The Mobile—Projector in hand, worth two in the ceiling?

The pocket projector (mobile projector/pico projector/mini beamer) is technology that applies the use of an image projector in a handheld device. It works with those myriad portable digital devices most of us now consider on par with food and water when it comes to daily life.

These smart phones, tablets and digital cameras have enough storage capacity to hold years’ worth of lesson plans and multimedia class lectures — not to mention the ability to access endless resources via apps and online materials and videos. However, inviting your favorite 23 students to crowd around the tiny screen would likely end in a dog pile more suited to the gym than classroom. Handheld projectors spell that issue by projecting digital images onto any nearby viewing surface.

This small device is ideal for educators who don’t have a fixed classroom or course-specific teachers who instruct multiple classes each day. There is no need to rely on a ceiling mounted projector, and no concerns that your viewing field for that fixed projector might be filled with a crop of tissue paper wildflowers hung to celebrate spring. You can skip the hassle of sign outs of traditional projectors from an A/V department or wheeling a carrier from class to class through busy halls.

Coaches can run game film on a gym wall, art teachers can snap a photo and instantly display a student’s work to analyze with the class. This is also, ahem, handy for spontaneous teachers who like to accent their organic class discussions with video or images as an additional means of instruction.

The Short Throw—Short on space, long on perks

Short throw and ultra short throw projectors allow educators to create big pictures in tight spaces. The “throw ratio” is the distance from projector to screen, compared to the screen size. A traditional projector with a 1.5:1 throw ratio would have to be 7.5 feet back to project a 60-inch wide image. This might not seem like much, but this would eliminate 7.5 feet of teaching space at the front of the class or require students to change seating to see (unless you are a fan of “little bunny foofoo” shadow fingers).

A short throw projector with a throw ratio of 0.6:1 can project the same image less than three feet away from the screen while a 0.37:1 ultra short throw projector can manage just 1.85 feet away. This means you can instruct from the front of the class as it won’t be displaying across your body or shine in your eyes as you move in front of it or reference the cells of a plant or show the movement of supplies during the Civil War.

Some teachers take this to the next level by opting for an interactive short throw projector. These can be mounted overhead to create an instant whiteboard of any surface. Geography comes to life as the classroom project table turns into a map of the world, easily accommodating a dozen kids. Cassie Gillespie of Wolf Branch School District in Swansea, IL uses touch light pens that work with the projector to engage students with learning disabilities. “Since so many of our textbooks are online, it’s easy to provide supplemental enrichment activities to really differentiate the learning.”

The Traditional—Best specs for a reasonable cost

The average-sized, everyday video projector receives a video signal and projects the image onto a screen through a lens system using bright light. Newer models correct curves, blurriness and pixelation that used to be an issue and can even be connected to a whiteboard. Resolution and light output are key, as some lamp-based traditional projectors don’t have sufficient lumens (output) to work well unless the room’s ambient light can be dimmed.

Laser projectors and hybrids, which use a combination of LEDs and lasers, have gained in popularity for consistent color and brightness over long periods of time. These can last several times as long as lamps, cutting back on the hassle and cost of changing bulbs and light engines. They also often have “eco” modes that can be used when color isn’t of importance to the lesson.

That is anything but the case for fifth grade teacher, David Beshk of St. Margaret's Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano, CA. When it was time to learn about the visible spectrum of light and color mixing in science class, he turned to his projector. “I created a large square and used Microsoft Word’s color options to fill it a deep blue, projecting it on the wall. I then took a yellow sheet of paper and demonstrated how the two colors would blend into green. The kids visited our school printing station and loaded up on every color of paper imaginable, return to predict and experiment what would happen when they placed them in the colored light.”

Whatever size use, be sure students will appreciate the extra visual and audio stimulation to day-to-day instruction and the ability to enhance project based learning.

Sascha Zuger

Sascha has nearly two decades of experience as a freelance journalist writing for national magazines, including The Washington Post, LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, National Geographic Traveler, and others. She writes about education, travel and culinary topics.