Early in 2006, Seattle passed a school levy providing funds for new display technology for every Seattle secondary-school classroom. By the beginning of...

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Early in 2006, Seattle passed a school levy providing funds for new display technology for every Seattle secondary-school classroom. By the beginning of school last fall, many classrooms were equipped and teachers ready to begin using new document cameras and LCD projectors.

Compared with other districts using levy funds to provide laptops for all kids, this classroom-focused equipment is easy to learn, easy to use and easily adaptable to teachers’ current curriculums. The district’s goal is to use this new equipment to support and enhance teaching and student learning in Seattle schools.

What is a document camera, and what can it do?

The AverMedia document camera (300i and 300p models) looks a little like a standard overhead projector but does a whole lot more.

When connected to an LCD projector, the teacher can place a sheet of paper (blank, or with text, graphs or images on it) under the camera’s lens and use a pencil or pen to write on the paper while students watch what’s happening on a large wall screen.

The teacher talks and writes, students contribute information and they all view the results.

Alternatively, the teacher can place an object, such as a calculator, under the lens and demonstrate how to use it to solve a problem. The teacher can display a ruler and magnify it so that students can see even tenths of an inch easily.

The system can also connect to a computer and project graphs, text, photos, or anything that’s displayed on the computer screen.

I asked three Seattle teachers how they use their document cameras and whether they think the technology significantly helps their teaching and their students’ learning.

Kati Sanderson, a special-education teacher at Madison Middle School, says her students are more engaged and more involved in learning when she uses the display system. That results in fewer classroom-management problems and increased student effort and success.

One of her teaching strategies is to have kids put their essays under the lens and lead the class discussion as other students help revise and improve the paper.

“The kids love it,” Sanderson says. “They don’t mind displaying their work and getting help with revisions because they’re taking on the teacher’s role of asking other students to participate in the correction process.”

The document camera can also take and save pictures of what’s being displayed, so while demonstrating how to solve a math problem, for instance, the teacher can snap a picture of each step in the process. Students can later review the steps on the document camera or a computer.

“Now, I don’t think I would ever work in a school without this technology,” Sanderson says.

Jessica Levine, a sixth-grade science teacher at Eckstein Middle School, uses the document camera and projection system as she demonstrates basic scientific procedures, such as how to use a balance scale or how to tie a balloon so that it can easily be untied during an experiment.

She also uses it to prepare lab investigations and record procedures and data. When students finish their experiments, Levine connects the projection system to a computer and shows them how to enter their data in Excel and generate graphs, among other tasks.

“Being able to display procedures step by step, so that all students can easily see each step, has revolutionized the way I teach science,” she says.

All in all, “Students are beginning to think, behave and share their experimental results as a scientific community,” she adds.

Besides doing many things differently — like preparing visuals on a computer and projecting them for the whole class to see and discuss — Levine does many of the usual things, including conducting experiments in front of the class. That now works more effectively, she says, because all students can see what she’s doing.

Tina Gourd, a social-studies teacher at Eckstein, uses a computer connected to a projector every day in her classes, and adds the document camera most days.

She says the kids are more focused when the images and text they’re discussing in class are being displayed on a large screen. The process combines text, images and graphical information, which makes the learning more integrated and powerful.

“Kids understand better when they look at visuals while discussing the subject matter they’re learning,” Gourd said..

For example, in an inquiry-oriented geography project, she gave each student an 8 ½- by 11-inch map of an area in Washington state and asked them to add features based on a research question and their geographical study of the area.

Then, using the document camera, they displayed their maps while explaining to the class how the data included on their maps answered the research questions. The document camera enabled the students to show their work (large enough for all to see) while making their presentations.

Document cameras don’t break down easily. They’re not difficult to use or to adapt to existing curriculum lessons. Even when the teacher simply puts an open textbook or student paper under the lens, the enlarged display helps all students focus on the lesson.

Plus, there’s a lot more that teachers can do with this equipment when they begin exploring the possibilities.

Write Linda Knapp at lknapp@seattletimes.com; to read other Getting Started columns, go to: www.seattletimes.com/gettingstarted