Thursday, September 30, 2010

Promethean Board: Hot or Not?

By Sean Scarpiello

Recently, it has been tough to Google “education” and avoid getting some sort of link that raves on the achievements of the Promethean Board. But is this amazing tool so amazing? Or are the owners and CEOs of the Promethean Boards just well-connected and know how to market their product?

The idea of a Promethean Board sounds great on paper. An interactive computer screen projected onto a touch screen which allows students to edit, highlight and write on documents with the use of a magical little pen. As a recent high school graduate, I have had hours of experience with the “Chalk Board of the Future.” The first time I used the board, it was amazing; however, that may have been the only time it was amazing. It seemed to lose its sashay after the first ten minutes. One of the flaws I found right away was that the pen doesn’t have an erase function directly on it, causing you to reach across to the onscreen tool box to get the eraser style pen, then erase, the go back to the tool box, to get the pen tool you were using before so you can continue writing. The pen itself is also faulty. When writing, there is a stall before the computer recognizes something has been written. Therefore, writers will over compensate different shapes and sizes of their letters due to the lack of visual feedback. This results in the most legible kindergarten teacher to have the handwriting of a raging alcoholic.

Another flaw is that the image is projected onto the board from a ceiling mounted projector. This means every time the teacher turns on the screen it must be recalibrated because a stray paper airplane might have set the projector off by a centimeter, causing the entire smart board to be altered. This recalibration only takes a minute, but a minute at the beginning of each lesson gets old fast. Plus it is inefficient when you consider all the other forms of technology in the market that practically finish your sentences. Also, since the image is projected, if a writer steps in front of the board while writing, the image will be projected onto their back and the writer will continue to copy notes blindly onto their shadow. At first it doesn’t bother anyone, but when you get up to the board it feels like you are bending over backwards to copy your algebra homework onto the board. The projector also limits the surface area of the board to a specific size. This is problematic when you are taking a lot of notes and you have to wait for everybody in the class to finish the notes, then erase it all, then continue on the same small space. With a typical whiteboard, you can just walk down to the other wall of blank chalkboard and leave the old material up for the slower note takers to finish copying. The price of this smart board is about $1,200 each, which isn’t bad for what you get, yet four walls covered in whiteboards will sell for about half of that. With the white boards, you can increase the total writing area ten-fold and still have $600 in markers to use for the decade

A real smart board should be similar to a giant iPad on the wall. It would be completely touch screen so you can write with your finger, then brush away any mistake with the back of your hand. Plus, it wouldn’t project. This allows schools to fit each board to the dimensions in their rooms, whether it is 3 feet by 4 feet or 3 feet by 10 feet. This kind of board would be much more expensive than the Promethean Board, mostly because a few square inches of Apple’s touch screen goes for $200 and a whole board would cost a lot more. The best idea would be to wait until technology improves before putting down any large sum of money to improve your school’s blackboard or whiteboard.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Waiting for Superman

A new documentary about America's failing public school system, Waiting for Superman, has sparked controversy about its intentions. The film, by renowned director David Guggenheim of An Inconvenient Truth fame, is being distributed by Paramount Vantage and opens in select theaters Friday. It was a winner at Sundance and has already received accolades from, among others, TIME magazine, who called it "powerful" and "compelling," and Hollywood Reporter, who called it a "moving, effective film." The project also has backing from Bill Gates himself, who even appears in the documentary.
The film, from all accounts, is a well-made, high-budget work intended to open the nation's eyes, particularly those of people who do not have children in underperforming public schools, and serve as a rallying cry for the country's citizens to become their own super men and women and help in any way they can. But are its purported intentions carried out? Detractors say the film is an unfair critique of the public school system, and to make matters worse, a high profile one at that; a film with a high budget taking aim at an easy target facing insurmountable budget deficits and money shortages. The film might as well be shooting fish in a barrel for monetary gain.
Having not seen the film, like pretty much everyone who has voiced their opinion in the blogosphere, I can't tell you whether that's true or not. But I can say that I believe Waiting for Superman has the potential to be a very important film and that such a film about such a subject needs to be made. It is undeniable that something, or a lot of things, is/are not working in our public school system, particularly in large urban institutions. Our nation's youth are 25th out of 30 "first world" countries in math and rank 21st in science. High school drop outs rates are glaringly high, public schools have abysmally low resources to work with, and yet the general public's attention and dollars are focused on other affairs, ones that in all likelihood will have less impact on future generations and thus our nation's future. It is simply another inconvenient truth that is largely going ignored. If it takes a high-budget film to re-shift attention so be it, as long as people are in fact paying attention.
As to the criticism that it is essentially preying on a broke system, unfortunately, that's part of the game. To compel people to watch, the film has to tell a story, and so certain elements have to be milked for dramatic effect. In this case, that means harping on statistics and portraying a tough reality lived by the children waiting at the school placement lottery. As for making money off the film without compensating schools, the documentary's website ( claims that for each advance ticket bought online, the purchaser will receive a $15 gift code to give to a classroom of their choice via
It cannot be underestimated the power that film still has today, both in its effect on the viewer but also how many people it can potentially reach. Other forms of traditional media are dead or dying, forms that previously reached tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of listeners, viewers, and readers. Today, those forms have been replaced by many more sources but ones that reach exponentially fewer eyes and ears. Movies, however, have not suffered in this way. They still reach a large audience, ones that unfortunately most proponents of educational reform can only dream of reaching. Waiting for Superman should be viewed as an ally in spreading the word and calling attention to the drastic changes and help needed by the public school system, rather than an adversary or a vulture profiting off a struggling system.

Joseph Gustav is a guest blogger.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Educational Facebook

By Sean Scarpiello

In the past month, thousands of college students around the world have just opened a new collaborating internet account. No, it’s not Facebook, but rather an educational spinoff of Facebook. The program is called Blackboard and it seems to be making quite the buzz.

The Blackboard platform is essentially a modern blackboard posted up onto the internet. The program is for all classes, kindergarten through graduate school. Teachers can post whatever they woud like up onto their course’s blackboard. Three of my four current college professors utilize the technology and post everything from biology PowerPoints and syllabi, to YouTube videos about split brain syndrome in psychology. Even my calculus professor posted some helpful links and practice problems. Teachers can also post announcements and reminders when class is not in session, due dates on a personal calendar, and individual notifications or alerts. Although I was not fortunate enough to encounter this program in grade school or high school, I have found it extremely simple to use. Schools can even set it up to use the exact same username and password that you use on their computers.

More schools should use this program because it makes studying more interactive for students; thus they have a more enjoyable time exploring the information each class has to offer. In fact, with a few modifications, teachers could teach entire courses to vast amounts of people across the planet, without ever having to meet in a classroom. Students even have the ability to seek extra help through the site. Blackboard even simplifies classes for students by allowing teachers to post full PowerPoint presentations so students don’t have to quickly copy the entire presentation during class instead of listening to the teacher’s important ideas. Therefore, students can focus on the instructor’s lectures and can later pull up the PowerPoint from any location with an internet connection.

The one downside to the program is that it costs money. But why? Millions of websites let people access tons of information for free because of advertising. This site should be no different. If Facebook charged an annual fee, it wouldn’t have millions of daily users. I am all for allowing advertising on educational websites and even in or around schools in general. I would much rather have to put up with seeing targeted advertisements to my demographic as opposed to paying for an online service. In fact, I think all schools should use marketing to their advantage. If the owners of Lucky Charms or Coco Puffs want to put up posters in the local elementary school so the fourth and fifth grades can get all new textbooks, then go ahead. These same kids are going to run home and see these same advertisements amid their cartoons and it will not make a difference.

Ultimately, the Blackboard program is extremely useful for all levels of students. It proves to be an exceptional learning tool that should be used by more students and teachers worldwide. The website is already available in forty-nine different languages. The only downside it has is a quick and easy fix that could eventually change the entire world’s view on education.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Best Idea Ever - Critical Thinking

By Sean Scarpiello

As I browsed article after article on the internet, I discovered some statistics which I found to be extremely interesting.

- The International Data Corporation (IDC) reported that within the last year, “the amount of digital information created, captured and replicated was 161 exabytes or 161 billion gigabytes. This is about 3 million times the information in all the books ever written.”

- The IDC also discovered that between the years 2006 and 2010, the amount of data added to the Internet increased more than six fold.

- Every two years, the amount of procedural information will double in size. That means if you are a college student attending a four-year university, 50% of the information you learn in your freshman year will be obsolete by your junior year.

- Former Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, reported that the top ten in demand jobs in 2010 did not yet exist in the year 2006.

- This gives schools the nearly impossible job of teaching students to perform jobs that don’t exist yet, using technology that hasn’t yet been invented. (Source below)

So what can schools do to keep up with the quick pace of technology? Probably the most important aspect of education for the future which gets overlooked in the American education system is the concept of critical thinking.

I had recently taken a psychology course where the instructor gave the class an activity which would determine whether or not we possess the ability to think critically. Out of the twenty-four people in the course, only six college bound seniors had the ability, myself included, to think critically. The basis for thinking critically is being able to view every side of an argument and extrapolate data from each vantage point. For example, many students will think about how horrid World War II was, but critical thinkers go on and ponder, “What good came out of World War II?” The reason critical thinking is so beneficial to the workers of the future is that critical thinking allows one to apply themselves mentally. This application of knowledge allows people to do jobs they did not foresee themselves to be doing in the unpredictable future. In fact, it’s the successful people driving around Porsches and Ferraris that are able to manipulate the different faces of arguments and utilize that data in their daily jobs.

Such a simple concept can be very easily integrated into today’s middle and high schools. In every subject, whether it is social studies, science or math, teachers can simply switch gears and reverse the argument. How did the US benefit from World War II? What positive effects could this chemical have on the environment? How would the solution change if x was a negative number? As students are asked these questions they will eventually learn to think critically. These students will even find practical uses of critical thinking during sports, videogames and more. It is amazing how such a simple concept can have a huge bearing on such a complex future. Critical thinking’s best aspect is that it can be taught easily, cheaply and effectively to produce infinite possibilities for an even infinite future.