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November 22, 2010

I Was Just Thinking: SMART Boards are a step up from typewriters

Daily Star

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Recently on my radio show, I was musing about the old days when I was in school and all of the technological advances that are available to kids in classrooms today.

When I graduated from high school, there was not a single, solitary computer in all of the Sidney Central School District. I'm not suggesting that everything was recorded on parchment using a quill pen, but it was the "olden days" and things were very different.

I remember taking a class called Business Machines. Edith Wade taught us. The latest innovation at the time was the electric typewriter with the little rotating ball in it. It clicked and clacked and spun around like a little, shiny whirling dervish trapped inside a pea-green metal typewriter case.

We learned how to change and clean the ball and how to use it to its incredible, full potential. It was called the IBM Selectric, and it was mesmerizing. It was introduced in 1961, and by gosh we had them. Yes, believe it or not, that was the very latest invention.

I said on the air that morning: "Now, I watch CNN and I marvel at those giant SMART Boards that John King uses during the political elections. Now that would be great to have in a classroom!" No sooner had those words tumbled from my mouth into the microphone than the phone in the studio rang. It was Melinda Murdock, the principal of Oneonta's Riverside Elementary School.

"Now, Big Chuck, I think you need to go back to school," she laughed. "We have SMART Boards in every classroom at Riverside School. Why don't you come down, and I'll show you around."

Well, I always get a little nervous going back to school, especially when a principal invites me, but off I went.

"Big Chuck, you are going to be amazed," Principal Murdock assured me.

She ushered me into Suzanne Johnson's third-grade classroom. She was going to be my tutor.

"These are real wonders," she began. She flipped on the SMART Board and off we went, on a dizzying half-hour journey through the latest in school technology.

"The kids love this," Mrs. Johnson began. "Look, you can move things, and write on the screen and edit and play learning games and, well, everything.

"This morning, we were doing a math problem that involved the weight and sizes of different fish. In the past, we'd read this math problem out of a book. Now, see what we can do," she said as she spun around and faced the SMART Board.

In an instant, photos of fish of varying sizes were flying around on the screen. She used her finger like an old one-room schoolhouse pointer, and moved things here and there and everywhere. She enlarged the fish, put them in size order, and wrote the math quotients next to each fish. It was a dazzling performance. Oh, and there was music!

"See why the kids get into SMART Board so much?" she ended, snapping off the screen with great flourish.

Surely, John King has nothing on Suzanne Johnson!

"It's been a wonderful tool for both the students and the teachers," Mrs. Murdock told me. "Before we got these my teachers were hungry for technology. When I started at Riverside in 2004, there was very little evidence of these high-tech advances. And now, we are so blessed to have them. The kids come in in the morning and sign themselves in, mark down their lunch preferences (all on the SMART Board), and we are ready to go!"

"It was quite the learning process for the teachers," Mrs. Johnson added. "But we all helped each other; we stumbled and picked each other up, and we kept going. Now, the whole school loves the SMART Boards."

For Veterans Day this year, the students had to write to U.S. troops serving overseas. These letters will be sent to them at Thanksgiving.

"By using the SMART Boards, the kids were able to get up close and personal, through interaction with these soldiers and what it means to serve and sacrifice for one's country. The results were fantastic."

She showed me the letters. Fantastic, indeed.

"Well," I announced. "I'm sold on these things. I only wish I'd had them around when I was going to school."

As I left, I turned to Principal Murdock and said, "That was great! Now show me the mimeograph machine room!"

She rolled her eyes and sent me to detention.

I'll catch you in two. …

'Big Chuck' D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at His columns can be found at