Technology Integration

The Power of the Big Screen: The Digital Projector Makes Instructional Materials Larger Than Life

July 18, 2006

Moderator's note: This is the second of two blog posts on using digital video projectors in the classroom. You may want to read the first post, "Size Matters: Large-Screen Digital Projectors," before reading this second post.

Large-screen projection through the use of a digital projector is foundational to effective use of Web resources in a classroom. Just like it has always been, if a teacher wants every student to be engaged in a discussion around a map, they need a large wall map rather than an 8 1/2-by-11-inch document. Even if that teacher were going to deliver a copy of the map to every student, he or she would still want a large version to use as an instructional resource for group focus.

But with that importance accepted, it is vital also not to limit our utilization of the projector's potential for supporting teaching and learning in a classroom to the relatively simple large-screen projection of Web-based resources. There are many creative and effective ways to use this tool that teachers, and ultimately their students, will benefit from, but let's take a look at some of the things that become possible when a digital projector comes to school. I know you will think of some I have not even considered, so please comment with your own ideas!

Make little things big -- it's magic! Because the digital projector's image is, in most classroom installations, limited only by the size of the screen available and the possible distance from that screen, it is important to think, quite simply, about cases in which students would benefit by being able to see something in a larger-than-life mode. Virtually all projectors make it possible to attach a video camera and display what the camera is seeing on the big screen.

In a high school history class, for example, you can project a source document or an artifact of local importance. In a second-grade mathematics or science class, you could show a ruler as you explain the importance of starting your measurement at zero, or how to make measurements to the half-inch or millimeter. Or perhaps, in a middle school science classroom, you need to display an image of a Bunsen burner as you demonstrate the proper way of lighting it.

In a writing class at any grade level, group editing requires a shared visual environment, and aiming the camera at a piece of student work allows you to be confident that everyone is literally on the same page. Also, if you film the demonstration as you are projecting it, you will end up with a video that can be used either as a review tool or to support a student who needs, for example, to see that measuring procedure one more time in order to gain mastery.

Public speaking is number one! In terms of being what adults are scared of, that is, so how about using the digital projector as a tool for developing better, more confident public speakers? By asking students to create a set of multimedia slides in addition to a traditional written product as evidence of their learning, you provide a purposeful opportunity for them to pull out the important facts from their research.

A well-produced set of slides is an outline of sorts, asking students to create a collection of talking points around which they will expand during the actual presentation to a live audience, and the projection of these slides via digital projection during a presentation will be both reassuring to the presenting student and highly informative to the audience. But remember that though multimedia presentations can be a powerful component of a complete body of evidence of learning, teachers should be cautious about allowing the production of a set of slides replace the writing of a paper. They are two distinct pieces of a complete set of evidence, just as the oral presentation and the written document are. Together, though, they can clearly demonstrate the level of control a student has over the content.

Break a leg! If drama plays a role in your classroom, digital projection offers some unique opportunities. All current projectors can perform rear projection: They can be told, via menus, to project an image that will look right to the audience when projected onto an opaque surface from behind. So, is your class performing a play with a city scene? Take your video camera into town and film the shops and people. Back in the classroom or on the stage, hang a relatively thin white bed sheet as a backdrop and place the projector behind that sheet, aimed toward the audience. The scene will appear accurate when seen from the audience's perspective, with store and street signs reading correctly. If your students think creatively, they'll find that many uses of the ability of the projector to manipulate its image will present themselves. Once a theatrically minded group of students begin to think about it, who knows what they will come up with?

Digital microscopes are transformational! And, when they're connected to a digital projector, they allow a group to share in images that inform. Microscopes are traditional tools of science. When you move into the digital domain, however, the possibilities for their effective utilization as a tool for teaching and learning multiply. You can purchase digital connections for high-end traditional microscopes, and several handheld digital models are on the market.

As with any other effective microscope utilization, selecting the appropriate level of magnification is probably the most important step. Though a high school biology student may need to work at the cellular level, a young elementary school student taken into that world will be lost. A 10X or 50X magnification will be enough to help young students see the world in a different light, but will still be directly connected to the tangible world they are actively gaining control of. For example, they will see the orange slice and the peel of the fruit in a new way, but without losing their awareness that they are looking at an orange.

Standing room only! If you teach in a school where band concerts, talent shows, and choral events are a big deal, you know how the community fills the gym on those occasions. Parents, uncles and aunts, and grandparents turn out whenever a child heads to the stage, and, as a result, not every seat in the house is a good seat. At major conferences, when the keynote speaker appears to be a 1-inch-tall figure from the seats in the back of the hall, digital video cameras and projectors are used to project an image of the speaker, larger than life, onto a screen or two to ensure a clear view for all. There is no reason this trick can't be used in a Kâ?"12 setting as well, and if the crew running the camera does some planning and practicing before the event, solos and other highlights of the event can be made visible to all the attendees, no matter how full the house!

Make big events matter! If something big, such as a political event like a presidential inauguration or a scientific accomplishment like the launch of a spacecraft, is going to be broadcast, consider using a digital projector to make such an event a shared experience for a part of the school. By connecting the projector to a VCR via an S-video cable, you can send cable TV signals through the projector and thus engage a large group in the event. By either making use of a theater or creating a theater setting in the gym and bringing everyone together, you can make clear to all involved that what is happening is important.

People of a certain age created memories that all participants still hold onto by gathering around relatively small television sets in school cafeterias and gyms whenever a spacecraft lifted off during the space race that helped define their generation. By using a digital projector as a gathering point, you can help today's students establish a collection of shared experiences that will help define theirs.

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