Visualise this………

My visualiser and tablet;, the results are projected onto a full size screen.

A conversation with some trainee teachers today made me think just how far the technology that we use in education has come during my career.  I will try not to make this into a , “When started we had nothing but…” monologue but a few memories are quite strong.  Does anyone else remember Banda machines?  To make your worksheet you hand wrote, and in my case drew onto a master which was attached to a form of carbon paper.  The carbon paper came in several colours, all pale but if you were extra clever you could do things like draw in pale blue and add captions in pale pink.  The real beauty of the system was that this master was inserted into the Banda machine, quantities of an alcohol based solvent were added to the tank and then you loaded up the paper and cranked the handle.  Yes literally cranked the handle.  I can still hear the rhythmic rattle of an expert operator churning out worksheets for the next class.  If you timed it right and gave out the copies still slightly damp from the solvent you could successfully anesthetise  an entire class on a Friday afternoon!

The next exciting innovation was the overhead projector.  Crackly acetates and OHP pens, more problems with handwriting and the complexities of fold over pieces of acetate sellotaped so that you could hinge them over to add labels or diagrams until of course the tape got old and the pieces all fell off.  I might add that we are still talking the age of the chalk board here, soon to be replaced by so called white boards, large plastic faces that in theory  were easier to clean, at least until you forgot what you were doing and used the permanent marker in haste rather than the dry wipe pen.

Most recently we have moved into the new age and what an age it is. First came the data projector, at last what I was doing on my screen could be seen by the whole class, suddenly generations of teachers were discovering how to use Powerpoint and the sound effect of the crashing aircraft accompanied text that pinwheeled onto the screen before pulsing gently at the students.   In classrooms across the land teachers were bullet pointing lists and then reading them out loud to the class of presumably literate children and sometimes adults.   The clunky white board has given way to it’s electronic successor on which you can animate your lesson, store slides, have your handwriting recognised and turned into  neat text, (well that last bit is true for some people, my whiteboard is still recovering from the nervous breakdown I inflicted upon it by trying to use this feature for my handwriting).  You can annotate over the top of your Powerpoint, insert video clips and hyperlinks, even use class sets of hand held electronic handsets that will allow every child to text the answer to your question to the board and record who gave the right answer, what proportion of the class came up with thesdame answer and what the percentage score for each pupil is.

A lot of money changed hands ans schools rushed to find the money to adopt the new technology while others researched the effect on learning that all this was having.  Then at last it happened!  The device that has done most to open up teaching and learning in my department, The visualiser!

Now if you don’t know what one of them is take a look at the picture at the top of this post, in my rather untidy room, or creative workspace as we like to call it, you will see a display screen which is my whiteboard as no one can reach the wall.  Just next to it is a little thing that looks a bit like a desk lamp.  That’s it, that’s the visualiser.   Simple idea really, a web cam on a gooseneck over a work table.  But what a difference it can make to your pupil’s learning!  Let me start by saying that the version I use is mid range and relatively cheap.  You can run it on its own through a data projector and gain most of the benefits but with a laptop it gives a winning combination.  Mine will do a host of things but the mnost useful is that I can model a technique just as I would do it if I were working on my own and have the whole process projected onto my screen, I can zoom in to the point where it almost functions like a microscope, I can capture still images for use later on in sequence or I can capture video and loop it so that the demonstration is available throughout the lesson.   (You can even have some fun by turning teh camera head towrds the calss and zooming in on the student who isn’t giving you their complete attention which gives everyone except that pupil quite a laugh).

Getting to like the sound of this?  At one level it means that you can work just as you are expecting your pupils to, there is no difference in technique as there is between a white board and marker pen and paper and pencil.  At other levels it means that you can really teach things that have always caused a problem.  For example most schools use a lot of LEDs in micro circuitry.  The component is small and getting across to a class that the rim is slightly flattened at one point to indicate the polarity is a problem.  We have tried making large scale models but it is almost fool proof when you can zoom in on the actual component and show them.  Just to be sure we did some research with our pupils, showing them how to solder small printed circuit boards first in the usual way and then by using the visualiser, All said that it was much clearer with the visualsier and some admitted that they had not really grasped it before hand but now did.

This is a simple piece of kit that you are going to wonder how you managed without.  A search will turn up many suppliers but I can reccomend mine which is by Elmo, their website is,  My final teaser, you can use them for time lapse photography so they can watch the flowers bloom!


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