Sunday, February 10, 2008

Gizmo High

I would like the natural light, and at my school we're making plans for installing LCD projectors near the ceiling, but I wouldn't want to teach at this school.

So you'd think T.C. teachers would be ecstatic. But it's just the opposite -- faculty morale is the lowest and cynicism the highest I've seen in years. The problem? What a former Alexandria school superintendent calls "technolust" -- a disorder affecting publicity-obsessed school administrators nationwide that manifests itself in an insatiable need to acquire the latest, fastest, most exotic computer gadgets, whether teachers and students need them or want them. Technolust is in its advanced stages at T.C., where our administrators have made such a fetish of technology that some of my colleagues are referring to us as "Gizmo High."

Here's the worst of it.

Science and math teachers, for instance, have been told that they can't use traditional overhead projectors to present material to classes....

Oh, hay-ell no.

Of course, the big question isn't whether teachers like spending their time learning one new gizmo after another, but whether a parade of new technologies will help kids learn. From what I can see, that's not the case. Says one math teacher: "Math grows out of the end of a pencil. You don't want the quick answer; you want students to be able to develop the answer, to discover the why of it. The administration seems to think that computers will make math easy, but it has to be a painful, step-by-step process."

I don't know about painful, but as the ancient saying goes, there is no royal road to geometry.


Dr Pezz said...

I love using LCDs and document cameras, but learning must be the central focus no matter what.

I wish my district would mount my projector on the ceiling. I had one student (technically, my colleague's student because I have to share my room two periods) put tape on the lens, and it melted. Grrrr!

Eric W. said...

Why does the author seem so surprised that putting new RAM in a computer didn't solve it's wireless issues? They're two completely unrelated pieces of hardware...

Sorry. I'm a picky geek.

Ronnie said...

Any digital projector can do everything that an overhead projector can do. To keep the overhead projector in a classroom when a digital projector is already installed really just wastes floorspace unless the teacher doesn't know how to use it, which I see as a lack of necessary skills in this present day.

You often quote studies that technology doesn't help students learn, but I would give anything for my math teacher to use something other than hand drawn chalk since half the students have absolutely no idea what he is writing on the blackboard.

Technology is only a burden when the teacher doesn't learn how to effectively use it. I know I've seen teachers who waste time giving simple power point presentations that didn't teach anything, but I've also see a projector used in effective ways that couldn't have been done with a whiteboard or an overhead.

The whole third quoted passage is absolutely nothing but avoiding the important fact that most teachers don't want to take the time to learn a new way of doing something. Computers obviously don't "make math easy" but in no way do they prevent "students [from being] able to develop the answer, to discover the why of it."

Your post contains you agreeing with math teachers complaining that they are being forced to use current technology instead of past technology. Now I could have understood a post on laptops for students being a bad idea, but complaining about digital projectors shows a lack of understand of their capabilities. I like reading your blog but what purpose did the post serve?

Darren said...

The lament is technology for its own sake.

And often writing by hand can be quicker. If a student wants to know how to solve a particular problem, and overhead or a whiteboard is the appropriate technology--not an LCD projector. Being forbidden to use an overhead because it's not technologically advanced enough is ridiculous.

JoeH said...


I “work” as a volunteer in our local Jr. High assisting one of two seventh grade American History teachers. Our district purchased LDC projectors and mounted them on the ceiling over the summer, and then ran a cable from the classroom PC to the projector. All well and good except each time we wanted to use the projector it meant unplugging the monitor cable and plugging the LCD cable and then back when the exercise was finished. Needless to say, this exercise limited the desire to use our new tool. I got a little tired of this so purchased a simple A-B switch for $15 dollars. Viola, the usage of out new tool went up an order of magnitude.

The teacher started using Power Point (don’t cringe) to create short, six to eight slides, illustrative presentations or discussion provoking images to assist in better communicating the lesson of the day. They really did help because his scribbles on the white board, much like my own, were at times less than legible. The hitch in this implementation came from the classroom configuration, his desk/computer was at the back of the classroom, by the entrance door, and every time he needed to advance to a new slide, if I wasn’t present (about 60% of the time) he had to run to the back of the room. I queried our building tech support and he responded that the BoE hadn’t thought about or funded either the A-B switch or a remote to advance PP slides. I purchased one the next day for $52 and it works like a charm. All’s now well in Muddville.

There’s a lesson here. As you deploy technology you need to really think about you are going to use each specific piece. The LCD’s, which all of the teachers wanted, at $800 each were hardly being used because no one really thought through the deployment. No one sat down and asked, what does take to make them usable. Come to think of it, this a great metaphor for those who just want to willy-nilly throw more money at schools thinking that will solve education problems.

Ronnie said...

Digtal whiteboards, and document cameras are much more versatile and useful then overhead projectors.

Digital whiteboards allow for the teacher to record what they write on the whiteboard for later use to refer back later or provide exact notes for absent students. They also allow the use of any computer program or website to help show an idea.

Document cameras are exactly like overhead projectors except you don't need transparencies and you can then project books or other non-preprepared sources. They also have auto focus usually which makes the projection much more in focus.

$40 DIY Digital Whiteboard:

Document Camera:

David said...

Michael Schrage, who knows quite a bit about technology and its applications & misuses, has some related thoughts here.

Darren said...

David, I've read that on your site before. Good reminder.

Ronnie, when I get a chance I'll take a look-see at those clips.

joeh, I think I agree with you that your school took a "ready, fire, aim" approach to technology. Too many times we buy the stuff first, figure out how to use it later--if at all. I want the thought put in beforehand.

Oh, and I have nothing against PowerPoint when it's used properly. It's only a tool and has no inherent evil. It can be misused and abused, though, sometimes to the point where the user/abuser deserves tar and feathering.

allen said...

> The lament is technology for its own sake.

So what's a workable hypothesis for "technology for its own sake"?

If it's true then purchases are being made without some proof that they'll be useful to enhance education.

Seems odd yet there's got to be a reasonable explanation since mass insanity or mass stupidity aren't explanations, they're tacit admissions of mystification.

Elaine C. said...

For $70-$100, you can get a cheap pad-type thing that plugs in via usb port to your computer, and lets you draw/write in real time. This effectively allows you to convert your LCD into an overhead, modify powerpoint slideshows in progress, etc.

As an added bonus, you can then save and quickly upload your class notes, so any students with internet access at home can check them... or you can print out extra copies for absent students... etc.

It's also REALLY popular with HS/MS kids! They argue over who gets to go up to do the problem next. A nice problem to have! :)

On another semi-randomish note... Do you know if there will be any math openings up in Oakland next school year? My husband's been making noises about wanting to move up that way...

Darren said...

I'm sure there will *always* be math openings in Oakland--and there's a reason for that.

I'll look into that equipment! You're right, sounds like a nice "problem" to have.

Elaine C. said...

The most popular brand - especially with artists - are the Wacom ones (

The one I use - which is MUCH cheaper ($70 at Frys) is an Aiptek ( HyperPen.

Any positions at your school, for a credentialed gal, who has experience in a lower SES district? (Not LAUSD... but one of the nearby districts in the same county.)

Husband grew up in the district, though he went to a private HS. (Public MS/ES)

Darren said...

My district's crying poverty and threatening layoffs. No telling.

What do you teach?

There are plenty of districts here in the Capital Area. San Juan Unified, Twin Rivers Unified (California's newest school district, which I've blogged about), Sacramento City Unified, Folsom-Cordova Unified, Elk Grove Unified, and Roseville Joint. There are a few others only a short distance away.

Donalbain said...

One reason why overhead projectors suck, while projetors are wonderful: Animation.
As a sciencey physicsy kinda guy, almost everything I teach is about something changing over time. Showing that on a blackboard is impossible, with an OHP it is hard, but with my digital thingy, it is a breeze.

Digital projectors are, I would say, the norm now in classrooms rather than the exception.

Elaine C. said...

Sorry, I teach math...

My first year (long-term substitute) was at a continuation HS. Last year was a regular HS (internship). This year, I'm in a middle school, and doing my first year of BTSA. :/

We'll be up there for my spring break, at the beginning of April, to look around. :)

The Vegas Art Guy said...

I love LCD projectors in the classroom. Technology is like everything else, it's all in how you use it. I hope that when I get my own classroom (I sub while I get my English degree) it will have a projector installed. Oh, and I downloaded that teacher going off on the kids after they gave the sub a hard time. Let me know if you want it. The new real player is handy that way... lol

Darren said...

Sure, email it to me--the information is in my profile.