Sunday, April 26, 2009

One more time with the overhead projector

I wrote a short time back how the use of the overhead projector seemed to help some fourth grade students learn a little more as well as enjoying the process.   I did use the overhead one time to save my own skin so to speak.  Circa 1969-1970s.

I was taking classes for my doctoral degree--about half way through the curriculum of study.  One course that I still had to take, among others, was advanced statistics.  "Advanced!'  Just the word put fear into my head.  The computer program, entitled, "Statpac" and I had yet to be introduced to each other and my fear of statistics was still unfortunately higher than was warranted.  One thing that I had going on my side was that my wife had a degree in Statistics in Sociology.  She could help me--I was cool.

Now smart graduate students do some work before classes start.  Who is the instructor?  What do we know about him/her?  Who has already taken the course and what do they suggest?  What textbook is required?  Before the first class, you have the beginnings of a notebook with all sort of data, sometimes you can even get a copy of last quarter's outline of the course.  Also you try to buy a use copy of the textbook--not because it is cheaper but because it is marked up by the previous owner who has taken the course.

So it was with "Advanced Statistics."  I did my pre-class investigation.  And it was bad--really bad.  Brand new young professor, just hired.  No one knew a thing about him.  No textbook was required--what?  Gotta have a textbook.   A couple of us even called the instructor's university from which he had just graduated.  He had never taught a course before.  This was not good.

On the first day of class ten doctoral students made their appearance in a seminar classroom and waited with apprehension.  I think some comments between us was something about one for all and all for one.  We were a team.....even if we were a very apprehensive team.

The instructor finally find his way to the classroom and introduced himself.  I really don't remember his name.   After some introductory remarks he mentioned that this was advance statistics and what he was going to do was pass a hat around and we were each to take a slip of paper from the hat and that would be the subject that each person would present to the rest of the class during the quarter.  In essence, each of us would teach part of the course.  The new instructor would make corrections and help guide us through our presentations.  This was doable, it really meant that each student in the class had to really know one statistical procedure and we could share notes with each other.  

So okay--what about the final?   He was still thinking about that and would let us know.  

The hat was passed and I pulled out a piece of paper.  He had a name on it that I did not recognize and a date of my presentation to the class.  Thank heavens the date was closer to the end of the quarter.....I would have time to study.  I remember that I went home that evening and told my wife what statistical subject I had chosen and what did she know about it.  Her answer upset me.  She said it was very, very theoretical and that there were many experts who did not think it was plausible.  At that time when faced with a problem I'd head to the library.  What books had anything about this procedure? (for those readers who wish I would tell them the name, quite frankly I cannot recall what the statistical procedure was--I'm sorry).  By now I was friends with several librarians and between the three of us, we scoured the library for anything that mentioned this procedure.  Magazines, books, anything.  We came up with four items for me to check out--there wasn't much.  With this material I was to make an hour's presentation.  I remember going to a friend in another department and asking him about this procedure.  He knew nothing about it and when I was done would I give him a copy of what I had found out.

The future looked bleak.  I read all the material I had and made notes, perhaps ten or twelve pages of handwritten stuff that made little sense to me.  I understood the theory but had no idea how it worked.  I'm not a good porker player but I do know when it is time to bluff.  It was time.

I drew all the equations on clean white paper in pencil, then the graphs or charts that sorta explained the equations.  I had maybe fifteen sheets of drawings.  These I recopied then in ink and made transparencies.  My next step was to mount each transparency to a white cardboard frame.  My last construction step was to then write all my notes around the sides on the frame that had anything remotely about that graphic.  Then it was practice time.  About a week before my presentation I would practice my presentation with a stop watch reading my notes off each frame as I went.  My goal was to end with the last transparency just before the bell that ended the class would ring.  

On the day of the presentation, I made sure I had an overhead projector that had new bulbs in it--one a back up.   Class went for two hours with a short break in between.  I had the second hour.  When it was my turn, I set up the projector, turned the classroom lights off and started in with the presentation.   Now an overhead projector doesn't need the lights off in the room--in fact, when someone uses an overhead and does turn the lights off, it generally indicates that person is not use to using such a device.  I knew that and so did a number of my peers in the class.  But I also didn't want anyone to see my notes on the frame of each transparency.  Hence, no lights in the room.  As I said I started in on the presentation.  I was smooth.  I was cool. I had no idea of what I was saying.  Nothing made sense to me but I bluffed my way one transparency at a time.  I kept checking my time and I was right on--I was finishing up my presentation as the bell rang.  I do remember one person in the class raising a hand with a question and I said something to the effect that I would answer all questions at the end of the presentation.  Saved by the bell  

As we all left the classroom, the new professor said something about how my presentation made sense to him about that statistical method for the first time--well done, Mr. Blackwell.  Ha!  My colleagues got me away from the classroom and gave me a bad time--they knew I was bluffing but appreciated the way I had done it.  Bravo.  And when they saw my notes on the frame they were even more complementary.  The overhead and I had pulled it off.

A while later my prof saw me in the hall and asked if he could have a copy of my overhead transparencies.  I gave him the originals but put them in new clean frames.   And there was no final for us and everyone got an "S" for satisfactory.  The whole course turned out to be a non-event, albeit, highly stressed.  I never saw that statistical procedure mention or written ever again--perhaps it was deemed not important.  Who knows.  I do know that a short time later when my major professor put that teletype in my office that had "statpac" in its menu, I know I had an unusual intense interest in it.  My days of statistical transparencies were numbered.  The computer had made its arrival.

If you ever had a teacher who made a presentation that dazzled you I hope you thanked them at the end.  They planned it that way.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A characteristic of teachers

A short blog today for I am sad.  Latest news from our state capitol is that a budget for the next two years has been approved.  Because of the economy it is a tight budget that no one is going to approve of.  At best it is a compromise.  Some programs get cut, others get moved to a different category and the state legislature does what it can--but it is a terribly tough task which no one likes.

I write this with a big sigh.  Education takes the big hit overall.  The K-12 schools will find their budgets cut drastically and teachers will lose their jobs.  Sad.  These cuts are so tough that I suspect school administrators will lose their jobs as well.  No one is going to escape the hard times.  The only hope on the horizon is that the state may get some money from the federal government.  Having been in this spot before I can only say I am not holding my breath.

And as usual the teachers will not get any cost of living increases--those will be the lucky teachers.  They will have a job.

Higher Education is going to be hit hard as well.  For those who read this who believe that tenure will protect faculty, think again.  Tenure allows faculty to study and do research with limited restrictions--that is all it protects.  When money is scarce, faculty positions can be terminated.  There will be a lot of professors who will be let go.  If there were any good in all of this it will be the young professors newly hired in the past five years that will be released.  They will be able to get a position with another university in another state and they will be able to start over.  But it is hard.  Again, I have been in the position before when eight of my colleagues were given their notice--their contract terminated.  Tenured profs.    I'm holding back tears as I write.

The worst thing about this economic woe is that there is not a good side to any of this.  For example, Boeing just announced that it needs engineers and skilled workers.  But the community college programs that train those workers will be reduced or in some cases cut entirely.  The same with the engineering departments--the new young professors with the latest research and knowledge will be the ones let go.  

The flip side is to raise taxes but that hurts many as well.  Small businesses will lose customers if taxes go up.  

There really isn't a good choice in all of this economy.  So the teachers that are left teaching will take a deep breath and plan for larger classes and less textbooks and teaching materials.  Kindergartens and pre-schools may be cut which will hurt the children most of all.

There is an interesting side in all of this--let's see if it happens again.  Music and art if they have survived so far will be eliminated.  But sports will go on.  We'll still have coaches and team busses, uniforms and the like.  Large universities will continue to compete on a national level.  University coaches will continue to make good salaries.  Strange.  I wonder if girls' sports will be cut....  I would fight to keep that from happening but it has happened in the past. 

So I moan and blather about the economy while my teacher friends go on doing what they've always done--teach students the best way they know how.  Do I have any answers?  Heavens no!  I'm not an economist.  I wish I knew what we should do.  But given the past history of education the teachers will continue on teaching the children.

I wish all of you the best of wishes in this troubled times.  I wish I had a magic wand but there isn't one.  If you meet a teacher who has been laid off, offer to buy them lunch.  If you meet a teacher who is still working, thank them for all of us.

Monday, April 20, 2009

What do we want our kids to learn

It is the age old question--Plato intoned it centuries ago....  "Of which knowledge is of most worth?"  Basically, what do we want our kids to know, to learn, to carry on forward.  In recent days I've seen articles, blogs and a television news report (sic) that mentioned how we need higher standards for our kids.   We have fallen behind other industrialized countries is the warning.  Only three out of four of our high school students are graduating from high school. And if I look carefully, the sky is falling down.

I do want to make a point here.  In the late 1800s if I remember my history of the American Public Schools, we graduate about one out of four students--but remember many students only went to school until the sixth or eighth grade.  We were an agrarian nation primarily.  And many young adults studied on their own at night after working the fields all day.  Remember, Lincoln never went to law school--he studies at home.  Our records about who was educated and who left high school were not well kept.  

Even before World War II, (remember it was in the depression) we didn't have a great graduation rate.  And colleges were for the rich kids and primarily for the guys--girls were expected to marry and raise more kids.  Formal education was not a major goal for most people.

According to some historians, schools began to be organized with certain learnings in the early 1900s.  The United States was growing into an industrial nation and we needed trained workers for the plants.  Some say that the method of teaching children in large groups (fifty to sixty children) with bells ringing to end and start different classes of learning was to train the young how to work in a factory.  Perhaps.  We certainly needed child labor laws at one time.  What type of learning do you need to run equipment?  

This question of what to teach has been with us since the American schools were organized in Boston early on in the life of this country.  We have been arguing ever since.  What we study in the schools is called the curriculum.  It came from the Latin meaning a course of study.  In today's age, we have many, many experts that would like to tell us what a "proper" curriculum should be.  Besides those experts, there are those who will say, "And don't leave out...."  You fill in the blanks....  

I have read my state's requirements for what schools in this state are suppose to teach and what students need to learn to graduate.  Lordy, I'm not sure I could pass.  I do know that reading the state's requirements should take care of any sleeping problems you might have.  Then these requirement are converted into test questions--I am sure I couldn't answer many of them....the WASL tests are suppose to be the end all to what students should know.  And if you listen carefully, there are those in this nation and in this state that say we need to increase the level of knowledge so that our kids can compete with the rest of the world.  

I think the first step that we should do is to have a ongoing debate and study of what we want our kids to know.  List the items.  Tell me what you think a graduate of our K-12 schools should look when they graduate.  What can they do, what do they know.....and how do their feel and what do they value.  Once we have that focused in our minds, then tell the teachers and let them do their job.  Keep the administrators from stirring up the pot--let them run the schools but keep their hands off of the curriculum for now.

You know what I think people will want?  Leslie Briggs did this exercise many years ago.  He was a professor of education at, I believe, the University of Florida.  Smart guy--I don't have his book anymore but I remember a lot of what he wrote.  

Briggs said we only need to teach our children three things.  Just three things!  The first thing we need to teach our children is how to communicate.  All types of communications.  Talking, singing, writing, acting, publishing, listening, talking, reading, dance, mathematics, story telling....the list goes on.  We are a societal animal and we need to communicate with each other.  And it mandates a variety of ways.  Briggs suggests that this objective or goal should start in pre-school.  He pre-dated the pre-school craze long before it became popular.

The second thing we need to teach is the "self."  Who are we?  How do I feel today.  Why did I get an "A" on the exam--or any other grade?  How far can I jump?  We don't do a good job of this--many people feel we are "messing with the children's mind."  But I think we need to get the children to understand how they are feeling effects their learning.

An aside:  I can remember coming into class on some different days and telling the kids I was feeling grumpy and don't mess with me today.  I want you all on your best behavior.  Then one day one of my boys came into class in the morning and said to me, "I feeling grumpy today and I don't want to be messed with."  I though to myself, I've know exactly how he feels.  So I said to him how would like to do your work at the carroll in the back of the room today.  He agreed and by noon he reappeared and said he was feeling better and he joined the class.   How kids feel is important....but we don't teach much about this subject.

Leslie Briggs suggested in his book that we need to keep individual records as to what we do and the results that we get from them.  So if a child didn't eat breakfast and then did poorly in his assignments, can we learn from that?  So learning about the self is part of the Briggs' three objectives.

His third objective or goal was the arts from fine cuisine to history to the arts in general to knowledge about the world to economics to politics, to philosophy and psychology and sociology and everything that makes a quality of life unique.  The other two objectives or goals are the foundations but this goal is the architecture of life.  

So I am suggesting that these three goals be the foundation of our curriculum.  As old "Blue Eyes" has sung, "I am in the September of my life," and I cannot believe how many things, how much stuff I have learned that is totally useless in todays age.  It is amazing.  However, we need to sit down and talk about how we want our children to be....  Then we can design a curriculum that we can teach.  

Are you thinking about what I have written?  Then go thank a teacher who taught you how to think.

Friday, April 17, 2009

An interesting bit of research...

Reading, Writing and Arithmetic always seem to be the target of those that want our schools to go back to the basics.  Those that want this return to basics apparently seem to want our teachers to continue in the style that was used in the past.  Indeed, there is a handwritten note to the school board in a Boston museum that is politely requests that the children continue to learn how to shape a turkey quill even though new metal quills will be supplied to the students.  "What will happen if when they grow up there are no metal quills available.?" intones the letter.

As an aside, I do remember being given a metal quill early in my grade school days.  Each desk also had a hole in which a glass jar fit full of black ink.   Unfortunately with my last name, Blackwell, my nickname quickly became "Inkwell" or "Inky."  

Still my point being that it is difficult sometimes for a school board to allow the curriculum and the teachers to move on.

Not that many years ago I had an excellent if not outstanding graduate student.  She was interested in how children learn to write and devised a way to measure whether the computer (at that time a new item in the schools and somewhat looked at with suspicion by many teachers) could improve students' writing.

In a local elementary school she found a teacher who had the reputation of being able to really push the children in his class to write well--complex sentences, paragraphs that made sense, creative ideas and the best part--getting them to like to write.  In many classes (my early classes fit into this category) children write about the assignment, then turn in the paper.  In my case, I would point out the errors and make suggestions, then ask the student to re-do the paper.  "Awe, Mr. Blackwell, do I hafta?"  They hated re-writing.  It was like pulling teeth.  No matter what sort of an assignment I would give, by and large they didn't mind writing about it but re-doing it was not their cup of tea.

So Carol (my graduate student) found this teacher with a great reputation for teaching writing and we approach the district and him to see if they would be interested in some research about writing.  What Carol and I wanted to do was to put six computers in the hall outside of the classroom and at times certain students would do their assignment on the computer....TRS 80s from Radio Shack...with one dot matrix printer.  The district and the teacher agreed with the stipulation that the printer remain out in the hall.  Agreed.

We randomly chose six students from a class of about twenty-five kids.  Lucky those chosen were pretty much your average kid in class.  Then the research began.  The teacher did his usual instruction and gave the entire class an assignment.  And all the kids in class wrote by hand on the writing assignment.  Only at the end, Carol took the six kids assignments and typed them into the computer--just as the kids had written them.  Errors and all.  Those were printed up on  the printer that the children would be using.  This was done for the first three assignments.  With me so far?

On the fourth writing assignment, the chosen six students were told that they had to write their paper on the computers out in the hall. The grumbling and complaining from the other students was well noted--all wanted to compose on the computers but we told them, you get to use them later.  And so the six students hunted and pecked their way to completing their writing assignment.  Mistake number one on my part--I didn't tell Carol to teach the kids how to touch type.  I didn't even think of it.

We did this for assignments, four, five and six.  The six kids really enjoyed themselves and were very pleased with their printouts. Their papers looked good!   Indeed, so pleased that they would read them to others in the class at which time they also noted mistakes in their writing and would go back and make corrections.  Now all of you know how easy it is to correct a misspelling or to add a word when you write at a computer.  But it was a new thing in the early days of computers in the schools.  Carol and I had not figured any way to measure how many times each child went back to made corrections.  Mistake number two.  

But on the other hand, my English department colleagues will be quick to tell you that re-writing is the best part of improving writing skills.

Then for assignments seven, eight and nine, the chosen six had to come back to class and write their assignments on paper like they initially did.  Big time grumbling!  They were not happy students.  Finally, on writing assignments ten, eleven and twelve, they were allowed back on the computers.  

Now Carol had twelve assignments from each of our chosen six students--six of the assignments were hand written but then copied over on the computer by Carol.  Six of the assignments were done on the computers.  In essence, each child was his/her own control group.  We wanted to see if the computer helped improve the child's writing.  

Carol next found two experience grade school teachers on maternity leave in another school district.  Each independently evaluated each assignment.  There were no names on them, just an identifying number.  Basically what these two teachers agreed on was that we had either two different teachers teaching writing or two different groups of children.  Hah!  Our six kids had longer sentences as well as longer paragraphs when they wrote their assignments on the computer.  This was accomplished even tho' they never learned to touch type.  What we never did was to think about how many times each child re-wrote either on paper or on the computer.  Somehow we should have measure that variable as well.  To our eye there was much more re-writing on the computers.

Part of the problem in teaching writing is that most children do not have the motor coordination necessary for writing with a pencil or pen.  Their hands have not developed that well.  Yes, we could teach more penmanship--I wish I could give it a try.  I see a lot of grownups now who write with an uncomfortable hand posture.  

Today most schools have computers in the classroom--do we have enough?  More research needs to be done.  But I would also just like to ask teachers today, what do you need to teach writing effectively.....and to your satisfaction.  I trust the teachers--they are the pros in this game.  

If the moment strikes you, you ought to write an e-mail and thank a teacher.  Be sure to re-write it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What We Find In School Books

Somehow in the maze of writing a blog I have been unable to show an attachment to another blog that I revere--Journal of Educational Controversy Blog, written, supervised, mothered, pampered, consoled and researched by Dr. Lorraine Kasprisin, Professor of Education at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.  I have talked with Lorraine on many occasions and know her to be one of the intellectual fonts in the field of Educational Philosophy.  A Deweyain expert she thinks through problems facing education with logic, passion and intelligence. I say all this not to embarrass her (which I certainly will do) but to focus a bit of the educational spotlight on someone who deserves it.

As usual her blog ( is a day ahead of me and miles down the road in thinking.  Please go see the research about American Indians in Children's Literature.  It raises questions which is what Dr. Kasprisin is trying to do.

As I just mentioned I had planned to write about children's literature from the Basil Readers to library books for the classroom and how they can mold children.  As usual, she beat me to it.

You have to understand that teachers do not teach from the moment school starts to the end of the day, no matter what grade or subject he/she is teaching.  The kids couldn't take the stress, neither could the teacher.  At times you need to take a break.  But at the grade school level, you just can't walk away from your class.  You are still on duty.  

So I would sometimes walk around the class with a question, let's say, "what do you want to do when you grow up?"  Now remember, I'm asking this question in the early sixties.  Computers haven't been invented for the masses, cable television hadn't been explored as yet, and most information was obtained by print media.  As I walked around the room asking the question I would get such answers from the boys as "a pilot" (the school was near Boeings), "a military officer," a business owner like my dad," or "a doctor so I can help people get well."  The answers were not surprising.  Pretty standard in their day.  Perhaps today as well.  

But the girls gave me different answers.  "I want to be a housewife," "a nurse," a librarian," or a receptionist."  A few said they were going to work at Boeings--I suspect their moms did as well.  I was concerned that the girls were not thinking as to the possible potentials as they might.  I remember one girl being totally puzzled when she answered my question that she wanted to be a flight attendant when she grew up and I asked why not be the pilot.  She really couldn't comprehend the question.  Girls didn't do that.

So I decided that the next book that I would read to the class would have a girl as the hero.  Right!  One of my ancestors was Elizabeth Blackwell, first woman doctor in the United States long, long ago.  Maybe something like that would do the trick.  So down to the school library I went.  I could find no book at that time that had a girl as the hero, the savior of the story.  Not one book!  I asked the school librarian to find me a book with the girl being the main subject.  She said she didn't have any.  Why not?  They don't publish them.  I was fit to be tied.  

Here's the kicker to this part of the story.  I asked the librarian if she had any Nancy Drew mysteries?  No, not one.  They were not allowed in school libraries because they were not good literature.  But when I asked about the Hardy Boys, she had most of them on the shelves.  She couldn't give me an answer as to what was different between the two series.....  

I remember being very upset, doing some shouting at home to no one in particular and my dog going under the couch.  That Saturday I went into Seattle to the Seattle Public Library and was amazed that there were so few books with girls as the heros.  Oh, yes, there were plenty of adult books with women leading the way, but I wanted what is called in the trade, a young adult book with a girl as the lead subject.  I found a few old ones but nothing in the modern vernacular.  I do remember several librarians trying to help me.  One lady mentioned a book, however it was checked out but I could get on the waiting was titled, "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle.  Not only was the older girl in the book the hero, she saves her brother and her mother was a Ph.D in science as well.   That was what I was looking for.  It was published in 1962. I got a copy from somewhere and read it to my class.

Dear Reader, I am getting a bit emotional once again so bare with me if you will.  I remember reading to the class this story each day after lunch and recess.  The kids hung on every word.  The boys didn't seem to mind that the girl was the hero--they just enjoyed the story.  But the girls were at full attention.  They loved the story.  When I finished it, the girls wanted me to read it again. 

 It was then I began to look at my teaching materials to see if I were presenting the information in a non bias manner.  I wasn't.  My basil readers were still showing pictures of dads going off to work, children going off to school and mom staying behind wearing a dress, high heels and an apron.  This was in the early 1960s.  The arithmetic book had story problems that almost always had a man doing something that the student was suppose to figure out the answer.  Never a woman working with numbers or presenting a problem.    

I do remember finally finding a book about Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor and reading it to the class.  I know she must have been part of my ancestors--she was stubborn to a fault.  I got multiple learning from reading that book to the kids.  The girls began to think of a greater horizon for themselves and both boys and girls began to think about their ancestors.  I know that several of my kids talked to their grandparents about their past families which delighted everyone.  And a number of my girls started being stubborn...not being pushed around anymore as one said to me.  I think I screwed that up by hugging her.

Had I written this blog a week or so earlier I would have ended by saying that things are much better now.  They are a good number of books in the school libraries with girls as the lead subject/hero.  Judy Bloom has a number that will even curl your hair and the girls love them.  And I am happy to report that the "Shoes" series of books by Noel Streatfeild has made it way across the ocean from England which have become very popular for the pre-teen.

But a problem still exists.  How many books do we have that feature an Hispanic child as the hero in the story?  There is always the classic "And Now Miguel."  What about Asian boys and girls?  And as Dr. Kasprisin points out in her blog, where are the teaching materials that incorporate the Native Americans.  

Today's teachers are far better trained and educated in looking at the bias in teaching materials.  I was very poor at this in my time.  I am glad that teachers are always looking to see if the teaching material and the learning experience are the right thing for each student.

If a teacher pushed you to think beyond what you had planned, be sure to say a private "thank you" in your mind.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Technology and the teacher...

When I first started teaching fifth grade after I had returned from my war, the principal said that all male teachers had extra work and I could be either School Boy Patrol advisor or the A-V guy.  I chose being the audio-visual guy in the school so that I wouldn't have to get up early to see if all the boys were at the crossings.  But I always was interested in audio-visual stuff.  What this meant at this school is that the overhead projector, the 16 mm movie projector, 2 slide projectors and one opaque projector were stored in my classroom and when a teacher needed one of those items, I was to wheel it down to their classroom.  It was not a good system--it took up much space in the corner of my room and two or three times a week I had to move a projector to some other room.

On the other hand, it meant that I had mostly all the equipment most of the time.  Cool.  It was the overhead projector that I enjoyed most of all.  We had just one overhead  for sixteen teaching positions which was terrible.  If a teacher had to schedule the overhead for some lesson they hardly ever did.  It is hard to say that on Tuesday of next week I will want the overhead to teach sentence diagraming at 10:15 in the morning.  We may get there and then again we may still be doing some other work.  I hate to teach kids on a schedule.  I can speed up or take time to review but to say that I will accomplish something with thirty five children at a certain time seems asinine to me.  It can't be done unless luck is involved.  To be frank with you, there ought to be an overhead projector in each room.  No sharing.

Well, I didn't share and I started to use the overhead instead of using the blackboard.  Easier and I found out something important--the kids in the back of the room could see what I was doing better.   I began to watch my kids  and it appeared that those near the back of the room didn't always see what I was doing.  It helped me change some of my teaching behaviors--I moved around the room more often but better yet, I rearranged the desk so kids could get closer to the blackboard.  But still the overhead projector was superior for the kids to see things.  

I can remember using the overhead and having some kid say to me, "Mr. Blackwell, could you move over?"  They just wanted a clear view of the screen.  That told me also that they wanted to learn.....  Just get out of their way.

I only had a few sheets of clear transparencies to use--the school wouldn't order any more...we also had to share those items.  So I used wax pencils and would have a child in my class wipe them clear at the end of a lesson.  But somedays I wanted to use them on a following days.  

It turned out that I needed some dentistry work and while at the dentist saw what I thought was a pile of transparencies.  "What are you doing with those" I asked.  It turn out there were post-dated X-ray film that they couldn't use anymore.  I asked if I could have them and the dentist said yes on the agreement that they be washed well to get the chemicals off of them.  I agreed.  That weekend, my wife washed and I dried and hung up 60 to 75 sheets of ex-X-ray film.  

Monday I took this pile of transparencies to class.  Each sheet was a little thicker then normal transparencies and they had a slight curve to them but they were quite useable.  I was a happy teacher. I didn't have to share and I could file certain transparencies in file folders to use when I did this lesson once again....or for a review.  But one day, a couple of the kids asked if they could use my transparency for something during recess.  They put it on and took notes and copied stuff from it.  It gave me an idea.

I passed out two transparencies to each student along with a wax pencil (which I bought) and showed them how to put the transparency on a tablet so that the lines would show through and they could write an outline of a report I was going to ask them to do.  The class would always groan when reports were assigned but this time it sounded like fun.  Something different.  I forget what the assignment was--let's say just for an example that each student in the class was assigned a state and had to show population, major products, etc.  Pretty standard stuff that the kids enjoyed looking up.  They were to put these answers in outline form (I got to teach two things here, information gathering and outlining).  Then I gave them several days to work on the project.  I'd go around the room helping out those that needed it and encouraging others who got bogged down in details.  How to sort....and evaluate.  A good time was had by all.  I was pleased with myself.  

Then it was time for results.  I put the overhead on a table at the front of the room next to our podium (remember it from a previous blog on reading?).  Then I pick a student I knew would do a good job.....I was working on success begatting success here.  The student got up to the front of the room and started off, using the revelation technique that I had show all of them.  He had done a good job and he was talking away about his state.  Then he would reveal a little more of his outline.  Talked some more.... Pretty soon I realized that he was going to take a least a half hour to complete his report.  Under the old system where the student would take their sheet of paper up to the front of the room, they would essentially just read what they had written.  But this kid was going on and on WITHOUT NOTES, only his outline.  Well, for heaven's sake.  Finally, the next child was chosen.  She went on and on as well....without notes only using the outline on her transparency.   I was impressed.  We only got through two kids that day and I had to revise my lesson plans.  But I had noticed something else.  The kids in class were paying attention--really good attention.  Not only that but they were swiping ideas and incorporating them into their outlines--instant upgrades so to speak.  

The improvement to my lesson plans and to the kids' learning was astonishing.  And the kids thought it was fun.  Fun and learning are good.  It took several weeks for the whole class to be able to present their information about their state.  The interesting thing was that they kept getting better and better and each child swiped ideas from the previous presenter.  My first kid wanted to do his over and I told him no, he had done very well.  I was pleased with him--but he wasn't pleased with himself.  What a concept.  The class as a whole wanted to know when they could do another report.  It became the standard in my room for presenting.

I still remember the increase in the amount of learning that the overhead seem to achieve with each student.  There is no doubt in my mind that the overhead projector was instrumental in a quantum leap in learning for my students in that class.  And it was a fun way to learn.  I still say the enjoyment has to go along with the learning for it to be valuable.  Even if some of the stuff the children learned would be only useful in a trivia game.  But using the overhead projector also seem to give my shy kids confidence in their presenting.  It was a valuable lesson for me to learn--technology can further learning.

If you had a teacher that had you use some technology in school, say a silent thank you for a job well done.