If I had to name one tool that revolutionized the way I teach, it would be my document camera. How many times have you read a picture book to a class and there is a chorus of “I can’t see the pictures?” Using the camera, or visual presenter, everyone can see both pictures and text. If I find something in today's newspaper that I want to show a class, I can place it on the table and everyone can see the small print. If I want to show an example of a student’s work, I can take it from his desk and show the entire class. Kids get immediate feedback on their work.
A document camera replaces your old overhead projector. It's not loud. It doesn’t get hot. Many models don’t even need to use the lamp, so there is little maintenance cost. No transparencies or pens to buy. It’s a choose-and-go kind of tool. Choose what you want to show and place it on the table. Prep time is minimal and set up is fairly easy.
How can you use a document camera? Let me count the ways. You can use it to do experiments so that everyone can see your hands. You can use it to explain how to complete a worksheet or form. You can model writing samples. You can zoom in to show details of a painting. In a music class, you can show one piece of music and everyone can play it. If it’s too hard or too easy, you can easily change to another piece.
A document camera is great for assisting the visually impaired. Tiny print is now easy to see. When you only have one copy, and you show it on the document camera, you can still use the resource you want, but no copyright violations have occurred. It saves time and money. No overhead transparencies to make. No copies to make. Teachable moments are a reality.
The camera (or visual presenter) that I use only weighs 5 pounds, so it is easy to transport in my luggage or from school to school. My current camera of choice is a Lumens DC166. You do need some sort of projection system to use one. Perhaps you already have a Promethean board or Smart Board. I use an LCD projector and also hook up my laptop. This way I can switch between the camera and my powerpoint or the internet. Where do you get one? Probably the same place you can get an overhead projector. Certainly where you can buy a new LCD projector.
Last year I went to a school and worked with a Language Arts teacher on point of view. We were going to begin with a reading of Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. When I started to hold the book out to my right to read, there was a loud chorus of “No, Miss Ford. You have to use the document camera so we can all see.” So you, see, even kids know the value of the tool as well. Try it. You’ll never miss your overhead. I promise.
For more ideas, see Educational Technology Network. For lesson plans (all grade levels) see the Document Camera Experts. For even more ideas, check out 101 Ways to Use a Document Camera.