SMART Boarding

I’ve got a confession to make…over the past weeks, I have not been using my SMART Board in my classroom. I have a student teacher now, so I’m using it again. For the record, I’ve told her that I haven’t been using it, but that I want to use it so she can see how technology can be implemented in the classroom.

As I’ve mentioned over and over again, I love Fraser Speirs’ approach and implementation of technology. He’s been experimenting with the use of an iPad and a large LCD TV in the classroom versus interactive white boards. He states that the TV is brighter and ultimately will last longer than a LCD projector. He’s absolutely right.

The problem for all these technologies (at the moment) is tethering in one way or another.

At our school, the SMART Board connection to the computer can be either Bluetooth or USB (I choose USB, as the Bluetooth can be “flaky”), but you still have to have the computer connected to a VGA cable to connect the image to the projector.

As for using an iPad, it still has to be tethered to a VGA cable as well, and VGA cables are thick and clunky. And when you drape a 25′ VGA cable across your floor to your iPad, you also run the risk of a student accidentally tripping on the cable and possibly sending your iPad spinning through the air. (Note: if anyone knows an affordable, skinny VGA cable, please e-mail me).

When I use the SMART Board, its greatest use in my classes is for attendance. I have a picture of each student in the class, and as they enter, they mark themselves off (some get quite detailed). There is an element of trust involved with this, and I always quickly go through and make sure students have reported their attendance accurately. Still, in large music classes, this process is a huge time saver. That information is later entered into our web-based student information system.

I also use the SMART Board for choir announcements, sight-reading (although I typically open a PDF and don’t use SMART Notebook, SMART’s own software for this), and rehearsal order. On occasion I’ve used the board for a discussion about theory or pronunciation of a foreign text. And this, of course, is in my choir classes. The SMART Board has a complete different use in my music theory or guitar classes. It really was a great device for theory. I could use the SMART Board more in guitar, but that would involve moving the notebook computer in consecutive classes, which is an issue (we need to power down and boot up in each location, and a power down is a four-minute affair, and a power up is a seven-minute affair, which means that by the time your next class has started, your computer hasn’t been working for at least 5 minutes, and you’re already beyond attendance and announcements).

And in our music rooms, the projector simply doesn’t cut it. I basically need to turn off all the lights in the room (which are oddly wired so as to light 1/2 the room at a time at either partial 1 bulb or 2 bulb brightness) plus close our window shades for the students to be able to see the screen well enough to do sight-reading. A TV would not require me to turn out the lights. We use wide-screen SMART Boards, which are 96″ across, and at the moment, there aren’t any affordable TVs in that size. When there are, I might very well fundraise to buy one and replace the SMART Board altogether.

One other quick SMART Board gripe: there is no “remote control” to allow me to change a page in SMART Notebook (as you can purchase for PowerPoint) while I’m sitting at the piano with my back to the SMART Board. So in warm-ups, I need to get up between each warm-up and manually change the page. I could use a wireless mouse to the computer, but I’d still have to turn around and position the mouse over the “page turning” arrows, taking nearly as much time as getting up and changing a page. My piano is about 10 feet from the wall, and it’s not that I’m lazy…but in the 20 feet (10 feet each way), I lose the focus of students during warm-ups and have to get them settled down before moving along. Patience doesn’t run deep with students–at least in my classes.

You might say: use PowerPoint, then! I could, but that would defeat the entire reason (and training, as I’m a certified SMART trainer) of going with SMART in the first place…schools sign on because of the commonality of the device (it has the same impact as the word Kleenex in the facial tissue industry) and the resources that are available to teachers. How about a simple remote control for page advancement, SMART?

Here’s how the SMART Board could work in my room in the iPad era. First, I need full wireless mirroring from the iPad to my VGA projector. I fully believe that Apple could pull this off right now, particularly as VGA resolution is nowhere near HDMI resolution–but this part is clearly in Apple’s hands. Next, the SMART Board could be a Bluetooth (we do have the Bluetooth version) controller for my iPad…a wireless “mouse.” I might even try this tomorrow (I’m expecting it not to work). In other words, the SMART Board could control the iPad, which would be projecting to the screen.

In this fashion, I could do EVERYTHING I currently do (or could want to do) on my SMART Board right now, but via the iPad as the “computer.” I could even do more, projecting what I saw (UnrealBook or ForScore, for example) at all times. And the SMART Board would allow for finesse input (i.e. VERY large vs. the iPad) for things like Music Theory using an app like Noteshelf.

As I said, I’d need SMART Technologies to make an iPad wireless mouse driver. I don’t think this exists (an e-mail to SMART is in the works.)

For now, I’d still have the issues of LCD brightness and a VGA cable running to my iPad (I wrap the cable around the leg of the piano a few times to keep the iPad safe). And as I’ve written previously, I also use audio from the iPad on a regular basis, and you really can’t have the VGA adapter and the audio adapter in the device at the same time (both ends of the device). I need to find a 90 degree audio plug for the iPad that rests flat, like a guitar pickup cable, which would leave the iPad askew only a small angle and upside down (home button on the top of the screen).

I’d be interested to hear how other teachers are using interactive white boards in music classrooms…especially performance-based classes…as well as iPads. As always, feel free to send an e-mail to the address on the top right area of the blog.


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