Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Docu-what? Using Document Cameras in the Classroom

When I was a classroom teacher, I would have been completely lost without my document camera. By the time I left the classroom in 2015, the document camera I had was considered vintage, but it still was better than not having one!

I used it for everything! We filled out our planners under the doc cam so kids could see what to write, practiced handwriting, played math games, built puzzles, showcased student work, did group editing - you name it, we used the doc cam for it.

Let me back up for a moment. If you're not familiar with a document camera, it's basically a modernized version of the overhead projector. But instead of having to copy things onto transparencies you can use regular paper. Instead of having fingertips blackened from erasing the vis-a-vie markers, you use whatever writing utensils you have nearby (crayons? markers? colored pencils?) and maintain clean-ish fingertips. Instead of having to purchase special, transparent manipulatives for the overhead, you can use whatever you already have.

And as I said before, I couldn't teach without one. So imagine my surprise when I got to my new (current) school and there were only THREE document cameras in the whole place. Three out of 35+ classrooms had document cameras. They were all in the middle school classes at that! It was a bit of an educational culture shock to me, to be honest, especially knowing that my previous school had them in every single classroom, including the preschool.

Yes, every class had a Smartboard and projector, which is really handy (and I can't live without!) but a document camera serves a completely different purpose.

Teaching little ones how to properly form letters? Use the document camera so they can see your hand movement, your pencil grip, and the letter formation. Practicing with shape recognition in the real world? Collect real objects, place them under the document camera, and look at the shapes (verses looking at pictures of the objects on the Smartboard.) Building numbers in math? Counters, Unifix Cubes, even base-10 blocks work right under the camera, and are projected in all their glory supersized on the Smartboard.

For older grades you can edit writing- stud
ent samples or printed work, showcase highlighting strategies, even conduct experiments, all under the camera using actual classroom materials (as opposed to the specially created transparent items.) Use actual math games, art materials, real text books - you name it, it will go under the camera and be magically projected to the screen.

Today, every classroom has a document camera in my school. And every teacher in K-4 uses it daily. When COVID hit, most schools (including ours!) scrambled to get document cameras so teachers could use them at home, that's how powerful of a teaching tool they are. Teachers everywhere got creative in their self-designed document cameras using their phones, iPads, and even CDs. Platforms like Osmo released a projector app for their system, and IPEVO released their Mirror Cam, a little gadget that slides on top of the built-in webcam for laptops.

Post COVID, those doc cams in each classroom double as webcams, making it possible to connect to every classroom for school-wide assemblies, pointing the document camera not at a document, but instead at the students themselves. 

If you haven't used a document camera, you have lots of options to explore in trying one out in your classroom.  My personal favorite is the IPEVO, though we have a bunch of the HUE cameras as well. Whatever you choose, document cameras are powerful tools that are definitely worth investigating!


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