your SmartChart won't make my students any smarter

They send me to my annual PIS meeting. (Originally, the district representative called us the Pencil People, but when an edu-crat told him that PP could be offensive to some, he changed our names to Pencil Integration Specialists, which is just close enough to PISS to annoy the higher-ups, but just normal enough to be a coincidence).

One would assume that a meeting with all of the pencil enthusiasts would involve collaboration.  Instead, each meeting involves sitting down and listening to an overly enthusiastic consultant display diagrams about how amazing a new product can be. I'm sure that it's great, but it's a tool.  I've never been over-awed by a hammer or a screwdriver, either.

For what it's worth, I'm beginning to hate Edison Projectors and the whole PowerSlide program that most professionals use. PowerSlides lost their power a few years ago and the culprit was college professors in lecture halls and staff development meetings where they read slides that could have easily been handed to us on paper.

So the man is pitching a SmartChart, which is essentially flip chart paper in front of an Edison Projector.  He pulls out scissors and glue and cuts and pastes pictures of dolphins.

"Pretty dynamic, eh?"

"You can cut and paste.  You can save your charts and show them to another class."

He pulls out a pencil, draws a happy face and erases it. "Show me a chalkboard that does that." To my surprise, the teachers actually begin clapping, despite the fact that we've all been erasing information from chalkboards for years. Are they really this impressed or are they simply being courteous to our over-enthusiastic salesman.

"It will revolutionize your teaching experience."  Revolutions are bloody ordeals.  I just want learning tools.

Finally, when he asks for questions, I take the bait.  "Isn't this a little teacher-centered?  I mean, we've all been to boring meetings where someone just reads a slide presentation and the audience checks out after five minutes. I fear that teachers will get really excited about it, because many of them are like raccoons attracted to shiny new objects, at least when they are first exposed to technology.  It's not bad.  I was there at one time."

"I'm not seeing your point.  You are concerned about teachers being excited?"

"I'm concerned that there will be a disconnect between theory and practice.  Teachers will use this as a cool toy for lectures and thus students won't become any smarter by using a SmartChart."

"I see your concern.  First, I want to point out that this is not your average Edison Projector.  This includes paper and pencil integration and a cool stylus that allows you to draw."  Stylus? It's a pen.

"Second, you can use this in groups.  Have other kids reading in centers and let kids play games like hang man or a trivia game or let them view pictures and add comments. Why do you have to be the one using it?"

"With all due respect," (I hate that phrase and find myself using it precisely when I've lost any due respect) "this is a teacher-centered tool.  Many teachers aren't going to trust kids to use this by themselves. However, it's also unrealistic to keep giving us tools that are designed for lecture and then saying that we can just add them to learning centers. This product is designed for a lecture format.  Otherwise, you would have put us into learning centers and allowed us to use this."

"I'm modelling one simple way.  But really, try the learning center approach."

"Teachers need prep time and there are classroom management issues to work out," another teacher points out.

"The prep time is not an issue.  We have many great programs and trainings that our highly qualified staff offer . . ." I disconnect at this point, smile and grin and realize that any true dialog won't occur.

It's not that I hate SmartCharts.  It's just that it seems superfluous to add them to classrooms when students don't have paper or pencils.  Yes, we can use SmarCharts in learning centers.  However, if students cannot create their own PowerSlides and have no access to their own paper and pencil for previous planning, then the SmartChart will remain teacher-driven.

What's worse is that, because of the cost of buying SmartCharts, teachers will feel the pressure to use these often.  The technology will drive the instruction rather than the theory driving the implementation of technology and while the SmartChart people seem nice (if a little over-enthusiastic) their bottom line is sales and my bottom line is student learning.


  1. Ouch, I love my ActivChart (SmartChart's competition). It is teacher centered for sure. As long as we keep herding people into rooms for extended periods of time and asking them to do essentially the same things or the same way, then any tool that makes explanations simpler is welcome. I'm pretty comfortable with a piece of chalk in my hands so it is a good thing I also have a chalk board next to the ActivChart.

    These tools level the classroom better than many others. There has been a definite shift in attitude amongst the young people I work with. We have sharing throughout the week. My students move in on the chart and make it their own. They can present their notebook activities to the class. Somehow they see it as a more authentic form of communication than passing notes. They show me their discoveries and ideas in their personal notebooks. I share their excitement and tell them to make a note and pass it around the class and share it with their pen-pals. Usually they ask for a moment to share it with the whole class. The audience is more real for them and they prefer the simplicity of talking and answering questions in real time.

    We discount the power of a collective experience in education forgetting the effect of gathering together to share around a fire. My father, Master of Divinity, preferred solitary worship and a small group. My mother disagrees. For her the activities of congregation are meaningful. I think it is the same with learning and therefore we should not eschew the tools that contribute to effective presentations.

    For many, SmartCharts are an alternative to 1-1 pencils. That needs to be simply a phase. SmartCharts need to be an extension of personal pencils. Perhaps they represent an analog to your walking barefoot in grass to ground yourself: hardware facilitating the sharing of software with fleshware.

  2. Exactly!

    I like SmartCharts and ActivCharts. I just don't think they are the fix-all for education. One tool, yes, but a revolution? Not so much. Giving teachers one teacher-centered tool does nothing if there are not the teacher-centered tools as an extension.

    You nailed it, Alan.

  3. No surprise here john/tom I agree with you. I have "The Titan who stole fire from Zeus to give to the mortals", yes the kids like the colors and changing backgrounds - but like white boards in the past - how long will the "newness" last? In 2 or 3 years will the pretty colors be that exciting? Especially when taking into account the cost.
    I have a special request -- video one of your staff meetings, I have to see if the staff and administrator look at you with the disgust that is aimed at me.

  4. The real problem with Smart or Activ Charts is that there isn't time for the teachers to uncover all the layers of the charts and get into everything they can do. The other problem is that the students get even less time then the teachers to dig into it.

    The Chart in my classroom is a glorified chalkboard. Sure, I can save and post but I hate being the one or having someone in front of the classroom doing things.

    The program I teach is all about collaboration, small groups working together, sharing knowledge and guiding each other to a common, hopefully right, solution.