Friday, August 3, 2007

Texas Instruments' TI-Navigator: freakin sweet!

I'm very critical of most professional development workshops (since in my experience they have been, by and large, complete wastes of time) but I'm super excited about sharing what I've learned in "Technology Integration with Texas Instruments". My introduction to the TI-Navigator system and software the last two days has been very exciting as I'm thinking about the possibilities in my classroom.

The software allows unprecedented communication and interaction between the calculators and with computers. For example, when we're looking at a multiple choice TAKS question, each student could use their calculator as a voting machine, and I could either display the results via an LCD projector or simply tally the results and send them back to the students' calculators for discussion. There are many other types of classroom response systems, but this one is better because it's integrated with the other software and functionality. The questions don't have to be multiple choice; you can send true-false or open-response questions as well.

There are also educational games for the kids to play. I did wonder out loud today why Texas Instruments hasn't developed a better view screen or more user-friendly functionality when Nintendo, Sony and other video game system manufacturers have come so far with similarly priced gaming devices (i.e. the Nintendo DS Lite or updated Sony PSP)--but the games do the best with the hardware they're given. Most of the games I played were fun, easy and definitely would succeed at teaching many basic skills. I particularly enjoyed Decimal Defender (free download, but you need the USB cable for your TI-83/84).

The teacher can also do a screen capture for every calculator hooked up to the TI-Navigator's wireless hubs. This is great because it allows the teacher to quickly see what everyone is doing, making it a great disciplinary tool, but it can also be used as a teaching tool. For example, if you were working on slope, you could ask each student to graph an equation that had positive slope, then display all of the screen caps simultaneously via an LCD projector and discuss. I would have loved this last year in Algebra I!

Through the computer software you can also save the results of quizzes and activities to student "portfolios". The software takes care of the grading, so you could actually use this to do quick 5-10 question quizzes and get instant results and ready-for-gradebook grades with little stress.

All in all, I have a lot to bring to the classroom as we start using the systems for the first time this year. The features of the system are very interactive, fun and engaging and well worth the investment if your district is considering it (and can afford it). In the first school district I taught, technology funding was spent foolishly; very little of it ever reached the classroom, and when it did, it was usually useless. Even in a poorly run district like that, however, this would be well worth the investment.

Our workshop was a version of the T3 Conferences that TI runs each summer. The full nine-day version is expensive and probably the sort of thing you send one person to attend (if any) who'll come back and teach everyone else, but the version I attended was a pretty solid introduction (and we were given the full binder of tutoring materials to help us learn the various functions anyway).

So there you go: not all professional development is a waste of time.

Just most of it.