Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Non-eponymous SmartBoard

We're busily learning the amazement that is SmartBoard. I'm getting exasperated by the childlike wonder from the elementary teachers - "Ooooh, the picture of a word and it has a sound pronouncing it! WOW." Maybe they've just been hanging around 8-yr-olds too long. I keep reminding myself, "Don't make fun."

Then we load up a bad animation of the human respiratory system. Pretty limited and possibly wrong -- it seems okay -- I'm no Biology teacher so I can't say for sure. I'm not impressed. Show me a lifelike one with zoom and realism and you'll have me, but this? Five pieces you drag and drop onto a "guy" and then press resuscitate? Oh, brother.

Robert Frost is another of the multimedia offerings. Stopping by Woods is a classic. It has someone reading it aloud. This apparently is special because none of these folks would ever dream of reading it out loud themselves. You can click and read the words, too. You can click and read something about the author. You can do nothing more here.

This is it? This is the "Interactively, Forward-Thinking, Digital Native enticing, Nowadays, Kids think Differently and You must Teach Differently" hoo-ah technology that'll transform my teaching?

Hell, I can recite that poem from memory and read it a lot better than the stupid animation can. I also know a lot more Frost than just that one poem.

Okay, I'm officially annoyed at this point. I've got a wanna-be PowerPoint masquerading as a teaching tool and falling way short of a couple webpages or even -- horror -- an actual BOOK.

Then we are told of this neat little math tool that will definitely help engage those reluctant digital natives - Pythagoras' Theorem (sic). I'm game so I toss it on a notebook page and I'm playing with it. Nothing here to improve learning - it's just a "Black Box". You drag around the top button to set the values and it tells you the answers. You do nothing but mouse around. I fiddle but I'm uninterested because I find this kind of thing unnecessary brain-candy and frankly, mentally distracting to the actual learning involved. Then, the teacher next to me gives me a nudge and shows me a 45-45-90 triangle, just like this one:

Yes, that's a 45-45-90 triangle and the sides are 252-325-403. If you take the three sides in the following equations, that calculations are done correctly -- a²+b²=c² and area values are okay. It's just that equal angles mean an isosceles triangle and those sides are not consistent with those angles. DUH. Apparently, not anymore.

It's been around since freaking 2004! It comes with the SmartBoard software, prepacked in the Lesson Activity Toolkit 2.0 (it's also in 1.0) and it's wrong!!!!!

I swear that I have not photoshopped or altered the image in any way except cropping the edges. Go ahead. Load up your software, search the gallery for pythagoras and make a right isosceles triangle. Then re-do it, making a 45-45-90 triangle. Two different triangles.

How is this possible? Are they that stupid? In FIVE YEARS, has no one noticed this? My guess is, "NO." The folks who use these prepacked toys are mainly elementary school teachers and most of them come from the bottom quintile of their college ranks. They blithely move on, screwing up education: fractions, multiplication (that matrix crap), decimals, pretending to algebra, using tools with incorrect information that gets in the way of learning, using calculators because they can't teach math, basically screwing everything up for six straight years of the kids' education.

I point it out to the others, "Hey watch out. If this is wrong, then you need to check all of these before you trust them." Blank looks.

There's another gizmo that has adjustors that seem backwards:

I ask if that bothers anyone, being the reverse of the number line and the usual web standards. "Maybe it's because it's a Canadian company," was the only explanation.

No wonder we've got an education problem in this country.


  1. Well that was elucidating, and not in a good way. Had to laugh about the "matrix crap". Are you talking about that approach to multiplication I have seen some kids use? Occasionally I'll have a student whip that out and use it; it always seems to be the ones who are really struggling who employ it. Who came up with that, and what is wrong with the old algorithm? Where did it come from?

  2. That method is called the gelosia method and it was the method in use in the 1600s and 1700s.
    Yes, the "new" way was invented in India centuries ago. The one you and I remember was invented in the 1800s (I think) and was judged to be more clear and easier to use, while being quicker as well.

    I'll have to dig up my copy of Suzuki and find some details.

  3. Personally, I break numbers apart and use distribution, so that I can multiply/divide mentally. I'm not sure what method my father-in-law uses, but he calculates quickly in his head. He is Swiss, and I know his approach is different from what I was taught in grade school.

  4. Ok, I found it here, and I see what they are doing. I don't see how this is really much different than the method we used in grade school ... just cosmetically. You are still lining up numbers by place value and adding them.

  5. that screen shot is unreal.