20 Old School Teaching Tools that Used to Be So Cool

20 Old School Teaching Tools that Used to Be So Cool

Classrooms sure have changed a lot over the years, especially the technology we used to teach our lessons. What’s cutting edge and revolutionary today is a doorstop tomorrow. Tools that used to be staples in every teacher’s arsenal eventually go the way of the dodo bird. So follow us on this trip down memory lane and see how many of these formally cool old teaching tools you remember.

1. VHS Player/TV cart

It was every teacher’s best friend back in the day, and your school only had two of them. In those days, leading up to vacation, they became more valuable than gold as a way to keep students entertained and give you a small mid-day break.

2. Trapper Keepers

Every cool kid in school had one and it still reigns supreme as the easiest way to keep all your folders, paperwork, notebooks, pens, pencils, and information safe and secure. Why did they stop making these again? I would kill for a trapper keeper right about now!

3. Calculators

First there was the four-function calculator, then graphing calculators became all the rage. Now they’ve all become mostly obsolete. Remember when your math teacher used to tell you how important learning long division was?

“You won’t always have a calculator in your pocket you know!”

Then cell phones came along and… well let’s just say that old line did not age well.

4. Audio books/lessons on tape

Old Teaching Tools - Lessons on Tape
Source: Pixabay

Back before the mountain of resources we now have at our disposal, learning a language involved putting on a gigantic pair of headphones, turning on a cassette and talking along to a very boring voice for hours on end. Now millions of us can ask where the bathroom is… and very little else.

5. The sack of flour

What better way to teach students how grueling it can be to raise a child than to give them a sack of flour with googly eyes on it and make them carry it around for a week. Sure, it wasn’t anywhere near accurate, but it was fun watching students panic when their sack baby fell and exploded all over the floor. These were definitely some traumatizing old teaching tools!

6. Chalkboards

Before smart boards and dry erase boards, there was the gold standard of teacher instruction: the chalkboard. They never stopped working when the power went out, and they never ran out of ink. Of course, they did produce enough chalk dust to choke a camel.

7. Floppy disks

Back in the day, computers weren’t the most reliable storage units in the world, so teachers would back up their entire educational lives on floppy disks… which would promptly get erased if they got within five feet of a magnet.

8. Actual gradeBOOKS


Before the age of computers, everything had to be done by hand including keeping track of grades. Every assignment had to be meticulously logged into our gradebook and when it came time for report cards we all spent hours calculating every… single… grade. What fun!

9. Overhead projectors

There was a time when the overhead projector was the epitome of technology. Projecting images directly on your board for all the world to see. Sure the images were kinda blurry, and if you wanted to write on the transparencies you had to twist your body into weird positions. But at least the projector lamp could keep you warm on a cold day, since it was approximately the temperature of the sun.

10. Oregon Trail

This game has stood the test of time as a shining example of education that teaches kids to… um. Well it teaches them to…. uh… always start off as the banker?

11. Flash cards

Want to memorize a bunch of math facts? Why not break out some of the classic old teaching tools – flashcards! A box of flashcards was a teacher’s portal to dozens of games and retention techniques. Now that we’ve moved away from the quick recall model, flashcards are a bit outdated.

12. Judy clock

Long, long ago, telling time on an analog clock was a huge part of the math curriculum. Now, thanks to digital clocks taking over the world, it’s becoming a lost skill. Want to blow your class’ minds? Say something like, “It’s a quarter past 11”. Might as well be speaking Greek.

13. Cursive writing paper

Cursive Writing Paper

Children used to spend hours and hours with this paper. Practicing the loops and swoops and doing their best to perfect the art of cursive writing. Now it mostly looks like hieroglyphics to them and we’ve all decided to move forward with some weird print-cursive-hybrid form of writing… when we’re not just using our computers.

14. Encyclopedias

Were you just assigned a term paper and have no idea what to write about? Why not break out one of these 2-thousand page books that goes slightly in-depth on a whole bunch of random topics! Encyclopedias were large, bulky and rarely got updated so if your research topic took place in the 20th century… good luck!

15. Hard copies of a thesaurus/dictionary

The days before spell check were hard on teachers and students alike. If you were unsure how to spell a word you could look it up in a dictionary. But if you don’t know how to spell it… HOW WOULD YOU FIND IT?

The thesaurus was the easy way to make yourself sound smart. Or quick, brilliant, bright, shrewd, slick, wise, crafty, canny…. you get the idea.

16. Mimeograph

Today teachers far and wide curse the copier and its propensity to break down every time you REALLY need it. But we forget how good we have it. Teachers will still cringe in horror when they think of the days of the mimeograph machine: Cranking out those copies one at a time, while trying not to cover yourself in ink.

17. Scantrons

Grading papers sure can be a bore. But wait, here comes Scantron! Just have your students fill in the bubbles on this easy-to-use sheet, make sure every bubble is filled in completely and that there are no random pencil marks anywhere, then run it through the grading machine, and hopefully it will correctly grade your students’ work!

Unless it doesn’t, in which case you have to do it all by hand anyway.

18. EZ Grader

EZ Grading Calculator

Grading stacks of paper is bad enough, but having to do math on top of it? Well that’s just cruel. Then this little invention made its way into schools and teachers could quickly figure out a student’s scores, no math required. It didn’t make the pile of papers go away, but it did make things slightly easier.

19. Slide rule

You’re really dating yourself if you can say you not only know what a slide rule is, but have actually used one. In the ’50s and ’60s, this little guy was the key to quickly cracking equations of all shapes and sizes, but by the ’70s it had mostly gone extinct once calculators came along.

20. Microfiche

Imagine being able to look up newspaper articles from the past and reading a piece of history? Oh wait, you can imagine that pretty easily because the internet exists? Oh… well, before we all went speeding down the information superhighway, we had microfiche. You would take your tiny microfiche slide into a dark room and slide it into a projector and voila! There was an article for you to read. If that doesn’t ring a bell, watch basically any spy movie from the ’60s or ’70s because they all revolved around stolen microfiche.

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20 Old School Teaching Tools that Used to Be So Cool

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David Rode

Dave is a middle school math teacher. He's also a musician, a community theater, dad to two amazing children, and he doesn't get a lot of sleep.

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