Monday, September 29, 2008

SMART Board 600i - First Impressions

In the coming months, I will be writing a lot about the SMART Technologies line of products, in particular, the SMART Board 600i. Several weeks ago, I approached SMART Technologies in an effort to attain a review unit of the SMART Board 600i in my classroom. I also asked Prometheum, a leading competitor in the interactive white board market, if they, too, would like to participate in my review. As of today, Prometheum has not responded. A couple of weeks ago, SMART Technologies indicated their interest. And last week, they installed a SMART Board 600i in my classroom. Since its installation a mere five days ago, I have already used the device in Language Arts, Writing, Social Studies, and Math. The moment I used it in one subject, I felt energized to use it in another. Even at this early stage, I can already see why interactive white boards are a must-have tool for teachers.

Today, I used the SMART Technologies document camera, connected to the SMART Board, to snap a picture of a page in our math text book. I then invited students to come up and solve some problems on the SMART Board. One at a time, students approached the interactive white board, selected one of the four dry erase markers, and began to write directly onto the enlarged image of the math page. Some students took a little longer getting used to the markers than others. Each marker is simply a prop designed to look and feel like a real dry erase marker. They come in four colors: black, red, green, and blue. One problem is that an incidental palm press confuses the white board about which press it should respond to -- the palm press or the tip of the marker. But students master this skill within seconds. By pressing firmly and deliberately, and by resisting the urge to rest their hand on the board, they find they can write on the board with success. After the math lesson, I saved our work as a PDF which I now have the option of either uploading it to my class website, archiving it for later, or printing it out for students.

The students' reaction to the SMART Board has been very positive. When they see me power it up, they suddenly become very excited because they know that in a moment, I am going to invite volunteers to come up and perform some kind of learning activity on it. In the coming weeks and months, I'll post more observations about the SMART Board 600i; review the SMART Airliner Wireless Slate; SMART Notebook software and lesson activities; and the Senteo interactive response system.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Computer Assisted Creating

The computer is more than just a tool for remediation; it's a powerful tool for creating digital content. While remediation can be an effective use of students' time on a computer, I'm beginning to believe my students think that's all the computer is good for. Their first activity as a new transfer to our school is to take a computer-based reading test to reveal their reading level. Later that week, they take another computer based assessment to determine their math level. Each week, my students take a series of drill-n-kill basic math quizes in the computer lab. After that, they can take a test on the latest book they read. If they're lucky enough, they might be able to print out a picture or article on one of the classroom computers for their oral news report. Some students attend our after school program and work on English language development software programs while other kids focus on computer-aided reading improvement software.

Aside from creating an occasional word processing document, my students don't create a shred of digital content. This is beginning to frighten me. With the number of jobs requiring 21st century computer skills, how can I sit back and NOT teach kids to use technology to create products such as flash animation, podcasting, blogging, photo manipulation, web design, presentation software, game development, computer aided design, the list goes on. In order to get my students used to the idea of using the computer as a creative tool, I'm going to let them start their own blog. I'm using One of my students wants to have a sports blog and discuss the best plays of the weekend. Another student is going to blog about taking care of her various pets. A few students are going to write reviews of video games. I don't care what they blog about -- I'm excited to see how my students will respond to becoming content producers and not just consumers. How empowering!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Great Printer + Great Customer Care

A great printer + great customer support = an awesome experience with my Kodak 5500 series All-In-One printer. It's a flatbed scanner, it's a dual-side photo copier, it takes a variety of memory cards, it's Mac and PC compatible, it prints beautiful pictures, in short, I love it! The best part about this printer is the inexpensive ink -- you'll pay easily half what you pay for other brands. I used to spend a lot of money on ink, but that was in the pre-Kodak era. Although this ink-sipping printer is the Prius of printers, its halo was tarnished this week when I suddenly found I could no longer print black. Scrolling through the menu on the printer, I did all the things one does before they break down and call customer support: cleaned the print head, deep cleaned the print head, calibrated the print head, even sacrificed a new black ink cartridge. Nothing worked. After a Google search, I found I was not alone. Other users had reported a similar problem with their own Kodak 5500 series printers. Fortunately for me, I was not among the first to encounter this issue, so I was able to easily follow the well-paved Internet trail blazed before me through forums, blog posts, and reviews.

If you have problem with your Kodak 5500 All-In-One printer, do what I did: call Kodak at (800) 421-6699. Listen through the recorded mumbo jumbo until you can dial extension 04 (that's the number zero and the number four). When you get a live agent, tell him or her that you are aware of known issues with the print head. It's refreshing to have a customer service agent, like the one I spoke with at Kodak, treat me like I wish I could always be treated. He listened to my problem, took down my information, and said a new print head was already in the mail. Not only that, but he threw in a couple extra print cartridges for my trouble. Now that's customer service! As a footnote, the Kodak agent recommended I clean the print head once per week (much more often than my usual practice) due to the print cartridges propensity to drying out. All in all, I highly recommend the Kodak for it's high print quality, and now, for its great customer support.