Theatrical Effects with the Overhead Projector
The overhead projector, also called an overhead, has been around since at least 1945, when it was initially utilized by the military for briefing purposes. Since then, generations of children have had to sit stupefied while educators droned on about difficult-to-read overhead transparencies, handwritten in cryptic chicken scratchings resembling Egyptian hieroglyphics. C'mon — drag that overhead into the twenty-first century; your kids should be loving the overhead, not dreading it.
Must I use the overhead projector in my class? Can't I just skip it?
Well, the short answer is yes; however, the somewhat longer answer is, “Yes, you could skip it, but then you'd be wasting an opportunity to bring a bit of excitement to your lessons; a bit of light, color, and variety. Use your overhead!”
Also, give your overhead a name — The Morning Theater or The Magic Theater — and use the name with the kids whenever you roll out the overhead cart. Then, when it's time to start the show, use a bit of drama. Tell the kids, “It's time to activate The Magic Theater!” You'll almost certainly hear oohs and ahhs of approval. Continue the drama by asking for volunteers to turn off the lights and flip the overhead on.
Now's the moment of truth: Will you display boring transparencies or exciting ones? The answer's obvious, but you may be wondering where you're going to get these fabulous transparencies, because you really don't have time to create five or six individual masterpieces.
Well, have you forgotten those thick packets of beautiful full-color transparencies that accompany most textbook sets? Social studies sets will include dozens of transparencies, featuring photographs and illustrations suitable not just for teaching historical concepts, but for teaching concepts in art, music, literature, and other subjects as well. Far from being bored, kids will probably love these overheads because they're genuinely interesting.
Even the preprinted transparencies that only contain text should be quite interesting to your kids because they're clear and easy to read — not like the scribblings some of your teachers used to create when you were a kid.
Typically, the clear plastic sheets used to create overhead transparencies are made of a plastic called cellulose acetate, which is actually manufactured from wood pulp. Although this may sound like a very green product — plastic from trees — don't forget the huge quantities of acetone and sulfuric acid needed to manufacture this type of plastic.
Furthermore, if you want to create your own gorgeous color transparencies, it's not that difficult. For example, if you're studying a unit on reptiles in science, find some excellent photographs of snakes, crocodiles, iguanas, etc., from back issues of National Geographicmagazine or an appropriate book.
Next, use one of your school's scanners to scan your pictures. Then, stick a blank transparency into your printer and print! But be careful; if you use the ordinary glossy transparencies that your school provides, the ink will slide right off. Instead, use the transparencies that are specially designed for inkjet printers. Ask the school to buy them or buy them yourself, if necessary.
You can also use powerful yet inexpensive programs such as Print Shop by Brdøerbund Software to mix and match photographs, illustrations, text, and other elements and effects to create your very own custom-designed transparencies. Don't worry that the kids will laugh at your efforts — that's exactly what you want! The kids will come to adore your amateurish creations, which is great, as long as your masterpieces are actually teaching the kids something valuable.
And did you realize that numerous products exist to make The Magic Theatre even more magical? Your school can purchase colorful, oversized, see-through calculators that work just like other calculators, except that they're placed on the overhead screen and the operations can be clearly displayed for the class. Or get some see-through word tiles that you can use to teach phonics, spelling, and syntax. Or use all kinds of mathematic manipulatives such as geometric shapes, tangrams, simulated paper money and coins, and clocks.
Here's another idea: Find opportunities to use music in conjunction with your overhead presentations. If you're studying a unit on square dancing for physical education and you want to show transparencies of the various figures the kids will be learning, why not accompany these pictures with appropriate music. Between the music and the transparencies, your kids will find it difficult to accuse you of being boring!