What would you do with $x?

Dan Meyer posted earlier this week about how, given $1000 for a classroom, he would spend it on whiteboards for the walls, a doc cam, and some miscellaneous hardware. I tweeted the article, and got the following response;

Challenge Accepted.

Some assumptions; A class of 30 is easy to do math with (adding up costs type math, not classroom type math). I assume solid wifi since I don’t have $1mil laying around for an upgrade. The classroom comes stocked with an overhead projector, a standard issue computer, and one 4′ x 16′ front whiteboard. I’m going to assume (based loosely on my memory) that a classroom is 30′ x 30′. Lets say one wall is windows from 4′ to 8′, because it depresses me to think of a classroom without windows. Generally speaking I took the first price I found on any particular item, and I reserve the right to round anything to the closest order of magnitude, for reasons of estimation (or laziness). Also, I currently teach only physics, but have taught math, particularly Geometry, for a number of years. I’m writing this post about a math classroom because it’s more universal and more in line with what Dan and Jeremy are positing. A physics classroom adds significant cost, as full computers are desired because of software and hardware demands for digital data collection, as well as the data collection hardware purchases themselves. That said, most of the stuff I list below I would like in my physics classroom, I just would have to do more cost/benefit analysis to compare data collection devices (likely from Vernier) with the more general items below.

Spoiler alert; most of my purchases stem from a desire to encourage students doing rather than getting. Watch for that.

Unlimited Funds: My first purchase is going to be on the assumption that some donor will fund whatever I ask for, and that money unspent is money lost. That is, I don’t affect anyone else’s classroom or materials by skimping, so I don’t have to be all that ethical. First of all, I agree with all the folks in Dan’s post and get a bunch of whiteboards;

  • 36 Medium sized (24×32 in) student whiteboards ($100)
  • 36 Small (16 x 16 in) student whiteboards ($30)
  • Cover all the non-windowed walls in whiteboards ($5000, turns out quality classroom whiteboards aren’t cheap)
  • 2 rollable whiteboard dividers ($1000)

Frank Noschese wrote a great post about student whiteboards. Seriously, go read it, I certainly can’t improve on it as far as reasons to have students use whiteboards. Since I have unlimited funds in this scenario, I could purchase nice manufactured whiteboards at $120 a pop. But that’s so ridiculous that I can’t stand it. I can go to Home Depot and purchase a $15 sheet of 4′ x 8′ that makes 6 medium whiteboards or 16 small whiteboards. Why anyone would pay $12o for one of these aristocratic whiteboards is beyond me, let alone a class set for $3600. Next, covering the walls and adding dividers is to reduce barriers for students to talk about what they are doing. All they have to do is pick up a marker (I should probably have a $1000 marker budget….) and start collaborating. Clearly that takes some pedagogical skill (that I don’t know that I have yet), but we’ll save that for another post. I feel like 2 rollable dividers would be nice to be able to use in the middle of the room as well, but I think more of them would make it too cluttered. Honestly, what I really would want (but is even beyond reasonable for this unlimited funds exercise) is some system where students can easily drop whiteboards (or glass, that’d be cool too) from the ceiling, then raise it up again as a space saver. Plus then we’d have math on the ceiling, and that’d be pretty neat.

Noticeably missing: A SMART board. I don’t have one now, and don’t really want one. I want stuff that helps students collaborate and dialogue; a SMART board would be for ME. Seriously, even with unlimited funds, I wouldn’t get it simply because I want to do everything I can to encourage students to do the work. Whiteboard total: $6130.

Next let’s look at the classroom setting itself.

  • 15 Tables on Casters ($7500)
  • 30 Chairs on Casters (If you want to get crazy this could be up to $7500, but a simple internet search indicates I can do more like $3000)

Desks make it harder for kids to collaborate. I would love tables on casters for a number of reasons. I like that kids can easily group up on them. I like that we can move them into a whole class rectangle, put a couple together for larger group work, or get them all out of the way to do something more kinesthetic. Chairs on wheels would be nice too, but again I have trouble justifying the crazy expensive version. Class setting total: $10500.

Now we hit the technology setting. I’m going to start with room-scale technology.

  • 70″+ TV on casters ($2000)
  • Five 36″ TVs mounted on the walls. above the precious whiteboards, of course ($2500)
  • Apple TV for each TV to wirelessly project Apple products ($500)
  • I’m going to assume we can install some magic circuitry such that each TV can be accessed individually or they can all show the same thing, but I don’t feel strongly enough to actually research this. (umm…$1000?)
  • A teacher Macbook Air ($1000)
  • A teacher iPad mini ($300)
  • iPad doc cam setup ($130)

Actually, before I explain those, I want to add in the student technology;

  • 17 Chromebooks ($5100)
  • 2 iPad Minis ($600)
  • Chromecast for each TV to wirelessly project the Chromebooks ($200)

I saw the TV on casters once at a presentation on room design, and I fell in love with it for physics purposes. I would love to be able to roll it to the ‘front’ of the room as standard use, but then move it to the lab space to demo lab procedures, and have the flexibility to move the ‘front’ to wherever feels right. I have a harder time envisioning its use for math, but hey, dreaming big here. The TVs on the sides are more for students. I think it would be really neat while students work if “Hey Jasmine, that’s a neat graph, can you bring it up on screen 3 to show everyone?” became a reality. I like multiple TVs so students can regularly show each other, in small groups, what they are working on, hence the Apple TV and circuitry. Note that Apple TV, Airserver, and I’m pretty sure Chromecast, all use Bonjour, which can mess with network stuff that is beyond my expertise. So definitely check with someone on the IT side of things before investing there. The Macbook is so I can be anywhere in the room and still bring up something on a screen (as opposed to a desktop computer). I really like the iPad mini for classroom use because it fits in my hand easily, so I can take lots of pictures and use it as a doc cam as I walk around. The doc cam setup allows me to use it like a ‘real’ doc cam as well. I hear doc cams can do some pretty neat things, and we may be missing out on that with the iPad, but I feel like the flexibility of the iPad makes up for that. Both the iPad and the Macbook will have to be replaced 2-3 times over 10 years, so let’s add $3000 for replacement costs. Room-scale tech; $7500, $10,500 including replacement costs.

For student tech, I would go with Chromebooks because of their ease of use in a cart setting. That is, students don’t have their own, but logging into and out of a Chromebook is really easy to do. I only want 17 because I want a 2:1 ratio plus a couple extra, since batteries die and hardware stops working randomly (just when you want it the most). I want a 2:1 ratio for two reasons; first, I have heard from a number of people in 1:1 situations (we’re not there yet, though I have 10 laptops in my room) that even though each kid has a device, they often have half  go screen downs anyway. This is to encourage collaboration and to discourage multi-tasking. Kids are much less likely to check Facebook if their partner is watching over their shoulder. My second reason for 2:1 is that managing a cart is really annoying, and I think it becomes much more manageable with half the devices. I would deal with that if I had a solid pedagogical reason for 1:1, but I personally want more collaboration rather than individualization in my classroom anyway. Both Chromebooks and iPads run Desmos and Geogebra well, which accounts for probably 75% of my tech use in a math class. I like iPads a bit better for the ability to use the camera and draw on the surface, but the annoyance of lack of profiles for sharing the device easily negates that. We’ll figure out a workflow to use student devices to capture pictures and video and get it to the Chromebooks as needed. I include a couple iPads since it will inevitably be nice for some kids to just use them instead of personal devices (which they may not actually have).

We can only assume Chromebooks and iPads last about 3 years, so we should add in about $15,000 in replacement costs over 10 years. This leaves us with a student technology cost of $6000, pushing $20,000 with replacement costs.

So far in our unlimited funds scenario we are spending about $30,000 plus asking for $20,000 in replacement costs to sustain it for a bit. I don’t think money for replacement costs is common though.

Self-limit. Now I’m going to take a few things out because I have a conscience and I can’t picture an acceptable cost/benefit ratio for a couple of the items. The TVs on the walls have to go first, then the rollable large TV, and probably even the rollable whiteboard dividers. I would keep one Chromecast and Apple TV to retain the ability for both student and teacher devices to wirelessly connect to the overhead projector that we assumed started in the room (though it needs an HDMI input, and if it’s older, that would be a problem). No more need for $1000 magic circuitry though. This trims about $6000, and if we assume no replacement costs, we’re down to $24,000 now.

$20,000 limit. I would start by skimping on chairs, so getting rid of chairs with casters saves about $2000 from the self-limit amount. Then I would cut the other $2000 in wall whiteboards. It still leaves a lot of whiteboard space (I figure I can still put standard 4′ tall whiteboard around most of the room with the leftover $3000 whiteboard budget), it just wouldn’t be floor to ceiling.

The $10,000 question. This is the number I think starts to get into the realm of ‘I could potentially convince someone to actually fund this.’ It’s also where my decisions get more difficult. In particular, I really want to keep the tables on casters. I really like (at least in theory) their flexibility. So I cheated a bit, did some more research, and founds some cheaper tables. Thus what I would keep, when nailed down;

  • 36 Medium sized (24×32 in) student whiteboards ($100)
  • 36 Small (16 x 16 in) student whiteboards ($30)
  • Only add two 15′ x 4′ wall whiteboards ($1500)
  • Cheaper tables on casters, chairs with no casters ($4000)
  • 15 student Chromebooks and one Chromecast ($4500)

This puts me over budget by $130. Pin me down and I’d cheat by finding even cheaper tables and/or chairs. I’m not getting rid of the whiteboards.

In the end I basically agree with Dan and other twitter folks, but with extra cash I would add tables and Chromebooks. I think I’d add the Chromebooks first, as I really like what you can do even with just Desmos and Geogebra. But tables are really close. I honestly didn’t expect, when I started this process, that in the end I’d keep the tables. I think I need to get moving on asking for some for my actual classroom.

Note that what’s left is a bunch of things for students to use. I didn’t even try to do that (really). Here’s hoping my practices reflect my apparent beliefs.

On a personal note, this was a really interesting exercise for me to examine why I hold particular items dear in my classroom. I hope it’s insightful for you as well, and I would love for you to share your thoughts, additions, subtractions, or anything else in the comments.

Here’s the spreadsheet I used to collect items and costs, in case you want to look at it more closely.

UPDATE: Megan Hayes-Golding suggested something I really just had to add back in; a multi layered whiteboard. This definitely goes in the unlimited category. I would definitely consider finding room for it in the $20,000 limit.

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