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Do Smartboards Make Smart Students?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

By Rosita Force

Photo credit: Robert Ervin

Smartboards, activity boards, ELMO’s, Macbooks, Senteo Clickers, iPods—these are a few items that distinguish a 21st Century classroom from one stuck in the darkness of the 20th Century. But do they guarantee our students will be able to solve 21st Century problems?

I am a technology teacher. I love teaching my students how to use all of our school’s new gadgets, and I appreciate their potential. But are we using them to enhance our students’ ability to solve problems, or are we using them to babysit?

I have seen great uses of the Smartboard that engage students in learning. A kindergarten teacher uses hers to visit a website where her children can rehearse letter sounds. Tap on a letter and it tells you its sound. For intermediate grade students, I get great results with a BBC problem-solving site. There, students construct their own ideas about what the problem are and how to solve them. The Smartboard lets them use their hands to “click around” to find out how to move to the next level.

I have also seen uses of technology that left me wondering why thousands of dollars were spent for what appeared to be a giant TV screen. It’s okay to watch a video on the board occasionally, but that’s not really what it’s for.

In the report “Tough Times or Tough Choices” from the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, there’s no mention of teaching gadgets. The report is all about the importance of creativity and problem-solving skills in the world labor market. It predicts our standard of living will diminish if we don’t do better at developing these abilities in our students.

When high-tech tools are used to teach 21st Century skills, wonderful. When they’re not, the fact that the tools are high-tech doesn’t help. Is the money we spend on Smartboards and other technology well spent, or are we caving in to pressure from students and parents—“digital natives” who refuse to power down from all the technologies they find so comfortable during their non-school hours? 

The question I face in my classroom is this: How do I create an environment that makes students want to work together to solve problems in a creative and innovative manner? The answer involves becoming a learning facilitator for my children instead of someone who gives them knowledge. Sometimes we need to power down the technology to let students power up their problem-solving skills. Let’s reflect for a minute on the tools Socrates, Aristotle, and Einstein used to solve problems. I am quite certain they didn’t need anything other than a tablet and something to write with.

Rosita Force teaches in Omaha, Nebraska.

Share ideas for good uses of technology on Rose’s discussion board.


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