Archive for the 'Web/Tech' Category

Smartboard Attendance–shutting it down

Thanks to all who commented and were so enthusiastic about my little smartboard experiment (Post 1, Post 2, Post 3, and Post 4).  It was so gratifying to see others get some use out of my little brainstorm-turned-spreadsheet.

I did think it only fair to let everyone know that I’m not using it anymore.  The system just didn’t do what I needed it to do, namely, 1) enforce my tardy policy and 2) free me up to do other things, like teaching.

At its core, the problem was this:  this technology was not sufficient to enforce procedure, which, really, is the point.  The attendance tap was supposed to be the last in a sequence of entering-the-room tasks before taking one’s seat:

  1. come in,
  2. dispose of gum/food/weapons/drugs, etc.,
  3. drop backpacks,
  4. get music folder,
  5. tap in,
  6. take seat. 

It NEVER went that way. 

The students invariably took this sequence: 

  1. tap in,
  2. leave room to talk in the hallway with loser boyfriend/girlfriend until the bell rings,
  3. drop backpacks,
  4. get music folder,
  5. take seat, dispose of gum/food, etc. only when called out by me,
  6. stare in shocked disbelief at the smartboard showing their status returned to “Absent” because of their post-tap excursion to the hallway. 

At no point when using the smartboard to track attendance did I have a class-full of seated students when the bell rang.  I still had to yell, “Let’s go!  In your seat, you little…!”

The kids enjoyed using the smartboard so much that they would race each other to tap in ALL the names they could.  Some of this was innocent excitement and some of it was malicious system-manipulation (“But, Mr. Davis, Buffy just called me from the parking lot and asked me to tap her in because she’s here on time…”).  I found myself having to spend my time policing the tapping procedure, more time than I would have spent simply policing the attending procedure.

At the end of the day, the most effective attendance-taking method was my presence at the podium, refusing admission to students without a front-office-issued tardy pass who were not in their seats when the bell rang .  One day of that, and we did fine thereafter.

Teaching-lesson #273:  The teacher must enforce the policy.  Never push policy enforcement onto a system or onto a student helper.  It’s worth it to take the time to give the policy teeth, preferrably your teeth.


More Smartboard–Weekly posting demo

Here’s another video demonstrating how to post the weekly attendance totals to the aggregate sheet for the term:

More Smartboard–Daily posting demo

Here’s a video demonstrating how to post the daily attendance activity to the weekly aggregate sheet:


More Smartboard–Usability vs Security?

It’s been brought to my attention by the IT Swami and my principal that students can game the system by tapping each other in or tapping themselves in and leaving. I’ve thought about how to mitigate against this possibility, but there’s that darn usability/security give-and-take-thing rearing up again (it should be said that the Swami gets paid to really care about system security).

My previous system had a similiar problem–I had a seating chart for each class day, and would cross out the names of students that corresponded to the empty chairs on the risers at the beginning of class. I didn’t really care if they were or were not in the room–“not seated” means “not ready to go” means “absent.” The system called for students who weren’t seated when I started to walk over to the chart and mark a “T” by their crossed-out name so that I would know they were merely “Tardy” and not cutting class, sparing them an unpleasant visit with their principal.

Of course many of them took the opportunity to simply erase my “absent” mark. The ones I caught received a thump on the head and a discipline referral before I got wise and simply lopped off the eraser of my roll-taking pencil. But the point is this–the accuracy of the system wasn’t as important to me as was the fact that I didn’t have to stop what I was doing (teaching) in order to check in tardy people myself. I accepted a certain amount of system-breaching if it meant that the system freed me up to be a better teacher.

This system is designed for usability over security, but more than that, it empowers the students to be responsible for their own attendance stats. I’m counting on the idea that students will generally rise to the opportunity to act like adults when given meaningful responsibility.

Some won’t, but most will. And that’ll be good enough.

More Smartboard–shared file!

Update on taking attendance with the Smartboard:  I’ve added a widget to the right sidebar of V-F (you’ll probably have to scroll down to see it) and have shared the latest version of the spreadsheet I introduced here.  Feel free to download and fiddle with it, but please let me know of any changes you make that turn out well.  I plan to incorporate the best ideas and re-share as I go.

Notes on this version:

  1. I’ve started editing the workbook on my Smartboard PC, so the view and zoom settings are optimized for my screen in my classroom.  I like the full-screen view for the individual class sheets, 75% zoom.
  2. In order to better facilitate the full-screen view, I added navigation macros at the top of each class sheet (Jump to Home Room, etc.).  This way I don’t have to jump out of full screen mode to set up the next class.
  3. I also added a Term Calendar generator to the “Setup Term” sheet (it starts around row 18).  One of my concerns was making sure that students didn’t “Absent” marks on student holidays.  This was going to be a problem because the default status for students is “Absent” until they tap the screen.  My solution is to locate the “Post Week to Totals” macro right next to the calendar so I’ll be reminded to adjust the timestamps in the “Term Totals” sheet.

Not that I want to, but it looks like I’ll have to write up instructions on how to use the thing.  Or redesign it so all the pertinent macro links are on the same page…. 

Hmm….  Sounds like a good project while I’m at the beach next week.

Or not.

The Smartboard

When I started at WHS last January, I inherited a Smartboard in my chorus room.  At first glance, it looked like a plain whiteboard with a computer cord coming out of it.  Since I had other safe, un-smart whiteboards in the room, I put the Smartboard in the closet and forgot about it.

You could say I was intimidated by the Smartboard.  The last thing I needed was a freakin’ whiteboard that thought he was smarter than me–that’s what the students were for! 

The technology guy at West chastised me a couple of weeks ago:  “Byron, you don’t know what you’re missing.  You have to give this thing a shot.”  And, since this is what summers are for, I recently dug it out.

It’s actually a pretty nifty idea–the Smartboard is touch-sensitive, and you simply project a computer screen onto the board so that one can interace with the computer via the board.  The trick for me was to come up with something useful to do with it.  Most of my classroom time has been spent in front of the kids, rehearsing them and working the music.  How could I make this technology add value to the class?

One of the classroom tasks that I hated the most was the tedium of attendance-taking.  Is the student here/absent/tardy/on time, how do I pass this task off to someone else without exposing a student to arguments concerning the definition of “tardy,” etc.  I settled on a simple seating chart (one page per day) where I could cross through the names that corresponded with empty seats, and had the students add a “T” to their strikethrough if they were tardy.

It occurred to me–what if I could come up with a system where each student was responsible for checking himself or herself in, and received automated feedback as to whether or not he or she was tardy?

Enter the Smartboard.  I came up with an Excel workbook, tricked it out with some macros, linked shapes, and conditional formatting that basically lets the students handle attendance for me.  Check out the video:

I hope this works! I’ll run it by my students this summer before going live in the fall.

Undoing Ubuntu

Back in May I got this idea in my head–why not give Ubuntu a try?  I’d read a couple of articles praising the concept of open source coding, and with the advent of Google apps I found myself thinking, “Hey, why not?  Let’s stick it to the Microsoft man for free!”

So, after partitioning my hard drive into a Windows sector and an Ubuntu sector, I loaded ‘er up and almost loved it.  Great look, good interface, and free!  Take that, evil empire!

The problem: my internal wireless network card wouldn’t work in Ubuntu.  “Not installed.”  I worked for a week trying to find a driver or a way the normal driver would work within a virtual PC machine on top of the Linux kernel, etc., etc., (can you tell I spent way too much time on this little project?) before giving up.  Tonight I’m re-partitioning the disk into one big Windows sector, and reinstalling XP. 

Lesson learned–in order to stick it to the man, people have to have useable sticks.  Ubuntu may become a viable alternative to Microsoft someday, and open source software may bring down the idea of machine licensing for software, but until reasonably competent but not expert people like me can make it work on our machines, it’s not going to make a dent.

Entrenched ways of doing things become entrenched because they are easier than, not better than, the alternatives.  Revolutionaries who want to get people into the street for their cause are faced with a tough task–how can I make this idea easy to adopt so that normal people will step out of the normal line and join me?

Come on, Ubuntu.  Give me a stick I can swing.

Tweet, tweet….

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