Gesture-Based Computing: SMARTBoards

Computer interfaces started with hole-punched cards. The cards were fed into the machine to give it instructions that often amounted to less than a modern calculator can do with a few button-presses. Over time, the cards went away, keyboards were joined by mice and then touch pads that were operated with a stylus. Now there are touch screens that respond to taps, swipes, and pinches.

Technology is often slow to make the transition to the classroom, usually because of financial reasons, but there are now some gesture-based systems becoming more common. The last school I worked in won a technology grant. They did all sorts of fun things with it including purchasing a couple SMARTBoards. Only two classes had them, and mine wasn’t one of them, but the classes that had them were able to do all sorts of wild things. They drew on the board in different colors then moved the drawings intact. There were special games and programs that interacted with the boards and took advantage of some of the unique features.

Here’s an example of some of the things a SMARTBoard can do. This video was a favorite in my class when we had a bad-weather recess day or just a few minutes at the end of a lesson. When we got to the long-division part of math, some of the kids were “dancing” this while they worked.

Did the students in the rooms with the SMARTBoards out-perform the others? That’s hard to say, really. There are so many other variables to consider, and we only had a sample size of two, and they were in different grade levels. If more of the rooms were equipped with these sorts of gesture-based systems, and if the teachers were given the latitude to use them to their full ability, I think there would be a difference.

What do you think? Are these just toys or could they amount to something useful?

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