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The $3400 piece of chalk

I recently walked by a classroom where the teacher was demonstrating how to solve an algebraic equation by writing it out and talking through the steps. On a piece of paper with a pen.

  • Under a $500 document camera
  • Connected to an $800 computer
  • Wired to a mounted $900 projector
  • Displayed on a $1200 interactive white board.

If my math skills are right, that teacher is using $3400 worth of technology to do what could be done using a piece of chalk on an existing chalkboard.

And should each of his 30 kids had $300 devices in hand taking notes? Would this be $9000 solution to a spiral ring notebook?

So what's the moral of the story, technophiles?



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Reader Comments (16)

My first thought is that the teacher might need training on how to better use the technology in the classroom. But would that just increase the price of the piece of chalk?

February 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

to me that is an ongoing problem when schools and districts buy expensive technology, hand it to teachers and expect that they will now have transformative teaching. So many schools have missed the crucial step of looking at how to transform their teaching first and then considered whether technology will help. It's also clear that this teacher isn't aware of the SAMR model by Rueben Puentedura which is a shame because it's a great framework in which to consider your teaching, your engagements and your use of technology so that things don't just become expensive pencils.

February 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLizzie

The emphasis here is on the "stuff" and I am making assumptions that this teacher is not willing to or has not been given the tools/resources (quality PD and time to practice/change/implement new learning) to change his/her pedagogy. NOTHING changes in the learning if we focus on the stuff and not the teaching!

February 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

...should have invested in chalk...

February 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

That's like saying that an iPhone is a $600 telephone just because you saw a person talking on it.

February 12, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrendan

So...the classroom has the technology that, as far as we as readers are aware, may be used in a myriad of interactive, inventive ways and in this particular instance (as the chalkboard has been replaced) he is using it to display his working out. Is this not exactly what this technology is for? Why would I use a new/complicated method for simply working through an equation when all I need to do is write it out. Should I make a prezi and display the equation rotating through different angles as we go along? How about using my clicker software to check that every student is ready to go on instead of calling out 'we all good so far?'

I have a data projector in my classroom, as many teachers do now. Occasionally I use it to project a worksheet onto the board and write on the projected worksheet...should I have rolled in my old overhead projector and written onto overhead sheets? Have I wasted the $800+$900 for my projector and computer? Of course not, it is ridiculously quicker to just project the image and then click it off.

In this case the teacher has his paper under the camera, when he's done he can just pull out the paper and throw it away and go on with the lesson. Also...if this is an interactive smart board you can't write on it with dry erase pens, the alternative would be to use the given electronic markers however if the smart board has lost its calibration then they are very inaccurate, require much switching of pens to change colors, and is a lot slower than using a pen and a piece of paper...

We have to remind ourselves that yes, with technology we can update our teaching methods and this may make us more efficient/successful. But sometimes all that's needed for a certain concept is a piece of chalk, don't shoehorn techniques where they aren't needed.

Obligatory background (teacher of 5 years, have gone through tech training, certified in interactive software, trained on smart boards etc. I would still have used this technology in this way in this instance).

February 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterT

I read this yesterday and once again I thought of one of the 3 most important things I learned in library school. "It all depends." If this is the only way the tech is used, well that isn't the best, but how do we know that isn't just one way, one instance, one example of the way, the tech is used? And let's not forget our students. Engagement with my students soared when they saw the same lesson on the Smart board as opposed to the whiteboard. We need to also recognize we are teaching "screen kids". It all depends.
Do I want my Smartboad lessons to be interactive? You bet, but all of them aren't. The most important thing is that my kids learn.

February 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJanet

While it seems a costly process, the advantage of the document camera is that it can take a snapshot the problem (or the smartboard can record a video of working out the problem if the teacher uses it directly), which can then be saved digitally & uploaded to a website so when the kids get home and forget how to do the problem (imagine if you have math 1st period of the day!), they can pull up the video & revisit it. That is, of course, if the teacher does that!

February 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara Paciotti

We've always known that interactive white boards are training wheels for 20th century teachers, but they're transitionally imperative for learning teachers. What's missing is the next step: modeling student-centered instruction that's best done in a 1:1 classroom, but lacking that it can be done well with the tools you list. This sounds to me more a failure of assertive PD and instructional leadership than that of an unwilling teacher.

February 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBill Storm

Hi John,

After reading through many of the comments to this post, the answer is more complicated than knowing how to use the technology. It may be about what technology we select (does it only support stand and deliver?). It may be about starting with the pedagogy (should the training focus on individualization and then add the tech?). And are we really seeing the whole picture by a single observation?

Thanks for the comment! Hope things are good in Addis.


Hi Lizzie,

I agree that technology without pedagogical training is a poor spending decision - and that models like SAMR help all of us reflect on how we are using a technology.

Thanks for your comment,



Your succinct comment made me think harder about this situation than any other. How well can we evaluate the use of any technology by a single observation.

Thank you,


Thanks, Janet.

I appreciate your nuanced and thoughtful observation. As Brendan mentioned in an earlier comment, sometimes we just use of smartphone to make a phone call!

Thanks for contributing,


Hi Barbara,

You make a great point. If the doc camera and computer were being used to record this lesson for review my students at a later time, it changes how the technology is being used. So the lesson might be that observing the lesson without discussion before or after about the tech use may well be misleading!

Thank you for your thoughts,


Hi Bill,

Judging from the comments, this is a far more complex situation than I suggested in my post. In reacting to the actions of a teacher using tech, the post sounded like I was criticizing the teacher. When as you suggest, the bigger issue here might be the quality of PD and leadership in the district!

Great call,


February 14, 2015 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

The moral of the story is that technology does not make you a better teacher. It enhances the teacher you are. So, if you are a teacher who is a facilitator/guide/co-learner, technology will facilitate this type of instruction. If you are a teacher who develops project/interest-based, constructivist activities to meet learning goals, technology can facilitate this kind of instruction. If you insist on being the old-school, lecture-based, sage on the stage...then of course why even bother with new technologies?.... unless you have struggled doing even this effectively, then tech might help.

February 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDr. J_La

Hi Dr. J,

I agree. Somebody was remarked that technology simply is anything that amplifies a human ability - the telephone, the ears; the telescope, the eyes, etc.


February 18, 2015 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I agree with Brendan, when he says, "That's like saying that an iPhone is a $600 telephone just because you saw a person talking on It."

I think the author is making an assumption about the teacher. However, the thought is one to ponder. I also agree with the fact that whatever your type of instruction, technology can help to enhance it. We, as instructors, must invest the time to learn how to use and learn technology to optimize our affect on student learning.

March 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCarla

Thank you, Carla, for your comment. Brenden's comment brought me up short too. We can always grasp the full picture on one observation.


March 3, 2015 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

When you think about the use of technology this way, it's sad. It makes me sad for the students who are missing out on more meaningful instruction, and it makes me sad for the teacher who thinks this is "using technology". I think some instruction here on what integrating technology means would go a long way. And I think the school district is responsible for this since they spent the money on the technology with no instruction (perhaps) on how to use it. Just putting technology in the classroom doesn't ensure someone will automatically know what to do with it.

January 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTammy T

I know techhnology is expensive but my first reaction to teaching and learning is student motivation, engagement and meeting the students where they are at. My kids get motivated on almost any content in science when I have them interacting with technology , content and with each other.
Having this knowledge about my students, and having this technology in my class helps us get engaged in learning.
Therefore the moral for me is if I have the technology that heps my kiddos, I will use it.

July 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMiatta Lamboi

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