Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Email I Never Thought I'd Send

by Mary Beth Hertz

First of all, thanks to Shelly for inviting me to join the conversation here on his blog. It know it will prove to be a powerful experience. 

As the title of this blog is TeachPaperless, I figured I'd start things off with a post about my effort to cut down on the use of worksheets and paper at my school.

You might think that this would include things like document cameras, Google Docs, e-readers and iPods/iPads, but my first step involves getting my staff to use...wait for it....an overhead projector.

My school has desktops from 2002, no wireless, no laptops, only one projector between two buildings and no library. While we are paving a path toward a technology-infused school, I know that if my teachers aren't using a simple overhead projector, putting any other technology in their classroom will not change the way they teach.

I sent this email to my staff:
Happy Tuesday everyone!

I have noticed recently that many of you have overhead projectors, but not everyone is using them.  This is a great piece of technology that can create some fun and engaging lessons and activities for your students.

If you are not using the projector because the bulb is broken, please let me know and we can get you a new one.  If you are not using it because you don't have any transparencies, let me know. I have a box of transparency paper that can be fed into a copier like regular paper.

If you are not sure how to incorporate an overhead projector into your lessons, here are some ideas:

1) use a blank transparency to have students complete math problems in front of the class. The larger screen will ensure that each student can see his/her process
2) project a piece of writing and have the students come up and add editing marks/make changes
3) project a piece of writing and have the students grade it according to the PSSA Writing rubric
4) teaching time? Use a transparency of a blank clock and have students come up and add hands to show what time it is
5) teaching money? Use inexpensive transparency coins
6) Teaching addition, subtraction? Use manipulatives on a blank transparency and have students show how to add two numbers, subtract, etc....
7) create a graphic organizer as a class using a blank Venn Diagram, etc...  Keep the transparency so you can pull it up whenever the students need it
8) Create a cloze activity and have students come up and write in the missing words
9) Instead of a worksheet, do an activity together as a class
10) If you have info/vocab you need the kids to have, project it while they are working

Let me know if you have any questions, and let me know if you need help making transparencies or would like to borrow an overhead.
Before I clicked 'send,' I sighed. I never thought I'd ever send an email like that.

So why do I want to share this experience? I think that with all of the talk of integrating technology and using less paper in the classroom, we need to remember that there is a huge digital divide that affects these kinds of changes.  While we have plans to bring in more technology, we have to work with what we have for now.  We are not alone.  There are schools all over the country and all over Philadelphia, I'm sure, who face the same challenges. School looks to my students the same way it looked to me when I was their age over 15 years ago. (and we had overhead projectors!) Many of my teachers borrow the projector to use once a week or so, but that does not change what they are doing every day all day in their classrooms.  It also does not change the fact that, for my students, school is like an entirely different world than the world they leave when they enter the school doors.

Another thing this email brings to light is that a tool is a tool, it's how you use it that counts. Many of the activities listed above would also be found on a list of recommended activities for an Interactive Whiteboard, which costs thousands of dollars more. Putting tech in the classroom will not necessarily change what teachers are doing in their classrooms.  Teachers who are expected to teach test prep will not find the time to create podcasts or allow students to explore ideas as a class or on their own, even if the classroom is fitted with a projector and laptop.  They will use it the same way they would use an overhead projector.

Still, I hope that my teachers do begin using their overhead projectors....and then crave more. I pray that we are able to purchase LCD projectors for each classroom. I dream that my teachers will be able to open up their classrooms to the world and that worksheets will become a thing of the past.

For now, we'll work with what we've got.


  1. Overheads are great. We need to expand the way that we use ALL technology. Check out this video by Philadelphia dance company, Miro Dance Theatre (http://www.mirodancetheatre.org)


  2. ". . .a tool is a tool"

    ABSOLUTELY! And that's all technology really is. It was only 4 years ago that I was hardcore using an overhead projector to do phonics lessons and math skills with my kindergarteners.

    Use the tool for what it is, and what it can do.

    - @newfirewithin

  3. My motto has always been "I do the best I can with what I have to work with." No two schools are alike, no two classes, no two children. So, you just look at what you have and then go with it. My classes have always been fun and engaging no matter what type of technology I have or don't have.

  4. Hi Mary,

    A great email list of ideas you sent re using the overhead. Why did you think you would never send such an email? I think teachers need to share ideas which helps everyone... even the simple ones. I have certainly picked up some ideas i will try in class - our OHP doesn't see the light of day much due to computer connected projectors and plenty of computers... use wikis/blogs/links etc I don't have a smartboard (and in fact see limitations when they continually go out of alignment) Again no matter what the tool it is the teacher's energy, innovation & facilitation skills to use the tools they have that makes all the difference. Loved your post!
    cheers Vivian

  5. David, what a beautiful video. Thanks for sharing that.

    Justin, Jeanie and Vivian--technology cannot replace good teaching. Seems like we all agree on that. Though, technology can aid in our efforts for sure.

  6. I think almost all of our teachers still have overheads in their rooms. They are not a bad tool if that's all you have. We are starting to move towards projectors connected to our computers, but think of the cost of this transition.

    Cost of replacement projector bulbs? $100's
    Cost of a replacement overhead bulb? $8
    Power consumption for computer & projector? ??
    Power consumption for overhead projector? A lot less.

    The bottom line? Use what you have and use it effectively.


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