I want to thank ADM High School English teacher Molly Longman for welcoming me into her English II class earlier this week. The lesson – focusing on keys for effective word choice – was probably one that I should have sat in on regardless, as I can get a bit wordy in my rambling writings on the tech blog.
The equipment present in Ms. Longman’s room included a MimioTeach interactive whiteboard device, a MimioView document camera, an older model mounted projector and ceiling-integrated speakers and a MacBook Air laptop.
Today’s lesson focused, as previously mentioned, on word choice, specifically as it relates to whether word options are correct, precise, memorable, varied, and appropriate. As an aside, it occurred to me that these categories can also be applied effectively to classroom technology choices. While use of a classroom response clicker set may be the perfect choice for a quick test of knowledge following a review of vocabulary concepts, it might not be the correct tool to be considered appropriate for creating the precise environment needed to foster a memorable in-class interchange of ideas, leading the discourse in varied directions. See what I did there? In all seriousness, though, I do think that those are key questions to consider when choosing a technology, just as when choosing a word.
In this class meeting, Ms. Longman opted to deliver the content using content slides created in MimioStudio, resulting in a presentation much like one might create with PowerPoint. Whereas PowerPoint is often a decidedly passive technology, however, MimioStudio allows you to use other devices – notably the MimioTeach interactive whiteboard device – to write within your slides, allowing the teacher to highlight specific content, write in examples provided by the class, add components that were missing from the slide, and so forth. Further, whereas Ms. Longman’s video and audio connections are at the back of her room, the MimioTeach allows her to teach from the front of the room – while still interacting with the computer to change slides and write on slides – without having to constantly move out of the front of the room.
In several different ways, I view use of MimioStudio along with the MimioTeach as an ideal blending of the strengths of teaching from a whiteboard and the strengths of teaching from a PowerPoint. As I previously mentioned, teaching from PowerPoint slides can seem like a very passive activity, and students’ attention is often simply on the slide rather than on the teacher (or student presenter, as the case may be). With the MimioTeach (or any other interactive whiteboard), Ms. Longman was able to be mobile and dynamic, teaching from a position that helps to hold the students’ focus and interest, rather than being forced to stand to the side of a PowerPoint, attempting to impart emphasis by writing on a whiteboard in a darkened room. That said, the reason that PowerPoint – and other presentation solutions – appeal to teachers is due to the fact that you don’t have to waste time writing content during the class. In Ms. Longman’s class, for instance, the MimioStudio presentation included a significant number of slides, all of them containing word selection rules, examples, resources, and questions for student consideration. Writing all of this content on the board, during class, would easily have consumed 10-15 minutes of class time. Use of a PowerPoint or MimioStudio presentation allows the same content to be displayed with no loss of class time. Further, annotations on the screen are highly visible, whether or not the room needs to be darkened for projector use, which is often not the case of markers on a standard whiteboard.
I was excited to see Ms. Longman’s use of the MimioTeach as a relatively invisible instructional tool, which should be a goal of instructional technology implementations. Another thing that came out of this visit reinforced the need for additional classroom visits. While the district invested significantly in its technology resources after the passage of the voter-approved PPEL levy in 2012, we were not able to bring all technologies in the district up-to-date instantaneously. While we installed mounted projectors in over 60 classrooms that didn’t previously have them, and have replaced older projectors in more than 15 additional classrooms, we still have some where the technology is lagging, and – in my opinion – making it more difficult for teachers to use effectively for instruction. My visit alerted me that Ms. Longman’s projector – an older mounted projector with a 640×480 native resolution and a growing inability to focus clearly – needs to be added to our replacement list. While funds are never unlimited, having appropriate and highly-functioning technologies in the classroom is my top priority, and I’m excited that these visits can help me to identify those technology upgrade needs moving forward.
Thanks again to Ms. Longman and her students for welcoming me into their class!