Thursday, January 29, 2009

Nouns and Verbs

The question that is most often asked about the Smart classroom project is: “ What technologies go into the rooms?” or “ What stuff will I get in my classroom?” I generally smile inwardly, and list off the equipment that we purchase to put into the classrooms and usually tag the list by saying that it is not about the equipment. Most people stopped listening at the end of the list.

Understanding the equipment is probably the easiest way to grasp the project, or the effect that it has in a classroom. These are the nouns of the project, the things that we buy and install into a standard classroom, but they are not the magic of the change in instruction. Those things are verbs: collaboration, learning, and engagement. These are the things that really make a difference and are the very hardest to explain. When you are in the classroom and you see the magic that a trained teacher can do to, it is breathtaking and so difficult to explain. That is why this not a technology project, it is not about putting technology into classrooms, it is about active learning and student engagement. It is centered in instruction

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Budget Meets Staff Development

As most of you know, 2009 has not been the best year for finances on either a national, state, or district level. The daily doom and gloom of the budget meeting running various disaster scenarios is depressing, and has direct and explicit impact on our smart classroom project.

First, the state budget and the potential cuts in the PYLUSD budget do NOT affect the Measure A funds. We still have the money to retrofit our classrooms and get the equipment and the installation to change our classrooms. This has not changed!

What has changed is that all district funds and budgets have been frozen to conserve as much money as possible to weather the coming storm. This is absolutely the right thing to do, to save jobs and programs that are vital to our district, community and students. But, this includes all the funds that would support staff development to support the equipment installs. At this moment we cannot get the substitutes to release teachers, or to pay teachers to learn how to use these wonderful tools.

The original professional development plan was a trainer of trainers model. We initially had 12 pilot teachers who had 4 months to use the technology in their classrooms, with the goal of training the teachers at their grade or subject level. This year, two teachers at each school were selected to learn the technology, focus on active learning and student engagement with the goal for them to be the site resources at their schools. Building the capacity at each school to do their own training and support to move the tools into the classrooms of any teacher that wants it. Installing the bulk of the classrooms this summer.

We began the training or our site leaders, and are about half way complete. The new software has just been released and we have no way to get this information out to our site leaders. As mentioned in an earlier blog entry, the progress in finding purchasing vehicles, getting vendors and actually installing technology in the classrooms has been distressingly slow and the site leaders will not have much time to work with the technology this year. Coupled with the elimination of funding, we will need to rethink the timeline; perhaps delaying the original timeline. What do we do?? All thoughts would be more than welcomed!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Solving the Aspect Ratio Issues

We ran into some challenges in trying to connect the computers, projectors and wide screen interactive white boards. It is not nearly as easy to make these work together in an easy way. The real difficulty comes form the differing aspect ratios of the equipment. The Promethean boards are in a “High Definition” 16:10 aspect ratio. Just like most movie screens, the display here is a rectangle that is wider horizontally than it is high. Most of our computers are not native in the “high definition” 16:10 aspect ratio, instead they have the old school square 4:3 aspect ratios that all older televisions have.

The projector has even more variables to it. You can buy projectors in either format with the 16:10 format called wxga or the 4:3 format called svga. There are even projectors that will take a svga signal (4:3) and then display a 16:9 image. In order to do this conversion, the projector must insert additional pixels into the horizontal image, and this can cause problems when used with a Interactive Whiteboard. The whiteboard needs to track the movement of the pen over the entire surface and if it encounters a band of these inserted pixels, then it can cause frustrating dead spots in the board. The computer and the interactive white board need to talk to each other and match each part of the projected screen to a pixel on the computers actual screen.

While you can use the display control panel on the computer to vary the image on the computer screen, and it is possible to get the computer to output a 16:10 format, it has to be the primary monitor for the computer and reset each time the computer is attached to the classroom system. This is just a pain, and more work than most teachers want to do. They just want to hook up and go.

After hours of research and testing various combinations of projectors, computers and our 95 inch interactive white board, we have decided to use the Epson svga projector and have it do the conversion to the 16:9 image. This will give us the ease of use that we feel is so critical to our program. Teachers will just be able to take their native svga computers and connect it to the system and have it work. They will not have to do any image conversion on the projector or the laptop. Finally, our testing did not reveal any noticeable dead spots in the board.