Adventures in Technology

It was a chance discussion that brought it on. My sister, a newly minted teacher from Oregon, pointed me to a blog written by one of her instructional technology professors, Barry Jahn. It was the post on an $80 SmartBoard that caught my interest.

Working in cash-strapped urban school districts generally means technology is way down on the list of priorities.  I have two iMacs in my classroom – 1 is nearly 10 years old and no longer can be updated; the other newer model (3 years old) is shared by my students and me and now has been given over entirely to the students. Getting a picture here?

So I am always on the look-out for some technology applications that I can a) afford and b) use meaningfully. As a former instructional technology specialist I firmly stand on the side of tech teachers who think technology should be one of the tools students use — not some stand-alone flash-in-the-pan.

So when the idea of making a SmartBoard out of a Wii-mote appeared, I was intrigued. I already had the Wii-mote — gathering dust as those things are apt to do. I had my old Dell XPS laptop that I was in the process of designating for use in school as “my” computer.  I had a projector already in the classroom. So all I needed was a bluetooth dongle, the software, and an infrared pen.  Sounds easy – right.

Well not so fast. There is Murphy’s Law to consider here – if anything can possibly go wrong it does (and did).  First I needed to get past the hurdle of getting my Dell to connect to the school’s network. Can I tell you that Fort Knox does not have such stringent security?

Then the bluetooth was not plug-and-play technology; that took about a week to figure out the ONE WAY it would recognize my Dell and the Wii-mote. The projector and Dell had a little tussle with each other and wouldn’t “talk”. And finally, it turns out WHERE you place the Wii-mote has a lot to do with whether or not the pen gets seen by the system and can be calibrated.

Oh and the software, no longer free – but a free-trial, didn’t much care for working either. It felt like every hurdle that was overcome had another one waiting to take its place in the line of “technology prevention”. It probably didn’t help that I truly was trying to do this on the cheap by using my 8-year-old laptop.

However, persistence paid off and 2 months later I have a SmartBoard. I rolled it out with my students this week when we introduced the concept of similes with the students, using an already made SmartBoard file from Smart Exchange. Even though the calibration on the pen still needs a tweak, the silly thing worked. And honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever had an easier time getting kids to understand the concept of figurative language.

A perfect reason to use technology in the classroom! Can’t wait to find some others.

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