How I Work: The Hardware Package

I aim for portability and scalability. I want the freedom to pitch a lesson to a small classroom and then walk up the hall to a 500-student auditorium and deliver the same lesson without a loss in returns. So I try to keep things portable and scalable. Here’s how:

There’s the iBook (#1). It’s slow. Especially when running a Keynote presentation that spans a semester and comprises 500+ slides. I need to do something about that.

There’s the overhead projector (#2) which I haven’t used in a year. There’s probably someone on campus who could use it, probably someone who’s reading this post right now, right now carving murderous thoughts about me into a basement wall somewhere. But you just never know when you might need one, right? Makes a nice Ottoman for my laptop, in any case.

#3 is hot chocolate, delivered every first period by our SpEd-run café. It’s isn’t technology, but it is tasty, so it gets this brief nod. Moving on.

There is JBL’s On-Tour portable sound system (#4). It drains AAA batteries like they owe it money but it’s as portable as anything and packs a pretty decent dynamic range. Only used for the sporadic YouTube video. For religious reasons, I don’t include sound in my presentations.

#5 is my Sharp XR10L digital projector, the least portable and most expensive item in the class. I eagerly await the day of more portable, less expensive digital projectors. Incidentally, I had this in a closet for over a year after winning it in a grant. Shame has brought about the greatest innovations in my practice.

Aside: we find here one of the most obvious exceptions to Important Ratio #2. If a student decided to smash the projector lens — not a strenuous feat — I might disproportionately lose my cool.

I keep every lesson I’ve ever taught, every handout I’ve ever assigned, and every Keynote slide I’ve ever fussed over, all on a freaking Lego (#6). I’m no stranger to technology but that fact scares me.

Mark me: one day the Legos will rule the world.

In any case, I’ve invested hundreds of hours into my Keynote slides so I back them up more often than I brush my teeth.

Aside: whenever a teacher cracks open one of those enormous filing cabinets, two of which I have, neither of which I’ve ever used, I have to suppress a giggle.

Finally there’s the Kensington wireless remote (#7), good anywhere in my class. It has transformed me lesson-by-lesson into a showman, which, I know, is kind of a disreputable label for a teacher, conjuring up images of Robin Williams channeling John Wayne channeling an effete Eastern European all to teach quadratics. Wacky!

But I revel in the showmanship of teaching. I’m not some animated dervish. I don’t use accents or a lot of jokes or manic energy, but I know how to setup a lesson and then knock it down. Structurally speaking, good teaching is just one long, satisfying joke, not particularly funny but extremely well-told. Maybe some crack at The New Yorker is appropriate here.

I rehearse before class, I know what slide I’m on, where I’m going, what object will wipe-in or fade-out next. I can move about and stand near students who are having trouble focusing and then move on. It makes teaching three times more fun than it was before shame brought out the best in me.

So that’s it. One anecdote about portability and I’m out:

Early in the semester, a Geometry teacher had to handle a family emergency. It was my prep so I was called to sub. I quickly pulled #1, #5, and #7 over to his classroom. I popped #6 into #1, found out what sections the class was working on, and re-ordered some slides to match. It was a great day for scalability and portability, and if only they had delivered my #3 to the new classroom, it would’ve been a perfect day.

Any suggestions for improving portability and scalability in my practice, please have your way with the comments.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I was going through some of your old posts last night, and wondered about your setup for using Keynote.

    So, #5 came through a grant. Do you mind answering whether #1 is yours or owned/supplied by the school?

    Do you have to lock #5 and #1 every night (or when your out of that classroom)?

    The height of technology in my classroom is a #2, I’m thinking I need to bite the bullet and equip myself with a similar setup because it seems unlikely that school will.

  2. The laptop, digital projector, Keynote software, and wireless presenter’s remote were courtesy of Best Buy’s Teach Award. I take the laptop home every night and I lock the projector up.

    If you can afford the investment, you’re well set for a few years, and if everything’s working well, the returns are nearly exponential.

    My lessons are preserved digitally for years to come. And by lessons, I mean, everything — not just the problems sets I assigned or the curriculum I covered, but the flow of the lesson, the pacing, the script. I’ll tinker some, sure, but on account of all this tech (gracias, Best Buy), next year is going to be a very easy place.

    Any way I can help, just drop a line.

  3. Dan, that is a great set up and is certainly an excellent way to go in your role as a high school teacher. Even better that you have only relied minimally on the school to set you up. Look, I really like what you write here and your viewpoint is challenging my mindset more than you’d realise. Is it possible to contact me via e-mail as there is something I’d like to clarify away from the blog re: your Biggie Smalls post? It’s no big deal just unsure of what you mean at the end and don’t want to make a fool of myself here by misinterpreting anything.

  4. Dan,
    As a graduate of SLV high in 1988 it is exciting to see it’s name appear in a blog. This post about your tech station is inspiring. I agree with you. Overheads are a thing of the past. You can never see them and they lock you into one position.

    Your comment about that you store everything reminds me of an article I read about the Microsoft Programmer who is cataloging his life on his computer. His theory is that memory is so cheap you should never throw anything away. Sounds like you agree with him.

    I also enjoyed that fact that you don’t use file cabinets. That is one of my goals, however in administration it is a little more daunting.

    I am forwarding your post to one of our tech savvy math teachers. I know that he would enjoy it. Keep up the good work. I am eager to continue reading your posts.

    Aptos Junior High

  5. Thanks for stopping by, Brian. It’s weeird for me to think about SLV in the late-80’s. I imagine my portable would’ve been a patch of field right about then.

  6. Nope. The hardware, to the best of my knowledge, is still prohibitively expensive and the software (again, to the best of my knowledge) is still PC only.

    Those answer remotes, though, beaming up responses to the board, are awfully tempting.

  7. In case you hit the lottery we used Promethean boards for Mac and PC.

    You might also think about applying for the Apple Distinguished Educator award next year when it opens again. You get a lot of chances to meet some really interesting people and there are some other benefits (like a free interactive board last year provided by the company rather than Apple although I forget the brand).