The Latest Web 2.0 App For Education

Charles Eames:

Choose your corner, pick away at it carefully, intensely and to the best of your ability and that way you might change the world.

I receive comments occasionally asking me if I have ever heard of SMART boards. I attended a district-wide SMART sales pitch earlier this school year before we became very broke. And I thought to myself the entire time, please, please, someone just help me get a grip on how to use pictures — moving and static — in a math classroom. Maybe then I’ll move along to something else that doesn’t change and after I have done everything I can for my classes with each of those, maybe then I’ll have need of a SMART board, which can play clapping sounds on command.

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. Yeah, I’ve got one of those. Or I had one of those, until it broke. And what I’ve learned from having a SMARTBoard in my classroom is that it’s not really a game-changer. If you come in with a shite lesson, even if your shite lesson involves a SMARTBoard, it’s still shite.

  2. I’m going to agree with Jeff. I had one the last four years and figured I’d have trouble going to a classroom that didn’t have them.

    This year I don’t have one, and it hasn’t been close to as bad as I thought it would. You already use a laptop and projector; not much about what your doing in your classroom would change with a SmartBoard other than being able to put handwriting on stuff (My handwriting is awful, so I’m guessing my students aren’t missing anything).

    I have a projector and a tablet pc. I can do almost everything I could with a SmartBoard, but now I don’t have to stand with my back to the class.

  3. Dan Schellenberg

    April 1, 2009 - 9:40 am -

    Gotta gripe with this one. Yeah, you can do stupid things with a SmartBoard (like clapping sound effects). You can do stupid things in Keynote (or PP) as well. That doesn’t mean either tool is without merit, it just means you shouldn’t use it stupidly. It seems fairly self-evident that technology (ANY technology) won’t magically make your lessons better.

    Here’s one thing I bet you can’t do without a SmartBoard (or other interactive white board):

  4. I agree with Jeff. It won’t magically make you a better teacher. And yes the clapping noises and half the other built-in flash hoozits are stupid. But you might change your mind if you saw a demo by a math teacher who actually knew how to deploy its functionality. I wouldn’t want to work without mine. I love the thing. If it could pay my bills, I’d marry it.

    1. I like to use static pictures, but it’s nice to be able to pick up a pen and draw on them. Obviously you can do just fine without that ability, but it’s useful.

    2. The arsenal of “weapons of math instruction” (giant protractor, anyone?) are right in there. Any kind of graph paper is available in 2 seconds. Perfect circles and polygons. Perfectly straight line segments. Even if I didn’t remember I would need them it until the second I am standing in front of 30 expectant faces.

    3. It streamlines all the paperwork and overhead transparency b.s. I have my lesson from last year saved as a smartboard file. I can use the same thing if it worked well, or I can make changes to what didn’t work. If I need to, I print out copies for the kiddies, so they’re writing on the same thing I am. At the end of my lesson, I export the whole kaboodle to pdf and post it online. Absent yesterday? Go print them out for yourself. Have an IEP that says I need to provide you with a copy of class notes? Done. No extra time needed on my part.

  5. I don’ t think that the power or Smart is in the board, it is in the software. Any interactive whiteboard is just a glorified overhead screen unless you get the kids out of their seats actually interacting with it. However, last year I started using a wireless tablet which allows me to roam the classroom and interact with students while giving the lesson. The difference between Smart and PPT (can’t speak about Keynote because I haven’t used it) is that the software makes the lesson a bit more dynamic; it allows the lecturer and audience to interact with the content.

    I am guilty of asking if you have used it because I want to learn ways that I can use it better. Pop the picture of you throwing the ball, import a ruler from the tools and allow the kids to get after it.

    With the wireless tablet, I am allowed to go from a prepared lesson to a spur of the moment question seamlessly. I can also record and post this interaction online.

    Bad lessons are bad lessons…period. But in order to do the things that Dan is suggesing (ie use media to teach math) technology has to be used. The question is what medium is best suited for this?

  6. My current situation:
    Well. I’m still stuck with a blackboard and some colored chalk. I bring a small piece of rope if i need to draw circles and i roam the school for a straight piece of wood if i need a straight line.

    Our school is going to invest in interactive white boards. Can you imagine the excitement. The things i could do with Geogebra in calculus, pictures in any field, media snippets for statistics etc. Although i have to admit a tablet PC and a projector would do the trick as well.

  7. I hadn’t meant this to turn into a referendum on SMART boards, but fine. Basically, the only feature I lust after is the ability to export our class notes to PDF. But if that means I have to constrain all our board writing — you know, the glorious mathematical process — to one of the smaller (affordable) models, I’d rather do without it. I want to spread across the board, using different colors to mark out the process.

    Protractors and rulers? I can’t recall ever wishing I had one spontaneously (and I do paste them into my slides) though maybe access would drive my imagination.

    And in the end, I would have to sacrifice the graphic design savoir-faire of Keynote for whatever that thing was I saw in the demo.

    The referendum here is along Jeff‘s lines. The people who pitch a good SMART board lesson, the people who use classroom blogs extraordinarily well, the people who do student podcasts well, have deep facility with visuals and deep understanding of interpersonal communication.

    There is endless need in our teacher prep schools, in our faculty meetings, and certainly in the edublogosphere for instruction in visual literacy and lesson design, in how not to bore students, all this stuff we oughtta have down pretty cold before we start layering new tools on top of them, metaphorically firing our fancy laser-guided nail guns around before we have a strong idea of how to build a house.

  8. Yes – the SmartBoard is really just a fun gimmick – but the software is powerful. Far better adapted to teaching than PP. If you have a Board, the software is free to download for all employees.

    Is there anything out there that does some of the same stuff (for PC) and doesn’t require purchasing a SmartBoard?

  9. Agreed, presentation skills profession-wide are lacking. Smartboards won’t help with that. And the limited board real estate is an issue. There are plenty of days when we fill up all the white boards, too, documenting our process.

    I do use the big protractor when kids forget how to use them and need a quick demo. I use the insta-graph paper far more often though.

  10. I have a solution!!

    Ah, finally I can contribute something! WooHoo.

    The Wiiremote and an infrared (IR) pen which will cost you around $50. Its not a smartboard, but its a pretty clever board. I’ve been working on a blog post to demo it, but I’ll supply a link for you. Go down to where it says: Interactive Whiteboard.

    I’m working on making this more functional. The software is fine and you can use it and it is really cool. It allows you to CARRY your smartboard with you to conferences, seminars or PD. Its cheap and wicked cool. At our open house recently I had it projected against a wall and I played around with GeoGebra and Google Earth. I had a pretty steady crowd.


    (A) 1 remote doesn’t sample enough. In reality you’ll probably need two. Amazon prices put the total system now at around 80-90 dollars.

    (B) Small vibrations accumulate to cause the system to drift out of calibration. I’m working on mount to prevent this. Nothing fancy I’m just messing around with some spring clamps.

    (C) The wiiremote uses bluetooth so your computer has to be bluetooth enabled.

    (D) You can’t stand in the path of the IR radiation else the Wiiremote won’t pick it up. It just takes a little getting used to and some tinkering on where to put the wiiremote.

    (E) I use a MLTI latop (I’m in Maine) and I need admin privs for the application to run because it calls certain libraries. I don’t know the all the gory details, but its an incovenience for me.

    That sounds like a lot, but its something you play around with for a while and more and more it grows on you and the possibilities open up. Ideally, it will be something that will be there in the background. If you want to go static that’s cool, but if suddenly you want to go up there (or have a kid go up there) you can and they can change what’s going on and its wicked cool.



  11. I have a SmartBoard in my classroom, my dad has had one in his classroom for over a decade – his school got in early, and every room now has one. In my experience, the money might be spread out more and just as useful if it were spent on good high-lumen mounted projectors for every classroom. There are a lot of great things available on the web, and having the computer screen projected is great for MANY things, but I don’t think that the “interactivity” is happening in the majority of the classrooms with SmartBoards in a way that can’t be done with the projector alone – wireless mice and keyboards add a lot of flexibility!

  12. Oops! Should have finished reading before posting – sorry, I don’t actually contribute very often!

    The exporting notes was a big draw for me as well- however, I have found that the kids did not like the notes in PDF because it is too difficult to read. Even drawings do not seem to work out very well if they have many details or labels – the size difference is too great. I have ended up typing the notes as we go and then copying and pasting to post them for each class in Edmodo.

  13. I love IWBs, and not just for the stuff that could be done by projecting onto a regular whiteboard. The two reasons are simple:

    1. I can clear the board (of annotations, or of everything) in about a second.

    2. We can work on something, move on, and return to the first thing later – we’ll still have the annotations.

    Think of it as projecting onto a flipboard.

  14. My issue with SMART boards isn’t one of cost or access. It’s the fact that when Johnny Lee first announced his Wiimote hack at TED 2008, the entire edublogosphere lit up like the Fourth of July. Edubloggers enthused over a device which cheaply and efficiently allowed them to manipulate visuals while, off their posted presentation slidedecks, their ability to communicate with visuals was inefficient at best.

    Why aren’t we using the collective experience of blogging to improve our visual literacy skills? Presenters post their slidedecks and presentations to their blogs all the time. It would blow me away to see edubloggers make a regular habit of soliciting feedback on their conference visuals also.

    “Would you let me know, in the comments, how well or poorly you thought my visuals communicated my ideas?”

    Instead we have the reverse. Design commentary, I have found, is beyond unwelcome. It isn’t solicited. It is shunned and resented.

    Meanwhile we flock to a tool which amplifies our existing visual literacy, like offering a megaphone to someone who has severely slurred speech.

  15. Dan I agree completely, tools don’t make the carpenter. I’m excited because for those who want or can use a smart board this gives a low cost alternative. There are so many constraints in education and one of them is the cost of technology. Whenever I can find something cheap/free/preferably without licensing costs I’m on it.

    But I agree on the implied issue of teacher prep. Unfortunately teachers pretty much get their content from the classical classroom: person in front with chalk, students sit and watch.

    This gets carried to the extreme sometimes. My wife is taking a course on assessment in the ESL classroom. All the readings and assignments are the typical best practices kinds of stuff. However the class is assessed using classical methods. The grade is not merely a measure of knowledge but timeliness. 10% off an assignment if its a minute late (its an online class). Yet assignments are graded slowly.

    Now, my wife is an adult and capable of getting her stuff in on time, but we find it horrendous that this class is teaching teachers how to assess, but at the same time, not using those practices!

    Sorry for the length.


  16. But Dan, I am not asking the guy with bad visual communication skills how he uses (or would use) Smart or anything else; I’m asking you. There is a huge difference. I don’t think that anyone is trying to say that these tools will make you a better teacher. The thing we all realize is that we have this amazing tool and we are only using a fraction of its capabilities. When I first started using this technology, I saw it as something that would make my job easier. Now I am wondering how I can use it to convey my message more effectively. How can I engage my students in ways that bring math to life? I was introduced to your blog a few months ago and you seemed to be asking the same questions…and coming up with pretty good answers. It seems like there should be a marriage between your desire to use a/v to teach math and the capabilities that the smart (or other interactive software) brings to the table.

    Should we solicit feedback on our own lessons and practices? Yup! I think that is a great idea. So much so, that I think I may have to start a blog.

    I am just trying to figure out how to maximize the capabilites of the tools I have. If design is the first place to start, then so be it. But if the content can be presented easier (even if I have a crappy eye for design), then isn’t that better than not getting the content out there at all?

  17. But if the content can be presented easier (even if I have a crappy eye for design), then isn’t that better than not getting the content out there at all?

    I mean, I guess. If the options are no content and crappy content, then I’ll elect the latter. But the temptation (and, indeed, the likely event) is to keep improving the tech (to try more and more fancy nonsense with the SMART board, to download more and more lessons from the SMART board lesson depot, to improve the tool) and neglect the skills.

  18. Our school has 4 mobile SmartBoards. Every inservice we get a promo on how to use them (well, at least 3 this year). I’m as visual tech savvy as anyone at the school, and don’t want it in the least. (Not that I wouldn’t use it if it were in my classroom permanently, but I have a board-sized protractor already.) It’s nice to hear echoes of that here.

    I do like the idea of quick and easy save and clear of the board, but honestly, before my camera went missing, taking photos of the board worked.

    SmartBoards are frequently presented as a way to “integrate technology in the classroom.” It strikes me as the teacher doing technology, more than the students. Can someone who has board assure me that’s a misconception?

  19. Point taken.

    Going back to your point about posting slidedecks or presentations and looking for feedback: Are you suggesting that teachers post a screencast of their presentation in real time to demonstrate how they interact with the presentation (transitions, commentary, etc.) or just the slides themselves?

  20. Are you suggesting that teachers post a screencast of their presentation in real time to demonstrate how they interact with the presentation (transitions, commentary, etc.) or just the slides themselves?

    Ideally the first option. The point of visual literacy is to communicate a thesis. It’s difficult to determine the thesis of a presentation without the supporting audio, which means we could only evaluate the presentation on basic graphic design.

  21. An alternative to the SmartBoard is the Mimio, which attaches to a traditional whiteboard (no losing the glorious mathematial process Dan…). My self and a colleague have been using them for years, and they are MUCH cheaper than SmartBoards, use little radio transmitter whiteboard markers. Really cool.

    However a (since moved on) Technology Coordinator purchased/leased/got grants for dozens of Smartboards a few years back and we are stuck with these albatrosses in our building.

    Losing the board space is killer in a math classroom. The website is here:

    Given a choice, I’d prefer a wireless tablet and an LCD. Write from anywhere in the classroom, (students too) and save lessons/diagrams for later use. A bit pricy and haven’t yet been able to weasel one out of our IT dept, but will keep you posted.

  22. I hate to jump in on the smartboard discussion because that wasn’t the point of this post, but I can’t help myself. It’s far from a perfect tool (I don’t know what would be a perfect tool). But blaming the tool is on par with expecting the tool to save things. It’s up to the user. There are teachers who are using these well with their students. My first graders use ours often for a variety of reasons and they’re at it more often than I am.

    It’s the teacher that matters. As usual.

  23. Forgive me if my questions seem obtuse, I am relatively new to the edublogosphere; but what keeps this first option from happening?

  24. If smartboards (and the associated software) make good presentations so easy, then why are all the demonstrations I’ve actually seen by the people trying to sell them to me complete ass?

  25. Oh Mr. K, you do know how to turn a phrase. :-)

    I don’t think anyone would say honestly they “make good presentations so easy”. (‘Life is pain, highness, anyone who says differently is selling something.’) They’re just a tool; they can’t teach for you. The making the good presentation is the hard part, but not where the energy is focused. I think that was the point of this post.

  26. (1) If you use powerpoint, haven’t you wished you could write on the screen? Correct an error, add another example, show that you subtracted 3 from both sides of the equation for the student who still hasn’t picked up on that.

    (2) How is a smartboard a web app?

  27. If you use powerpoint, haven’t you wished you could write on the screen? Correct an error, add another example, show that you subtracted 3 from both sides of the equation for the student who still hasn’t picked up on that.

    Yes, often. I’m glad I can do all that without incurring the cost of a SMART board.

    (I should mention again that heckling the SMART board crowd wasn’t on my top ten list of priorities for this post.)

  28. Yeah, I’ve had a SMART board in the back of my room for months, but haven’t used it. I’d much rather have a document cam. I would use one of those dozens of times per day.

  29. Dan: I think there are a few problems (not with you, btw) out there. First, there is your point, what visuals AND audio are you using with the darn thing? Next, how are you using or manipulating the imagery and audio to teach? Last, how are the kids “interacting with it”? How are you “interacting” with the kids with it?

    There was a thread about IWBs at CR 2.0 about how “transformative” IWBs were. Lots of folks arguing against them, OR talking about what really mattered. My take-away from that discussion was, you have to have the kids use the darn thing, NOT just the teacher. The more the kids are touching it/the controls, the more “interactive” and transformative it is.

    Frankly, I don’t think the companies sell IWBs well. I think they may be selling it to the same teachers who think WordArt, slide transitions, and animations make their PowerPoint “better”. I had a preso at my school, and told the staff I was definitely “neutral” on it. They saw the possibilities (and it was some of our better teachers), but I don’t think the examples they used showed how powerful it could be.

    Strangely, I don’t see the edublogosphere of one mind on IWBs. I think they are MUCH sexier to non-techies because they are so “accessible”. I hear more about IWBs with glowing eyes from admins in my district, etc. than from blog posts. If folks are looking at IWBs I’d strongly recommend looking at Marzano’s presentation at CUE, but listen to all the caveats, and think about what they mean. I pointed some of them out here. There are plenty of folks constructively pointing out the pitfalls of IWBs out there, you just have to read ’em.

    Administrators, and others need to understand if teachers are crappy, this won’t make them good. If they have horrid visual skills, this will just make their lessons blingy and awful, and if they are using it just for direct instruction it’ll backfire at that eventually. I don’t think you, I or, others are saying IWBs are without redeeming value, but rather, they may not be ready to use as a universal teaching tool for all educators.

  30. I thought I had links about IWBs in that last comment? Look at that link to CR2.0 and you’ll see comments that are similar to the ones here.

    I did a recent Webcast on it, and even folks who use the boards and LOVE them understand that they are ONLY a tool. I’m much more worried about those who are not tech savvy who see these things, and thing by their very nature, they will change things, whereas some of the big IWB users would like to see teaching transform, not just how it’s presented.

    The Prezi stuff is mostly on twitter so not easy to suss out. I saw a couple pro-Prezi comments, but I have seen others snark on it besides myself, and you.