguid=18279e0f-07d9-4d81-a633-0bf8a006fd7a). By purchasing an iPad and connecting an AppleTV device to our existing projectors, we could wirelessly stream the display of an iPad to the projector. Because we already had the projectors that we could reuse, the total cost for the iPad, Apple TV, and adapter for the projector runs about $700, instead of the $5,000 that the Promethean boards would have cost. There are Apps available for the iPad that allow for you to write on the iPad screen, annotate documents and web pages, display websites, and play videos. These were the major functions that teachers were using the IWB functionality for. Additionally, because the iPad could be streamed wirelessly, teachers could walk around the classroom and use the iPad from anywhere in the room. In classrooms with multiple iPads, multiple students can take turns streaming their devices to the projector for other students to see. So in addition to being a significantly cheaper option, it provided the teacher with much more flexibility. They can also use the camera in the iPad as a portable document camera, even though they already have document cameras in their rooms. Of course, they still have their laptops and document cameras that they can also connect to the projectors. However, many of the teachers who have tried this haven’t needed to connect them for anything - they’ve done everything from the iPad. If you don’t have any projectors in the rooms yet, the total cost to get started would be around $2,500 - still around half the cost of an IWB solution. This would give every teacher a ceiling mounted projector with audio, a document camera, an Apple TV and an iPad, with all of the connectors. The reason it’s so cheap is that now each individual component (with exception of the Apple equipment) can be bid separately, and given to the lowest bidder, because each piece is modular. Also, when it comes time to replace equipment, there is no vendor lock-in.
The teachers who have been using this solution so far are loving it, because they can move around their classroom, they get to use iPads, they don’t have to calibrate the boards, or do much more than plug and play. There is a disadvantage in that a lot of the pre-made educational materials that Promethean and SMART provide aren’t available. There is also a dependance on several different Apps, instead of a “one stop shop”. However, these factors aside, this has been a much more cost-effective solution that has provided a much greater benefit to our teachers.
I’m spending this week doing a Project-Based Learning workshop for some of the teachers in our district. Yesterday afternoon began our discussion on rubric design. I started with a question “why do we grade?” I received the typical “to assign a value to the work”, etc as responses. The idea of providing feedback, and as a tool for growth wasn’t mentioned, which was perfect for the purposes of our discussions. So, we moved on to the idea of why we enact a penalty for late submissions. The response was, again, as you would expect - we enact the penalties because it’s the only leverage we have to hold students accountable to turn in their work.
When I first learned about rubric design, one of the things that I was told was to have a rubric (or a line in a rubric) specifically addressing “Professionalism” - does the student do what you expect them to do? By meeting behavioral expectations, students earned points added to their grades. The understanding of behavioral psychology here (rewarding people for good behavior) isn’t new, and brings us to our story for today:
Verizon Wireless is the largest cellular telephone provider in the United States. In an attempt to convince people to switch to having their bills paid automatically each month by bank draft, Verizon attempted to institute a $2 “convenience fee” for any one-time payment made. In other words, if you didn’t behave in the way Verizon wanted, there would be a penalty of $2. There was immediate and extreme backlash, and Verizon ultimately axed the plan.
U.S. Cellular is a small, regional carrier that most of you have probably never heard of. They exist exclusively in the midwest (Chicago) and rural Northeastern North Carolina. US Cellular provides customers who use automatic payments a 3% discount. If you have automatic payments by checking account, you get a 5% discount. By engaging in the desired behavior, US Cellular rewards you.
But really, what does this mean? On a $100 phone bill, Verizon would charge you an additional $2, and US Cellular would discount your bill $3. However, that’s a $3 penalty for not enrolling in the automatic payments. US Cellular and Verizon are essentially engaging in the same action - providing disincentive for engaging in the undesired behavior. In fact, US Cellular’s disincentive is greater than Verizon’s. However, because they identify it as a reward and not a penalty, people look past it and are actually more likely to behave “correctly”. Certainly there is less pushback and outcry.
So, this may have something to do with grading. A 10-point penalty for late work, or a 20 points earned simply for turning work in on time. Which is more likely to work? You can see my opinion.
Yeah, I know I’ve been horrible about blogging recently. Well, not recently, actually. I’ve actually always been horrible at blogging. You’ll know this for no other reason that I start most blog posts this way. But I guess I need to get to a point. Or maybe a better strategy is to say that this blog will only be updated twice yearly. Oh well, I’ll deal with that later.
I’m sitting in a workshop this week where teachers in my district are developing curriculum maps. Good curriculum maps are quite the challenge, and they require a lot of thought about content, pedagogy, and the scope of their learning. The Common Core and Essential Standards make this process that much more difficult, as teachers are required to do all of the work on the “big picture” right after they have taken the new frame out of the box. We’ve talked a lot this week about essential questions and big ideas, and we’ve started looking at creating them for our content. To me, as the geek that I am, it’s fascinating to me to look at the standards, imagine the possibilities, think about the options, find the links and the applications and the activities. But then, I realize I’m not in the classroom anymore, and I’m not going to get to do any of the cool stuff that I’m dreaming up. Possibly at this point, I may shed a single, sad tear, which will fade momentarily.
All of the teachers here are “engaged” in the task. However, I noticed that teachers are engaged in this task the same way that many students are engaged in the classroom. Many are here to sieze the challenge, to create something new and amazing, completely unrestricted. This year is unique, because of the fact that we have both a completely new curriculum, and completely new testing standards. There is no “the way we’ve always done things”, because it’s a new curriculum. There is no “testing fear” because there is no hint at what the test will be, and scores won’t be back for six months after the students take the test. It’s an opportunity to, in the words of a dear friend, “teach, dammit, teach”.
However, there’s another group of teachers here. They are engaged in the task, in that they are doing the things asked of them. We have asked them to have some conversations, and put some documents together. And they are doing it, and by all measures, doing a pretty good job. But there’s a lack of excitement about it. The thrill of looking at content in new ways isn’t there for everyone. So, where is it?
Now, I realize I’m walking a fine line here. This is not to suggest, for a moment, in any way, that these people are bad teachers. Because they aren’t. However, they aren’t engaged in their content. The same way good students can not be engaged in their learning.
I would argue that a lot of what we call “education reform” disengages teachers. They are doing what they are told, and they are getting results. But that’s compliance. It’s not engagement. Same as with students. Pacing guides, pre-made lesson plans, endless cycles of benchmarking and remediation, have made the content a means to an end (a way to assign students a number), rather than a destination by itself.
The idea of teacher engagement is still rolling around in my head a little. Expect future posts later. In the meantime, I feel we need to give teacher engagement a second look. The time hasn’t ever been better to encourage teachers to be creative and innovative. So, why are we so afraid of it?
It’s math and Christmas :)