I've been kinda spending money I shouldn't lately. And most of it has been, ostensibly at least, for work-related toys... er, tools! Yeah, tools!
I've been hearing about these gadgets called Classroom Response Systems, or "clickers." Basically, students use hand-held remotes to respond to computer-based questions projected on the wall. Okay, on a screen at better-equipped schools. On a SmartBoard at them fancy-schmancy private schools what gots money to burn.
Actually, my school seems to have money to burn. I noticed yesterday they have a SmartBoard, still boxed up, leaning against the wall in the computer lab. They really need to haul that thing down to the science storeroom where they can pile it in with the robotics gear and the microscopes and the rocket launchers and the other junk they're blowing their NASA Explorer School money on. But I digress.
One of my objectives while attending the conference in Boston was to check out the vendors' arena to see if I could get a look at some of these Classroom Response Systems in person. I was not disappointed, as I was able to run four or five competing systems through their paces. Okay, I was able to run three of them through their paces. The fourth, the sales reps couldn't be bothered to get up off their chairs to give me a thorough demo. Too bad, because it was actually the best system. They would have lost a sale due to their lax attitude, if I hadn't had the opportunity to "test drive" their system during a completely non-commercial presentation at the conference in which the presenter made use of that system.
I think the remote system has the potential to really appeal to the students I work with. It's kinda edgy, kinda tech-y, and kinda cool. I think it can be used to manipulate the students to better performance... did I say manipulate? Of course I mean encourage the students to better performance by appealing to their competitive natures.
I'd heard that one of the teachers at our school was purchasing a Classroom Response System... subject to Purchase Order approval, blah blah blah. When I asked about this the other day, I learned that after a month her P.O. request has yet to be approved... yeah, whatever. Other sources suggested that the system under consideration was unresponsive. That is, the "clicks" don't always register.
My research revealed that there exist IR (infra-red) and RF (radio frequency) systems. The "cheap" systems use IR, which doesn't respond well under all lighting environments. One of the IR-based displays at the conference was enclosed in a big black tent. The other IR unit displays were set up within six feet of the sensors. Hmmmm....
Short story long: on my own dime, I splurged on a Classroom Response System. Rather than go through the fuss of convincing the school to cough up the dosh through a Purchase Order, and then have to take the heat if the system turns out to be lame; or, to never have the opportunity to use the system because it's so cool, I bought it myself. It should arrive next week, and I hope to integrate it into my lessons shortly after we complete our state assessment testing.
Now, to make effective use of a Classroom Response System requires a projector. Most of the classrooms at our school, including the room I use, are now equipped with an LCD projector. My room is assigned a projector, but the projector isn't there. The senior teacher in the room (several of us share the room, altho' I'm the one who actually teaches classes there) took the projector home "for safekeeping." She explained that the bulbs are so expensive, she was afraid one of the students might damage it. If I really need it for a specific lesson, I can let her know and she'll bring it in.
As I've detailed previously, my best lesson ideas occur as I'm walking from the parking lot to the classroom. Like I'm really gonna prepare a bunch of computer-based lessons in advance, request the use of the projector, and then depend on the projector showing up as requested! And like I want to be responsible for hearing the "I told you so" if the stoopid two-hunnert dollar bulb blows while I'm using the thing. I was around in the days of 8mm home movies. I've seen projector bulbs last for years, and I've seen brand new bulbs right out of the box blow out within minutes. I don't wanna be called on the carpet for breaking the projector or burning out the bulb. Besides, my Classroom Response System will be pretty useless without a projector. So, I ordered a projector. This way I'll have it available when it's convenient for me, I'll be able to preview my lessons in advance... and I can use it to show movies!
This purchase necessitated researching projectors, learning the differences between LCD and DLP models, and being sure to select one with a high-quality "short-throw" lens which will make a BIG picture from up close. I had to conduct most of my projector research on-line. I couldn't find any projector vendors at the conference (altho' they may have been there, but I didn't see them listed in the conference guidebook), and when I asked people about the projectors they were using themselves they never seemed to know anything about them. I selected a DLP model from Sharp, which I hope will prove satisfactory. I think I shall order an extra bulb or two... just in case.
One more thing I ordered, 'cuz none of the kids I teach have ever seen it, is the classic MGM film, The Wizard of Oz. Yes, there are kids who have never seen The Wizard of Oz. How are they gonna grow up culturally cognizant without having at least a passing familiarity with that movie? It's on its way from Amazon. I'm hoping it arrives within the next few days. We'll celebrate the end of testing week by popping up some popcorn to the tune of If I Only Had a Brain.
Now, higher seller fees or not, I need to sell some junk on eBay to pay for all of this... new junk!
Am I crazy for buying all this stuff outta my own pocket? Maybe. But I think it'll help get the kids jazzed up about learning. Just as importantly, it'll help get me jazzed up about teaching, and about "integrating technology" into the classroom. Admin gives the technology angle a lot of lip-service, but if you really want to use the stuff, it's a major hassle to try to deal with the competing needs (and petty jealousies) within the system. B.Y.O.B.... Bring Your Own Bigscreen... is what I learned while subbing at the middle school a couple of years ago. One of the teachers did just that, and the kids loved his classes! Lately I've been seeing the plastic crap the teachers spend their purchase orders on; more "manipulatives" to clutter up the closets, more tiny parts to get lost, more cheap dollar-store grade junk at "educational" prices. These are the P.O.s that get approved. Admin's mantra about "technology" and "preparing students for the future" is relentless, but they waste their money on re-hashes of the same old plastic junk that hasn't been getting the job done for the past two decades.
So I'm spending my own money on stuff that I think will work, that I think will help kids learn, and that will make my classroom more effective. If I get "bumped" by a higher-seniority transfer request, I can take my high-tech toys with me. And if I decide to ditch the classroom teacher gig and go on the road as a consultant or presenter , I'll have the interactive presentation gear with which to do it!
Neat stuff coming in the mail (or via UPS) in the next couple of weeks! Yay!