Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Real World" Problem Solving: I Give Up!

I have a SMART board in my room. One of maybe 3 in our school. I also share my room for one period a day with a teacher who doesn't like to use it. So, the board is on a wheeled mount so I can move it out of the way for the 45 mins a day he is in my same classroom. This means I have to orient it at least twice a day and don't really get to ever lock it into place.

We take attendance online in our gradebook program and it is the expectation that attendance be done in the first 10 minutes of class (to catch skipping students). Since doing this on my own daily leaves the first 5 minutes of class where the students goof around instead of working, I decided to use the SMART board to my advantage.

This is what our attendance looks like (names cropped to protect the young):

I set everyone to the far right column (absent) and when students arrive, they are to hit the leftmost bubble next to their name to mark themselves present (the middle option is for tardies). Generally, they like being able to come up to the SMART board and having it work for them. Win-win.

Here's the issue: Since it's never perfectly calibrated (especially with students going to the board and slightly moving the mount to one side or the other), hitting the board in the right spot is often difficult. When you hit the board, a time diamond-shaped cursor shows up and blinks where it thought you touched, but even moments after I orient/calibrate it, some sections of the board will be off by a centimeter or two.

Many of my students have the hardest time getting it to work. I understand that it's somewhat unpredictable on your first touch, but they will continue to hit the same spot (usually harder and harder) and continue to get more and more frustrated.

Part of me wants to laugh and part wants to cry. Is it really that hard to compensate for the issue? You hit it on the button exactly the first time and you see the cursor a bit below your name so it doesn't work. Try hitting it a centimeter higher, right? They will try four or five times and then either try to get a friend to do it or give up and walk away mad and throw their hands up in the air saying, "I can't do it. You just do it for me."

Then I try to teach them how to problem solve math problems and they react the same way. Is it surprising?

I'm all for trying to tap into student intuition and their own internal motivation (a la Shawn Cornally, but what can I do with students like this? Am I being overly dramatic in this observation of student behavior?

(NB: Not all are like this. About half of them figure it out and there are no problems, but about half have the issue as described.)


  1. I had a smartboard with orientation problems for a long time even though it was mounted on the wall. So annoying.

    One way to deal with the problem you're describing is not to tap tap tap to zero in on the actual point you want to hit, but, realize the smartboard "clicks" /when you let go/. So put your finger and hold it on there, drag it until the cursor is over the correct button, and then let go, and it will click the button.

    I think what might be called for here is (dare I say it) some direct instruction.

  2. You hit it on the button exactly the first time and you see the cursor a bit below your name so it doesn't work.

    Are you sure all your students understand that the cursor represents the spot where the SMART board thinks you touched? If they don't, they're getting absolutely no feedback, so it's not surprising that they get frustrated...