Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The interactive whiteboard

This weekend a few parents got together to build an interactive whiteboard and drink a few beers. With a little work we were able to get things running pretty well!

For those of you that don't know about this, the idea is to use a wiimote (the remote from a Wii game system) to record the placement and movement of an IR light on a wall. If you combine this with an LCD projector, a computer, and some special software, you can make a very cheap interactive whiteboard. We found out about the wiimote approach from Johnny Lee's TED talk.

You need software to allow your computer to interpret the signal from the IR light. The software we used to do this was from Uwe Schmidt. Uwe has done a really nice job making Johnny Lee’s original WiimoteWhiteboard software functional on a mac. The Mac we used was obviously not from the public school system.... We used a MacBook Pro with built-in blue tooth. I doubt any of the computers at the school have built-in blue tooth, so we'll probably have to rely on the USB bluetooth adapters for the classroom setups. For the IR light source, we ordered an IR pen from WII Teachers.

The experience using the system was much better than we had anticipated. The ability to interact with the computer was very similar to what we had seen in Johnny Lee's TED talk. Just playing around with the system, we realized the kind of potential that exists for our teachers to work with our children in classrooms. We could imagine the children drawing pictures, writing group stories, or working on math problems using this system. The work could be saved and used later not only as a recorded document of the work but also as a learning exercise with teachers saying things like "look how differently you thought through this problem last week". Without sounding too geeky, it seems there are clearly ways that more abstract concepts could be easily taught using this system.

The other thing that we really started to appreciate from this process was how much teachers could benefit from having a projector connected to a computer. As adults, we all remembered when we were in school and teachers would use overhead projectors to show transparencies. A simple LCD projector coupled with the wiimote and a webcam similar to IPEVO could provide a much richer learning experience. We could imagine a teacher displaying a chapter from a Mark Twain book, followed by images of boats on the Mississippi from a Google search, followed by finding quotes from the web from the recent Mark Twain autobiography that might explain some of the imagery. These kinds of interactive and integrated approaches, natural extensions of the wiimote, can allow children to begin to appreciate the historical context of literature and become easy to do with these tools.

We're excited to show our work to the teachers so that they can start to imagine different ways to teach our children.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Our first donation!

On Monday afternoon we received our first donation of $1200 from a San Francisco law firm. Thank you! We knew that we would find generous Angels to help us.

Library Media Teacher

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A teacher's perspective

Guest post from Emily Law, a 4/5 grade teacher at our school
In my first year as a teacher at Flynn, I am excited by the potential I see for success.  Teaching upper grades with such a diverse group of students has really allowed me to get a glimpse of the interests and passions that exist in these young minds.  However, it is difficult as a teacher to be unable to foster the level of learning they deserve because of a lack of technology.  I would love to be able to work with students on research-based projects where as a class we can investigate questions they have in science, social studies, math, and reading and language arts.  One project I would like to be able to do with my students is to have them research using the Internet and create power point presentations to display their findings.  This can be done in any of the subject areas but would be especially powerful for my students in science and language arts.  I also would love to be able to teach math lessons using online resources and visuals that would help students really grasp the material we're learning.  

I have been fortunate enough to student teach and work in a few technology schools where students had access to computers, laptops, LCD projectors, and document cameras - the results were phenomenal!  When you give students technology it allows them to ask and answer questions you would have never imagined they could.  I became an educator to help teach the next generation of innovative thinkers and problem solvers.  My students are the ones who will be asked to solve the problems of tomorrow and it makes me sad to think that I cannot currently give them the tools to meet this challenge.  Technology is a huge part of our world in the 21st century, and if I can't give my kids access to this tool and train them for success, what does that mean for their future?  Having access to technology in the classroom would revolutionize teaching and learning in my room.  My students are amazing and will continue doing amazing work with any resources we have. However, I hope soon to be able to offer them the resources and technology to really take their learning to a whole new level.  These students are some of the best and the brightest, all we have to do is give them the tools for success and they can take on the rest themselves.

Hello World!

Yesterday we went live with this blog, and as of a few minutes ago we have had over 1000 hits, thanks to some very generous retweeting by @timoreilly , @mikeolson , @isaach and others. However you found your way here, please stay, read about our problems, think about whether you can help and come back some time to see what's happening.

We will be updating the blog regularly with stories about our efforts to change the situation at our school, and the results and benefits for the children.

Thank you.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The reality of technology provision in a public school in San Francisco

We live in the age of the iPad, smartphone, and cloud computing. A world where a child's horizons can be expanded through the use of the web, Skype and access to the vast array of educational resources and software online. But that world is not available to everyone. We also live in the world of the digital divide – a divide that is here in San Francisco, home to Twitter and close to Google, Facebook and Oracle, and home to some of the most underfunded public schools in the United States.

Californian public schools struggle daily with budget constraints, fighting to retain staff and pay for basic materials like whiteboard markers and crayons. Investment in new technology comes way down the list of priorities.
  • The reality is that San Francisco teachers and parents are posting requests on Freecycle for donated used equipment.
  • The reality is that in our elementary school, children practice their keyboard skills on laminated photocopies because there aren't enough real keyboards.
  • The reality is that our elementary school has 3 LCD projectors to share between 24 classrooms.
  • The reality is that all the computers in our school are donated and used. Most are at least 6 years old. Many are unreliable. Monitors are old, large and unwieldy. 
  • The reality is that teachers struggle to share important educational material with their classes because they have one copy of a book and no document camera or projector.
Our school is Leonard R Flynn on the southern edge of the Mission District in San Francisco. Most of the school's 485 students come from low income backgrounds and many are English language learners.

The teachers and parents there are hoping to bring some of the wonderful educational tools now available into the classrooms at Flynn. Our vision is of a school with a 28 seater Mac Lab in our library and every classroom with a minimum of a laptop, LCD projector and ELMO document camera. More importantly it is of a school where technology is used to inspire, engage and help our students to explore their world.

We recognize that new technology is not a panacea but we also know that our children deserve access to the technology that is changing the world they live in and that access to this technology will give them access to a world of free educational software and resources that can stimulate and encourage the curious and inquiring mind.

This blog has been created to share our story, to generate discussion on this important subject and yes, to raise funds, to help our school.