Thursday, October 18, 2018

In Memory of the Overhead Projector

 In schools all over America there are overhead projector graveyards.

Quick, save one to put in the Museum of Outdated EdTech!

When I first started teaching, these projectors were invaluable.

Having one in your room was a status symbol.

     If you wanted to show something to the class, you had to have a transparency.  Some programs came with transparencies already made.  Awesome!  If they didn't, or if you wanted to show a sample of a student's work to the class, you had to make one yourself.  Not awesome!   You had to put a blank transparency in the paper tray of the copy machine and pray the copier didn't get jammed.  It always got jammed.  And it was always in the morning, five minutes before the opening bell, with a line of teachers waiting to make copies for their classes, moaning and groaning and giving you the hairy eyeball.  Then spreading the news all over the school that it was you who jammed the copy machine, so you'd have to skulk around the hallways all day and maybe even avoid eating lunch in the faculty lounge.  Also the bulbs always burned out, often right before you were getting observed doing a lesson that required the overhead projector.  Then you had to beg a colleague to borrow theirs, because there was always a shortage of overhead projector bulbs because they cost like hundreds of dollars and didn't get put in the budget.  And also because teachers hoarded them.  I know this to be true because once a teacher in my building retired and when the new hire came in and looked in the desk there were three brand new unused overhead projector bulbs in the bottom drawer.
     Happily, those days are behind us.  Behold one of the greatest advances in education in the last half century:

The document camera.

      We can show anything we want to the class without the hassles of the old overhead projector.  A picture in a book, the directions to a game, and, most importantly, student work:

     No longer do we have to wait.  We can share the work immediately, in the moment.  Imagine implementing the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Math Discussions.  Now imagine having to make transparencies of any student work you wanted to share.   Document camera for the win.
     Of course many classrooms don't have document cameras.   Not to worry; take a picture with your phone's camera:

Everybody's got a phone.  Email it to yourself, or AirDrop it.

     The overhead has gone the way of the ditto machine, and the opaque and filmstrip projectors.  Most teachers today have probably never used one, and if they do remember them, it's from their days as students.  And while I will admit to some nostalgia for the calming whirr of the cooling fan and the intimate mood lighting, as well as a touch of sadness at the thought of those once proud machines piled forlornly and haphazardly in the back of a forgotten storage closet, their time has come and gone.

A document camera graveyard??



  1. Great post Joe! Ah...memories. I've experienced all of those events related to transparencies. Just today I brought up one of these in my session at the Georgia Math Conference. Got a good laugh. Love how you tied this all to the 5 practices. As usual, brilliant stuff!

  2. I needed a laugh tonight and you provided it. So . . . what do I do with that box of leftover transparencies? I just can't seem to part with them.

    1. That's a really good question! So ironic that at one time those transparencies were so valuable.