13 Things That Used to Exist in Classrooms That Kids Today Wouldn’t Recognize
Kids today will never appreciate how much effort went into finding a library book.
Thanks to significant advances in technology, classrooms today look nothing like the ones of the 20th century. Overhead projectors, floppy disks, and card catalogs have been replaced entirely—and if you asked a teen or tween to identify any of these classroom objects, they probably wouldn’t be able to.
In case you don’t quite remember microfiche, it’s “a piece of transparent film [that stores] printed information in miniaturized form,” according to the Museum of Obsolete Media. It used to be a way to store archival newspapers, periodicals, and documents in a compact way, and you’d use the magnifying power of a microfiche reader to enlarge the print so that it was big enough to read.
But the only places you’re likely to find microfiche and microfiche readers nowadays are in museums and at flea markets.
When you were in school, there was nothing that you hated more than the squeaky screech of someone writing on the chalkboard. However, try to talk to your child or grandchild about this irritating noise, and they’ll probably have no idea what you’re referring to. In today’s classrooms, teachers are either using noiseless whiteboards or computerized SMART boards—neither of which require any use of chalk whatsoever.
In the days before SMART boards and multimedia projectors, teachers had to use overhead projectors. They couldn’t pull up webpages or play movies; rather, all they did was project transparent slides onto the wall so teachers could write things for the entire class to see.
Before there were laptops or even electric pencil sharpeners, students had to manually crank pencil sharpeners in order to get the perfect lead tip. Not only were these contraptions hard on the arms, but you’d often end up over-sharpening your pencil and having to begin again.
Floppy disks are the late-20th-century equivalent of USB flash drives. From the late ’70s through the ’90s, these flat, square disks were used to store and transfer data from one computer to the next. But they became obsolete when technology made it possible to create faster and more compact storage drives, like…
Anyone who was in school in the 1990s will remember using a CD-ROM to download software or necessary school files. These shiny discs were also used to download data—but unlike floppy disks, they could only transfer whatever data was already on them unless they were blank to begin with.
In 1876, inventor A.B. Dick bought the “electric pen and duplicating press” patent from Thomas Edison and created the mimeograph. The contraption was essentially a copy machine, and, as National Geographic notes, it was “at first mostly used in schools and offices” when it really took off in the ‘5os and ’60s.
You can’t write a list about old classroom objects without mentioning the Trapper Keeper. This back-to-school staple, launched in 1978 by Mead, was a colorful three-ring binder and folder kit that snapped closed. Given how many papers students had to carry around in the ’80s and ’90s, Trapper Keepers became an overnight success. In fact, according to an in-depth article from Mental Floss, the binder brought in more than $100 million annually for several years following its release.
Filmstrips were used from the ’40s through the ’80s and they combined sound recordings with strips of still images. Unlike 16 mm films, these strips were affordable and easy to rewind once they were done, so many a teacher played educational videos for students using this media. What baby boomer or Gen Xer doesn’t recall the sound of one of these movies wrapping up?
Nowadays, videos—both for educational and personal use—are available online and via streaming services like Netflix. But during the 20th century, teachers had to sign out TV carts in order to play grainy VHS tapes.
In 2015, Smithsonian magazine published an article titled “The Card Catalog Is Officially Dead.” In it, they wrote that the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) sent out its final shipment of catalog cards to Concordia College that year—and since then, libraries around the world have relied solely on computerized cataloging systems. Kids these days wouldn’t know the Dewey Decimal System if it was looking right at them!
Long before the days of TI 84 Pluses, abacuses—or counting frames—were the chief way to make calculations. According to a paper from the Ohio Journal of School Mathematics, the tool dates back to Ancient Greek and Roman times.
The slide rule was another math tool used for multiplication and division before calculators became ubiquitous. To get an idea of just how iconic this object is, the International Slide Rule Museum notes that there was a slide rule on Apollo 11 when it landed on the moon in 1969! And for more on the ways things have changed, here are 15 Ways Going Back to School Is Way Different Than When You Went.
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