Saturday, March 27, 2010

SMART Table in a Kindergarten Class

I had a great opportunity this week to work with a school that had a SMART Table in one of their Special Ed Kindergarten Classrooms.

I’ve seen these at conferences as a DEMO, but have never had the chance to see them in action with kids in a learning situation.

I posted a video of the kids playing with a PAINT program with directions to draw each letter of the alphabet as well as playing a number/word matching game. Both of these activities reinforced learning that had been taking place in this teacher’s classroom.

The kids were pretty well versed in the operation of the table with minimal help from the teacher or me. It made me wonder a few of things, though:

1. This particular tool had what I call a “High Shiny Factor.” It was REALLY cool, and I could see educational uses for it, especially with younger kids. However, it looked like it could easily mask the learning objective with the need to use the tool.
2. It’s like $9,000, which is equal to 2 SmartBoards w/ projectors or 36 Netbook Computers or 45 iPod Touches or 56 Flip Cams or 5 sets of CPS Clickers—you get the point. It’s a lot for one product that has VERY limited functionality. (But, in its defense, what it does, it does well. I just wish it—AND its software—did much more for the money.)
3. I liked the interface, and so did the students, but while it engaged them with technology, the technology itself did not engage a higher cognitive load to do the tasks. There were associated skills that the students had to have in order to operate the table, but they are digital natives, and they were not necessarily working outside their zones.
4. The software was clunky. For a teacher that was familiar enough with the computer, it still seemed like there were a lot of unnecessary steps in order to make it work the right way. In fact, the lesson in the video with math pics and numbers to match took several steps out of the software, utilizing Microsoft Word, Paint, Notebook 10 software, and bringing the results together within the Smart Table software. It was not planning friendly. I don’t know about you, but I do not want to spend 4 hours planning a lesson that will take 30 minutes. And I’m pretty tech savvy.
5. On the upside, the kids really did like it, and it provided opportunities for them to reinforce the learning that had been taking place in their classrooms.
6. What’s really nagging at me is the Super Wow, Creative Lesson that one would have to create in order to make the price worth it. And then, of course, that begs the question of how we would assess the learning that has taken place and determine whether or not the SMART Table contributed to achievement. If this was the miracle tool that turned all the kids into achievement superstars—then I might consider shelling out the $9,000 myself! If, however, the table is going to be a practice tool, or infrequently used (not saying that the teacher I visited is using it infrequently, let me just point out…) I would think there are better investments for technology money—especially in these economic times.

I’m going to try and play with it again. I’m still wrapping my head around developing a strong pedagogical frame around its use. Right now, I’m seeing more play and less learn. I don’t mind the play as long as I can relate it, in a strong and focused way, to thinking and learning.

It was cool, though. (Did I say that already?)

SMART Table Information and Resources from SMART's Website

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