An Ode to the Old School, and the enduring awesomeness of the Clunky Overhead Projector
BUT (you knew there was a “but” coming)... the neurological hard-wiring of the human brain has not evolved at the same rate as our technology. Its place in a classroom with children under 10 is, in my opinion, questionable. Technology is far more prevalent and sophisticated than it was 50 or 100 years ago, but the cognitive learning process of the 2017 kid remains essentially the same as 1967 kid or the 1917 kid.
So today, we look backwards to go forwards! We bring some 1917 and 1967 technology back into the classroom…
Faced with the latest tech, our wonder edges out our curiosity - who cares about the intricacies of how my touch makes the bubble on my screen pop, just as long as those bubbles keep popping! Bubbles in real life don’t pop with such satisfying visuals!
...Which is the point of a lot of this stuff. It’s not real life. It’s disconnected. There’s no human interaction required. No genuine use of language needed, little to no complex motor skills exercised, no real opportunity for observation of others or development of social skills.
Lots of “Old school” technology, however, keeps the fun of blinky lights and button pushing and responsive objects and grownup electrically powered gadgets, but allows for learning through active exploration and interaction. It dials down (gadget pun!) the distraction factor of the gadgets themselves enough to allow kids to absorb some educational content.
We all get more out of life when we interact with it!
(links below are not affiliate links, just reasonably priced resources we like)
Kids like screens? They’ll love Overhead Projectors!
There's a good chance you've already used one of these in your classroom! I’m talking the heavy non-digital projectors that sit on a desk huffing and puffing and overheating, with thick power cords just begging to be tripped over.
For a limited-capacity but inexpensive alternative, DIY with a cardboard box and a smartphone light.
ENDLESS possibilities. Shadow puppets, dance around in the projected light watching our shadows change size on the wall or a large sheet, trace our friend’s shadow on some butcher paper, adjust the mirror on the head and talk about reflection, play with translucent oil or water based sensory bags and see them projected...
Here's to non-responsive screens! They don't condition young brains to respond to flashy outside stimuli and immediate responses, they don't discourage endurance and dedication to tasks. They allow for self-directed play and improvised creative activities!
Kids like video? They’ll love radio!
It's just like a video! Except with a blank screen! Pick up an old-school dial radio; kids will enjoy turning the dial and hearing the results of their motion, as they find different stations and the static in between. You’re connected to real local people and places, not just clicking a button on a computer. You can hear news and music without the visual distraction, keep the kids’ eyes on you (just....er….stand near the radio) and provide PLENTY of opportunity to talk about technology and modern life.
With elementary students, use the radio to identify words repeated during something consistent like traffic reports, or ask if the person speaking sounds like the news or like a commercial, and what makes those sound different? (Identify that marketing schtick before it gets to you, kiddos)
Fun fact for the younger teachers: The NYC Board of Education, among others, had their own radio station (WNYE), broadcast out of Brooklyn, beginning in 1938. Students around the city listened to the news on a classroom radio every morning! Though the station, and its sibling television station WNYE-TV, are no longer operated by the DOE, I think the radio is still a cool tool.
Kids like flashing lights? They’ll love actual Flashlights!
See overhead projector ideas and add in portable individual explorations like testing objects around the class for transparency, holding up transparencies or magnatiles to change the light color, creating a rainbow with some water, and more….Good old Oriental Trading offers bulk buys of kid size flashlights with transparent cases.
Side note: I’m a big fan of transparent gadgets. The more obvious the inner workings of a gadget are, the more kids can actually learn as they are staring at it anyway. I might even warm up to iPads in the classroom a little more if the cases were transparent and you could point out the battery and the processors and the hard drive and so forth. Create an awareness that the magic comes from somewhere - that’s how you nurture a future software engineer, (hear that, Computers for Two Year Olds Inc.?)
Try a Ultraviolet light flashlight for a different kind of light lesson (and/or to learn about germs. Kinda gross. But effective). Just keep it out of your eyes!
Kids like playing on a glowing rectangle? They’ll love a light table!
Splurge on this one. Or DIY this one with an underbed storage box, tissue paper, and christmas or outdoor lights; thanks to our friends at Tinkerlab for the DIY inspiration! And the possible activities? Limitless... check out the Pinterest page of the wonderful Teach Preschool among others, for several dozen ideas to start you off.
Kids like visuals with depth and color? They’ll love an illuminated globe!
Look at this globe, kids! The light inside goes on and off! It spins! That's fun, right, kids?
Kids love snazzy moving graphics that they control? They’ll love a pop-up book!
Ok, they are not the most durable items on the planet, but introduce the books with intention and regulate their use as you would with any delicate tool, and they’ll last long enough, and they are so fun! And when they do rip...scotch tape was invented for a reason. Try a pop up book of feelings or a pop up counting book
Kids like pushing buttons that make things move very quickly? They’ll love electric mixers!
Use it to add some electricity to a cooking project (which itself is a math, science, literacy, social skill, and motor skills lesson) with a hand-held mixer. Plus, handy (pun!) opportunity to teach safety rules like don’t stick your finger in a machine...
Want something similar but minus electricity and plus motor skills? Get an egg beater! Use it in cooking, dramatic play, or to Jackson Pollock-ize an art project.
Kids like turning noisy gadgets on and off? They’ll love hand held vacuum cleaners!
It’s the science of suction with a side of respecting our classroom by cleaning it up. Clear an area just by moving your hand! It's practically an app! Consider a mini vac with translucent front or for tiny hands a mini-mini size.
Kids like playing music, making and hearing recordings of themselves? They’ll love cassette tape players!
Grab a tape player and recorder, and teach them the origin of the term “re-wind”, how to wind with a finger or pencil (and the patience required to find the right spot on the tape)! Look at a real touchable tiny strip of plastic that has the sounds “written” on it - much more interactive than a silly old CD. Snag the microphone accessory to record students and play it back for them.
And yes, cassette tapes are still available for purchase.
I’m not hating on technology in the early childhood/elementary classroom. It can add dimension to learning, it can provide a new entry point into the material for some students, it can even be useful for young children (gasp!) using interactive apps working with short-term facts. So how do we use technology in our classrooms in a way that leaves room for human interaction and self-directed creativity? One solution: Get old school.
Invite Bitty City Players to bring some low-tech wonder into your classroom! Learn more about our workshops and after-school programs.
Thanks for reading! What tech do you like to use? Leave a comment by clicking on the blue "Comments" link at the very bottom or very top of the post.
Bitty City Players offers theater and science enrichment through after-school programs, in-school workshops, and events for ages 1-10 in NYC.
Learn more about the organization and our team here.