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

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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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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Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

Comments (6) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Meg Clemens's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I use a document camera (such as an Elmo) to project student work. Instead of students writing math problems on the board, their papers are projected on the screen. I tell them to do their homework like everyone in the class will see it, because they will.

Jim Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Meg -

An art teacher I worked with in downeast Maine used a handheld video camera and a projector for the peer critique of student art that was, and always will be a part of her drawing class. Rather than having to squeeze together to see, the art work was HUGE and everyone could see. Also, when the image is that big, the deatils are more visible. I bet the same is true when it comes to alignment of math problems, etc.

By using a simple goose neck lamp she had picked up at a yard sale, the lighting was great, and the image was clear. All of a sudden the level of engagement went way up.

The video camera, connected via the yellow component (RCA) connector makes a great alternative to the ELMO, and at a significantly lower cost. If you need a document camera, so be it, but if you have some flexibility...


saul's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have only been a teacher for five years, however, I have used a projector as an essential part of my teaching. Last year I installed the salling clicker software on my powerbook and now I can use my sony bluetooth phone to control my presentations, control itunes, dvd player and even control the mouse! The salling clicker software is a great tool for anyone using an apple computer with a projector. I think they may even have a windows version now.

One final point related to projectors in the classroom. In working with many teachers as they try to make meager attempts at integrating technology into their instruction, I think that a lot of pressure is put on them to create and make these "technology-integrated" situations happen. However, I don't think enough pressure is put on administrators, district technology leaders, superintendents, school boards, etc. to create environments where digital technology is accessible, set up and ready so that teachers can focus on their jobs--teaching curriculum. So many times what's implemented from above ends up being technology for technology sake that merely creates more work instead of being a creative and innovative solution.

Mike Haluska's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our district has installed this concept in virtually all 6-12 classrooms. The system, accompanied by a stereo speaker system mounted in the ceiling, allows for all computer functions (inclusive of DVD and streaming video) and cable television to be better utilized as teaching and learning aids. We have a number of teachers who have transferred all their lessons to PowerPoint, integrating visuals and video. Not only does this better keep the attention of students, it also provides an easy study guide for absentees. One of our Spanish teachers was the Iowa World Language Teacher-of-the-Year last year. This tool assists in bringing her classroom to life! Other teachers make extensive use of the concept for group projects and presentations. This has been a powerful tool for our staff!

norman o'malley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have recently set up a Pensioners Social group and want to display live demonstrations to a group of over 40 on a very large screen. I have the Screen available but do not know what equipment I need to achieve this projection through the TV Screen. Can anyone help please ?

Faiza Amir's picture

This has been immensely helpful as my school has digital microscope which is hardly used by teachers and a digital camera which is mostly used by teachers to take pictures of school events. Connecting these two to a multi media projector gives an altogether new dimension to the use of these digital tools in classrooms .

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