I’ll Take West Virginia, Please

When I stepped to the front of the classroom, Mrs. Bowen already had the big, gray behemoth powered up.

I carefully positioned volume W of the World Book Encyclopedia into the image capture area and a state map appeared on the grayish white screen pulled down over a section of drab green chalkboard.

I gently lowered the arm toward the 45 until the needle rested on the spinning black vinyl.

A few crackles of static. Then the plunking strings of an acoustic guitar rippled across the classroom on College Avenue in Russellville.

“Almost heaven, West Virginia. Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.”

That was John Denver singing, it was 1971, and I was 8 years old.

That’s how I began my first public multimedia presentation.

We had been given the assignment of doing a report on one of the 50 states. I picked West Virginia, not because I’d ever been there or had any particular connection to the “Mountain State.”

I just wanted to do my report on West Virginia so I could use the John Denver song, “County Roads.”

John Denver was one of my favorite singers at the time and I had the record. I envisioned using his music and lyrics to make my report on West Virginia more than just a boring recitation of facts about a state.

No one told me to include music in my presentation. I just instinctively felt like the music would help.

[Note: I wrote this back in 2013-2014 when I was doing my professional self-reflection work and then forgot what I named the document file on my computer. I just stumbled across it and decided to go ahead and publish.]

The Opaque Projector

As for the big behemoth projector thing, I’m not sure if other students used it. I seem to recall specifically asking my teacher to set it up for me.

Mrs. Bowen had used this big machine on various occasions to display images on the screen directly from books. Other teachers had used film projectors, film strips and transparencies, maybe even slide projectors.

Mrs. Bowen is the only teacher I remember using that big hulking gray machine that captured images on pages from books and projected them directly onto the screen. I suspect it was a big hassle to move around and set up.

I think it was known as an “opaque projector.”

I needed that machine for my presentation because I wanted to show the photos of West Virginia I found in books and the idea of putting photos on the screen seemed, to me, better than simply holding up photos, putting them on a poster or passing a book around the classroom. I didn't have slides or transparencies so that wasn't a choice.

I knew, instinctively, that my report would be stronger if I used music and visuals.

Also, well, I just wanted to use that projector. It fascinated me. The other projectors could transmit images, but not images from a solid page. The other projectors transmitted images from negatives or transparencies. I had a curiosity about how all this media technology worked and wanted to use it.

I’d already developed an interest in media, despite the rudimentary capabilities of the consumer-level audio/video equipment accessible to me in those days. I would sometimes try to “splice” audio by using two or three tape recorders and switching back and forth manually.

Compared to kids today, my early childhood years were in the technological dark ages. Over-the-air TV delivered 3 commercial channels and the “educational” channel. Over-the-air radio was still AM only until around 1970-71 in my home area.

CB radios were around and I got to play with those from time to time so I understood the notion that anyone could speak into to a radio transmitter and send a message to someone else. I understood that “radio” wasn’t simply a technology available to the select few licensees, but I also knew the license thing existed because TV and most radio stations signed off at dark or midnight with a message about some FCC license.

I had my own cassette tape recorder and I used to play records and record my voice, as if I were a DJ spinning tunes and reporting the news.

At my first career day–in second grade, I believe–I converted my big appliance box into a radio station and demonstrated my music mixing skills via the cassette recordings I’d made using my family’s limited-but-diverse record collection.

Some relatives had an old 8 mm film camera and every once in a while someone would have one of those home-movie screenings after dinner.

I wanted a movie camera so badly in those days. Never got one. Around the time I started junior high I got a Kodak 110 Instamatic, which I considered a major upgrade to my parents Polaroid Land camera. I also had to use my money to buy and develop the film, which wasn’t inexpensive. I used to send the film cartridges off in the mail to a development house because it was cheaper. Eventually I learned the film replacements they sent (as an incentive to keep users in the system) yielded pictures that had poor color and faded faster than the Kodak film.

All of this technology-reminiscing has a point. I like to think that my report on West Virginia in Mrs. Bowen’s 4th grade class reveals some of the core aspects of my personality:

I like to try new technologies and I’m always looking for ways to improve, to grow, to be distinctive. I’m willing to experiment.

My approach to the report also demonstrates an early example of resourcefulness.

I wanted to do more than stand up and read a report, so I asked to use the technology I needed to do the best I could do at the time.

I’d love to hear your stories about using tech at school. Even though the technology is constantly changing, it’s the willingness to engage with and learn through the technology that makes you stand-out.

Leave a comment and share a story about an experience you had with whatever technology was available to you at the time or, even better, how you overcame a challenge due to the lack of technology!


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