Five items to take you right back to the classroom
There’s nothing like soaking your memory in the warm suds of childhood nostalgia. And when it comes to recalling our school days, it’s usually a wallow accompanied by a smile.
While those reminisces often include first crushes, kisses and parties with your pals, there’s also the day-to-day stuff of school life which can bring a fuzzy glow.
We’ve put together a list of some of the items readers of a certain age scarcely went a week without seeing in the classroom. And while some are still around today, they still take you right back to school.
Where did they come from? Have you ever seen one in the shops? Ever? When it comes to the overhead projector, there are always more questions than answers.
Using transparent plastic sheets, (very) special felt tips and what we were always told was a very delicate and expensive bulb, the overhead projector enabled our teachers to display their handwritten notes and presentations onto the walls of a darkened classroom.
Making their words big enough for all to see, with that combination of clear plastic sheets which looked like secret documents from a Bond film and a light so bright it could have been used to interrogate Roger Moore in a darkened cell - no wonder there was always something strangely exotic about this bit of kit, even if the information it magnified was usually, well, not the most entertaining in the world…
TV and video on wheels
It looked like a mobile version of Fort Knox but in reality it was a regular size television set you may even have had in your own front room. The moment your school caretaker wheeled this into the classroom? It was a time for childhood hearts to sing.
With the accompanying VHS player, both pieces of tech were encased in enough security-conscious layers of metal and locks to ensure it would have been a blot in the corner of any would-be thief’s living room. And to top it all, it came in a walnut effect cabinet with lockable double fronted doors.
But it was what we watched on that screen that we remember most. Namely, the circle of seconds that gradually faded as the whole class counted down (from 10) to the next programme on BBC Schools and Colleges (hopefully Look and Read. Or Watch).
Books backed with wallpaper
For some reason, the covers our school exercise books arrived in from the manufacturer were never deemed fit for purpose. Thus, at the beginning of each new school term, pupils were asked to spend an evening backing their books with another sheet of paper to add a further layer of protection from the bumps and scrapes caused by a journey in your bag.
For the ultimate fancy finish, you used separate sheets of sticky back plastic to cover each book. If that wasn't available, whatever rolls of flock wallpaper were left over in the shed did the job instead. Once the gargantuan task of covering each and every one of your books was complete, all you had to deal with was finding a way to write your name legibly on the front over all those flock-fabric bumps.
Oh, those red function keys. How they winked at us, teased us, from the back of the classroom while we were doing double geography. A familar sight in the classrooms of 30-plus years ago, the BBC Micro was the result of a Computer Literacy Project run by the Beeb in the early 1980s with the intention of making computing part of all our lives. It even used its own language, called BBC Basic.
But during school hours, it was the educational games that we all remember from the beige plastic-encased machine of wonders. Granny’s Garden tasked the player to rescue six royal children from a wicked witch and there was also Flowers of Crystal, a similar quest to bring life to a world of barren soil. They were blocky experiences, text-based with a limited colour palette. But oh, how we loved them. Thirty years later, the micro:bit programme helped students fall in love with programming all over again.
Although they haven’t quite gone the way of the dinosaurs, blackboards at the front of the classroom are becoming more obsolete as digital whiteboards make the learning experience a whole lot 21st century.
The march of technology does have its drawbacks. Remember the excitement of being told it was your turn to clean the chalk off the board and you were entrusted with the chalk duster for a few intoxicating minutes? As you dragged that hefty plastic scrubber up and down the board, like a Wimbledon groundskeeper mowing the stripes into Centre Court, it soon accumulated a lot of white dust. You could either bang the excess chalk away through an open classroom window, or if you had a mischievous streak, use it to ‘decorate’ your friends’ coats, uniforms, bags and general person, making them (and you) very unpopular when they got home.
Perhaps progress has got something going for it, after all.