Not Smart about SmartBoards

Shortly after returning from the Christmas/New Year break my principal told me that due to a new focus on raising the achievement levels of special education students, all the special ed classrooms would soon be equipped with the very first wall-mounted Smartboards in our school. Oh boy!!

For the first time in recent memory special education would get a new resource before anyone else and we would be trained how to use them effectively. Oh boy!!

Sure enough, when we returned from spring break, the special ed classrooms, plus a few more, had brand new SmartBoards wrapped in smart-looking black cloth covers and with long slim bags of thick plastic holding the special pens and eraser to use with the boards. Oh boy!!

Two of the other classes that got the SmartBoards are the eighth grade Regents-level English and Math classes. I’ve seen the SmartBoard in action in the math class and I sat through a lesson on quadratic equations much more attentively than I did when Mr. Falk tried to teach me about them 40 years ago. I got it this time, and so did the current students who clamored for the opportunity to use the magic board to plug in minus-b and the square root of b-squared minus 4ac. Oh boy!!

For the past couple of years I’ve been reading about the transformative effects interactive white boards (IWBs) like Smartboards have on teaching and learning, how they increase student engagement, renew teacher enthusiasm, make it easier to differentiate lessons, provide more hands-on opportunities and really help visual learners like most of my students. Oh boy!!

But that is not what is happening in my classroom or in any of the other special education classes. Actually, almost none of the special education teachers have taken those nifty black covers off the boards or even peeked behind them. You see, unlike the two top-notch Regents’ classes, the special education classrooms did not get a projector; a laptop computer; and specific kinds of cables, the other equipment needed as part of the IWB magic act.

Its like we’re trying to cut the pretty lady in half without the box or a saw.

We’re told we could use our classroom desktop computers which, if functional, are anchored in place facing walls that don’t happen to have the SmartBoard mounted on them. Difficult, but we’re used to working in difficult situations and would figure out how to deal with it. Also, the projectors, whenever we get them, would not be ceiling-mounted, the common arrangement when the IWB is immobile. Instead, we will be required to dismantle all the connections and, for securely lock the projectors in closets or cabinets most of us don’t have in our tiny rooms, then reassemble the system again the next day. Would you do that for 184 days a year, or are you more likely to go through that process just a couple of times before deciding it is just easier to leave the thing in the closet and forget about it? Me, too.

I understand that money is tight, but I wonder what it means to my students to see those idle boards hanging there taking up previously useful space. Do they know that the Regents’ classes full of top-level students are, once again, getting better treatment? What conclusions would they draw from knowing that? What would they think about seemingly intelligent and well-meaning adults spending over $2,000 for each SmartBoard but not coming across with the extra $1000 or so necessary to utilize it?

As I sit in my empty classroom at the end of another long, difficult day trying to motivate students who are so sure they are going to fail that they won’t even try, I’m wondering how I can hope to raise my students’ self-esteem when they continually get messages that they’re only worth partial investment in resources. I’m left shaking my head at how a system composed of thousands of well-educated professionals can be so consistently careless about the meta-messages it delivers through well-intended but poorly executed gestures.

As excited as I remain by the potential of IWBs and as excited I was to see one mounted over my blackboard (rendering that ancient technology useless), I wish these SmartBoards had never been installed. Instead of making my job easier they are making it that much harder leaving me to wonder again why I am continually gullible enough to think that this time will be different, that this time my students are going to win.

Oh boy.

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Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2009

10 Responses to Not Smart about SmartBoards

  1. Hadass Eviatar says:

    That’s just heartbreaking. I’m so sorry!!! I hope you get the equipment you need SOON.

  2. Ira Socol says:

    You have nailed it. We tell these kids every day that they do not count. If your school can not be bothered to try to give them what they need, why the f— should they try (“hell” seemed too weak a term here)?

    Throughout our system we shift resources away from those who need them most to those who need them least. So whatever we say about equal opportunity, our actions speak otherwise.

  3. I saw the students faces. That’s why our children have no expectations but we always let them down like they expected. Continue to love and lead regardless of the obstacles.

  4. Steve Brown says:


    I was so excited for you when you first said you were getting your Smartboard. I’ve seen in my girls’ schools the power and potential these tools have in the classroom, especially in the hands of engaging teachers like yourself. I am so troubled to hear they only gave you half the gear. It’s kind of like promising the kids a trip to Disneyworld, but only giving them a round trip ticket to Atlanta.

  5. When will the technology and the Special Ed people begin working together. Long long ago Tom Snyder (a great teacher and software developer)said that the first thing that technology should be used for is to level the playing field for kids who come with such disadvantages. In my experience though the politics of money in most districts leaves the Special ed people and the technology people at odds…
    When will that stop!!!


  6. Anita Strang says:

    How frustrating!!! I too was so excited for you when the board arrived earlier this year. We now have 6 smartboards in our small elementary school and are very excited about the benefits for all of our students. We went the cheapest way we could purchase as many SBs as possible so we bought 64″ (most classrooms are purchasing the 77″) and we didn’t mount the projectors. We all wish they were mounted because setting up every day is tiresome but all of the teachers do take the time to set them up and lock them away every single day (for a year and a half now) because we have found them so powerful a tool for our students. I sure hope they will at least provide you with the projectors so you can get it started – you and your kids certainly deserve the tools and the respect.

  7. Ms. R says:

    I also got a SMARTboard earlier in the year without a mounted projector, and I also set up and break down the projector system every day. It really isn’t that big of a pain once you get used to it – and I actually was able to train a responsible student to do it for me! He takes great pride in coming to school five minutes early and staying five minutes late, and in being the only one allowed to handle the equipment. I agree with Anita, it is definitely worth it.

    And as for the storage issue, I got a grant from DonorsChoose to buy a (not too expensive) locking AV cart – you can set the projector up on top of it during the day, then lock it in an under-compartment by night.

    • Deven Black says:

      Thanks for the information and encouragement. I will look into getting an A/V cart. I will probably get used to the set-up and break-down, too. Of course, I won’t have to worry about it if we never get the darn thing working in the first place.

  8. Mags says:

    I have a smartboard in my classroom (I am in the UK)

    I use it less and less!

    Children see enough of screens imo

    and I was ICT co-ordinator in school for 8 years!

  9. Morning I was just strolling through cyberspace, looking for some interesting sites to link to and bumped into your site.

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