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Education Projectors: A Staple of the History Classroom

By Chris Kahl
Education Projectors

I remember the days of the old Elmo overhead projectors, when that was the only source of projection found in the vast majority of classrooms. Large CRT televisions on big black metal carts would be moved by a technician from classroom to classroom to watch VHS tapes, and what a treat it was when we would walk in and the TV would be there! The only digital projector lived in the computer lab, and was where once or twice a year the fourth and fifth graders might watch or give a PowerPoint presentation.

Elmo Overhead Projector
Nostalgic for the ancient overhead projectors of the early 90's? They certainly served their purpose!

By the time I was in middle school, most classrooms were equipped with their own overhead projector, the teacher had stacks of worksheets on transparencies or had blank transparencies for writing notes for the class to copy. Each classroom now had its own CRT television mounted in a cubby, or behind the sliding whiteboard, or hanging from the ceiling in a corner. While VHS was still the standard, we had LaserDisc (I only recall my teachers actually using the LaserDisc on two occasions!), and eventually the new technology of DVDs began working their way into the classroom. Occasionally, a digital projector on rickety plastic rolling cart would be brought in for a special presentation.

Once I hit high school in 2003, old classrooms built in the 40’s were being retrofitted with ceiling mounted digital projectors and new classrooms were built with state-of-the-art (then) classroom A/V systems including the latest in DVD players and ceiling mounted speakers. Once ceiling mounted digital projectors became the standard, the old TVs fell into disuse and projectors were used for simply everything. In college, I saw my first Document Camera, attached to a digital projector, finally eliminating the old overhead projectors the students of the early 90’s were so familiar with.

Technology Changes Everything: Documentaries on the Big Screen

Nowhere did I find projectors used more than in the classrooms of my history teachers. Those big CRT TVs tucked into the far corner of the classroom were no longer used for showing documentaries – now, images were more captivating than ever before by making them larger than life. As we read from our text books about the Revolutionary War, Civil War, The World Wars and beyond, we were now able to be transported to the battlefield. History came to life in front of us, and became far more interesting than simply following along in a text book.

Now, teachers have the added benefit of streaming services such as Netflix and Prime. A brief perusal of the documentaries currently streaming on Netflix will illustrate the huge variety available:

The Civil War: A Film by Ken Burns Five Came Back, the story of how Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, William Wyler and George Stevens impacted World War II with their films, and how the war affected their lives; and then there’s the American Experience: Rachel Carson, which is the story of the biologist who sounded the alarm on DDT, which was used extensively in WWII, Korea and Vietnam.

Improved Class Participation

Projected World Map
Some projectors, like the ViewSonic LS620X, have a world map built right in!

There is something inherently more engaging to students about projected content than if it was a handout or simply written upon the whiteboard. When the whole class participates in practice tests and review, with content displayed via a projector in a clear format that can be read from anywhere in the classroom, the class does better overall on the actual assessment.

There is, of course, added benefit for the teacher here too. By projecting a Word document, or a slide presentation, uniform content is available across the four to seven classes a teacher might be responsible for in a day – without having to rewrite notes, an outline, or a prompt. And no one can say they couldn’t read your writing!

As an example of improved class participation, especially when it comes to review before an exam, is the age-old favorite: Jeopardy! Students love playing Jeopardy to review topics for exams, and the projector is what makes it possible.

Current Events

Ah, Current Events – a favorite amongst History Teachers since… forever? But with good reason: those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it. By displaying engaging content detailing current events, and how it ties in with history and precedent, history students are able to better understand the world around them. Students then create their own presentations based on current events and discuss the historical similarities and implications of events today.

Journal and Essay Prompts

As I mentioned above, projectors are great for displaying uniform content across different classes, for displaying writing prompts in a clear manner, without having to re-write it or distribute handouts! As an added bonus, many projectors destined for the classroom have a built-in presentation timer, which can be used not just for limiting student presentations, but to provide a running clock for timed writing exercises.

Student Presentations

Presentations done by students require extensive research, and nowadays, students have unprecedented access to information via their smart phones – many can’t get it out of their hand! By having information at their fingertips around the clock, students are better able to do this research.

And, speaking of smart phones – many projectors have capabilities that allow for the wireless projection of iOS and Android mobile devices, making presenting all the more easy for both teacher and student. There are a number of Epson projectors that have built-in wireless via MiraCast, as well as other manufacturers that have their own optional modules to allow for wireless projection.

Presentations are an ideal use of classroom projectors since student groups and individuals can create their content easily, and on a large screen share with the class. And, by having the students do their own presentations, teachers can see if the students fully comprehend the material, and make adjustments in their lessons so that they can focus deeper on the subject.

Note Taking


My teachers preferred to create an outline of their lectures to project while speaking, with images to refer to. This assists in controlling the flow of information being discussed in an organized manner, and helps to not overwhelm the students, allowing them to keep up and keep their notes organized. Additionally, having all these files be digital allows teachers to send the lessons to students who are out ill so that they may stay current with the course material.

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