Montgomery Blair High School's Online Student Newspaper
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Sept. 26, 2008

Blair adjusts to Promethean Activboards

by Alisa Lu, Online News Editor
Blair has received 82 Promethean Activboards and will receive four more in an initiative to install these boards in two-thirds of all Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) middle and high schools. The initiative is designed to engage more students in school by enhancing the learning process, according to Michael Cady, Director of the Department of Financial Operations for MCPS.
A student in Maggie McSorley's classrooms interacts with a Promethean Activboard. Alisa Lu
A student in Maggie McSorley's classrooms interacts with a Promethean Activboard.

MCPS has invested $13.5 million to purchase and install 3,000 boards in schools across the county, according to Cady. The boards were purchased at a 17 percent discount using money from the Fiscal Year 2009 Capital Budget, he said.

Blair teachers learned about the new technology during the summer and were able to request a board. Most teachers who requested a board received one, according to Magnet Coordinator Dennis Heidler. "There were a couple where we had to prioritize," Heidler said. "Just a few people didn't get them."

Overall consensus: thumbs up

Thus far, the general response to the boards at Blair has been positive, according to Heidler. "Students are very excited about them, and teachers are too," he said.

English resource teacher Vickie Adamson is one of the teachers that has expressed full support of the boards. "People see so much potential and possibility," she said.

One obstacle to the full use of the boards is the lack of training, according to various teachers. "They can be a great resource for teachers if they're used and if they're used well," math teacher Maggie McSorley said. "They can really engage students, but I think a lot of training needs to happen."

Teachers are participating in training sessions now through late September, according to Heidler. But even without formal training, teachers have already started to use the boards. "I think there will be a lot more things we'll be able to do once we're trained on them, but even without the training, we've picked up a lot of things we can use them for," social studies resource teacher George Vlasits said.

Boards arrive with a manual and tutorials are available online, according to McSorley. "I went online and figured out how to do it myself. There's a free online training module," she said. Teachers have also helped each other learn to use the boards. "A lot of people will say, 'so-and-so did this with it.' There's a lot of interaction in regards to the boards," Vlasits said.

Concerns about the boards

Despite the generally positive feedback, some teachers have also expressed concerns about the new boards - namely the cost and safety of the boards. Vlasits expressed concern that the money used to buy the boards could have ultimately hired more teachers. "I'm concerned the tremendous expense of these boards may have made it more difficult for us to have the staff that we need. I'm not negative about the boards," he clarified. "I'm wondering if the money could have been better spent providing more teachers."

Adamson thinks that the boards were worth the money. "It was a lot of money, I acknowledge that, but it was a great investment and I think they are going to help teaching and I think they are going to increase students' capacity to learn," she said.
McSorley uses the boards in her daily lessons. Alisa Lu
McSorley uses the boards in her daily lessons.

The safety of the boards is also an issue to some teachers because Blair is rented out to various groups at night and on the weekends. "The way this building is used by the community, by the night schools, by the adults' school, we've got a situation where there are a lot of people in rooms with smart boards who may not know how to use them. That can be a problem," Vlasits said.

A few teachers have already initiated protective measures, according to Heidler. "Some of the teachers are putting sheets over them to prevent people from marking on them," he said. In addition, "the classrooms are not used as frequently as other spaces in the building," he noted.

Despite his concerns, Vlasits and other teachers still believes the boards offer exciting opportunities. "I think they are a very good thing and a very valuable tool," he said.

Adamson believes the board will become even more useful in the future after training is completed. "Once we really tap into the full potential of it, I can think we're just going to be beside ourselves with how useful it is," she said. "I have two children of my own in MCPS, so I'm talking as a parent and a teacher and I think it's wonderful that my children have access to this technology."

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  • Andy (View Email) on September 26, 2008 at 6:29 PM
    I don't understand how we can't afford to full fund the magnet but we can afford these ridiculous white boards.
  • Euclid on September 26, 2008 at 8:42 PM
    The money for the boards comes from a federal grant. I don' t believe it can be spent for other purposes.
  • D= on September 26, 2008 at 9:24 PM
    Okay, look, the Promethean boards were purchased ages ago. They've been sitting in a warehouse waiting for Blair's tech upgrade in order to be installed. It's not like they took up money from this year's budget.
  • precalc student on September 26, 2008 at 10:48 PM
    I think this article could have had an interesting rant from Mr. Rose if the reporter interviewed him. He keeps ranting to our class, anyway, about how he supposedly won a fight against the administration about getting the Promethean board removed from his room.
  • NetCast (View Email) on September 27, 2008 at 12:44 PM
    I agree. Why not financially support a technology-oriented program rather than support a technological upgrade for the whole school? Besides, what's the problem with the current white boards?
  • Janice (View Email) on September 27, 2008 at 3:18 PM
    I hate these gadgets. The teacherís back is to the students. Our teachers do now know how to use them. I wish they go back to the traditional blackboard. The black/green blackboards work.

    Wait 2-3 years to hear about another $10 million Promethean Activboards maintenance, repair or replace.

    By then, Iíll be out of HS and out of Montgomery County.

  • Argyle on September 28, 2008 at 10:43 PM
    At Argyle Middle School we had what's called a smartboard (the much more affordable efficient user-friendly version of the promethean boards). How did the promethean boards came into being? Were they made by the same company as smartboards...and aren't LCD/Overhead projectors enough? These are the times when robots are taking over schools and eventually it's sad to see that hands are no longer needed...
  • funding on September 29, 2008 at 1:41 PM
    The money isn't just given to Blair to do with it what we please. We get money for certain things. And technology money probably can't be spent on teacher salaries. That's something to take up with the Board of Eduaction.
  • Xec on September 30, 2008 at 7:06 PM
    These boards just give teachers a way to automate their entire class into a powerpoint without any real teaching occurring. I'm in AP classes where the teacher just flips through the powerpoints, and is unable to answer student questions, because he didn't actually come prepared. It's pathetic. Sometimes making things "easier" for teachers isn't the best solution to improving the situation in a low-income school. I applaud teachers who maintain their old teaching style that has worked for the past twenty years.

    Also, way to interview almost solely department heads. I know a lot of teachers who don't like these things at all. Let's have a little perspective please.
  • Abby (View Email) on October 3, 2008 at 11:06 AM
    I agree with the criticisms of these boards- the opportunity cost was gigantic to put these shiny-looking things in that really don't accomplish anything that couldn't be done with overheads, LCD projecters, white boards, or even chalkboards. American education was going fine for decades, back when all we needed was TEACHERS that knew what they were doing. A promethean board isn't going to make a failing student pass and a chalkboard wouldn't prevent an A student from learning. The Board of Ed needs to go back and read their Fahrenheit 451.
  • whoknew (View Email) on October 3, 2008 at 9:53 PM
    Board of Education? Is there any evidence that the Board of Education ever discussed or voted on the purchase of these Boards? Smart Boards are made by a competitor. Were there any bids from that company to compare costs? The cost of these Boards is about the equivalent of building a brand new elementary school. What building projects are now delayed because of this purchase?
  • liberal on October 4, 2008 at 2:11 PM
    Abby are you willing to say that to your physics teacher. ;) And Funding was right. This did not come out of the Montgomery county School Operating Budget. It came out of a special fund for capital expenses for the county (school and non-school). Other things that this fund has purchased was Blair itself, Slot Machines, etc. That fund can not be apportioned to teacher salaries.
  • LBA (View Email) on October 31, 2008 at 7:41 PM
    Funding & Liberal are wrong. In at least 2 years Weast has moved capital budget money to the operating budget. There was no special pot of magic money for Promethean Boards. They were paid for with the same money that builds schools, puts on additions or fixes bathrooms.
  • katherine (View Email) on November 10, 2009 at 11:06 PM
    i wonder if you can get a promethean actiboard inside your house
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