I spent Thursday through Saturday at Computer-Using Educators (CUE) out in the desert here in California and met a wonderful group of thoughtful and somewhat rebellious teachers.  Many had to take their own days off to come and paid their own ways.  Each was working in their own path to make the education better for the students in their classes.  Most were pursuing project-based learning (PBL), using social constructivist activities to ferment and expand the learning experience.

The dialog had thankfully moved beyond getting Interactive Whiteboards in the classroom (where many sit unused) and instead how to get the students to be the ones doing the discovery and inquiry.

More in IWBs and that transition….
Vistors wouldn’t have known that from the show floor, where IWB’s were abundant…but so were alternatives to attach them to rolling carts (Royal iRover) to share as well as Epson coming out with a $1,800 IWB projector (BrightLink 450Wi) that didn’t need a specific anything on the wall.  I got to play with the Hitachi StarBoard interactive wireless tablet ($400-ish) and saw lots of excitement around the InterwriteMobi, and other devices that let the interactivity come out to the student in the room instead of the “sage on the stage,” or the teacher being the dominant thinker at the front of the room.  Halleluiah!

And more on saving $$$$ and changing assumptions….
I found two treats that made me smile.  Both are created and distributed directly by small companies:

The first (which I bought and brought home) was the HoverCam. For less than $200, you have a combination document camera and scanner.  It is lightweight and rather elegant — and miles below the pricing of the distribution-driven cameras.  I’ll be testing this and will share more as my tinkering continues.

The other was a software product called GradeCam, which rocked.  You can create input forms for quizzes on the fly, have the students fill them out, then throw them in front of a document cam for instant grading, feedback, and even graphics of results.  Very cool and both save money and time versus the traditional options.  You can get a single-user software for less than $400, or you can get it for your whole school at a very small amount per child per year.  They are getting ready to launch a SaaS (online web) model in the near future.  This alternative might be a good mix or substitute with the clicker-driven systems, and feeds directly into most gradebook programs, saving lots of time for teachers and giving direct feedback to the students immediately without a lot of preparation programming questions into a computer interface.