Ariz. Schools Use Desktop Video Cameras To Teach History, Science and More

When students walk into Mike Neer's history class at Saguaro High School, a large-screen color monitor brightly displays a map of World War II's major battles. No overhead sheets are prepared, no copies are distributed, no books are opened. Instead, Neer simply aims a special camera toward the 3" x 3" map and the entire class begins to study. Neer's district in Scottsdale, Ariz., uses a dozen desktop video cameras for a wide array of applications. Instructors report that the product's ability to streamline visual learning has changed the way technology is viewed -- and helped students grasp difficult concepts a little faster. "We use technology to help students and teachers gather, create, organize and analyze information and communicate ideas," explains Mark Share, the district's director of Information Services. Toward that end, full-motion video cameras have virtually replaced overhead projectors and other still, flat presentation devices at Scottsdale's 27 schools. Every classroom has a 27" Sony monitor; when a camera is attached, the possibilities for teaching and learning are endless. Versatile and Portable Tool Recently, school officials discovered a versatile and portable tool to realize those possibilities: the FlexCam from VideoLabs in Minneapolis, Minn. In fact, two models of FlexCam are employed by instructors. Compatible with most industry microscopes, FlexCam Scientific precisely images slides, X-rays and small objects for display on monitors or computers. Its lens can be focused down to 1", effectively producing magnification of 50:1 when viewed on a 25" monitor. FlexCam Document, meanwhile, suits 8" x 12" documents, transparencies and more. It boasts the power to project images under virtually any light conditions, down to 2.5 lux. Both FlexCam models feature a distinctive design and flexible gooseneck wand, and output 350 TV lines of resolution; microphones for capturing audio are optional. In Mike Neer's class, FlexCam Document has come full circle as a presentation tool. Students not only learn from his visual lectures on, for example, the Battle of Britain, but they also present their work in front of classmates using the device. "We can use the FlexCam to do so many things we couldn't do before," Neer says, adding that, "It's not bulky like an overhead." A sophomore at Saguaro High, Cody Thomas praises the ability to share visual information instantly, without preparation. "We even replaced our easel in this room," he says. "We just put a piece of paper on the table, point the camera at it, and draw." Students then focus on the object or paper and see the results without special lighting. As one might expect, however, Scottsdale teachers remain the primary users of FlexCam. At Ingleside Middle School, art teacher Joani Share demonstrates how to make a linoleum block to the entire class at once, saving her and her students much time. The linoleum block is placed on a table and the camera projects its image on a monitor as she explains how to carve and print the artwork. In another class, Share shows students how to outline a water color with an ink pen. She also focuses the FlexCam on paintings to illustrate special effects, such as dropping salt on the surface. Before acquiring the camera, Share relied on overhead and opaque projectors, which among other things, meant sacrificing 3D and color. Highlighting Math Concepts Finally, Aztec Elementary instructor Dan Friedman combines a FlexCam with other presentation tools to create a spectacular learning experience in math. In one lesson, he draws directly onto a monitor with an erasable pen, highlighting the height, width and length of cubes that are being projected. He then puts a piece of white paper under the camera lens so the monitor now shows only his drawing of the cubes. This allows the class to observe the calculation of volume, plus learn the relationship between a 2D drawing and a 3D object. Many other functions of FlexCam are exploited each day. Biology teachers take advantage of its high-quality lens to show the minute details of a Palo Verde seed and tree sprout. The camera is kept on the seedling all day and changes are marked on the monitor. Elsewhere, students witness the interaction between iron fillings and a magnet to better understand magnetic fields. Indeed, students and teachers alike reap the benefits of shared, real-time video presentations. Videoconferencing and remote teaching are some of the other applications of FlexCam that Scottsdale officials are exploring. Which means that some day soon Mike Neer's students may not even have to walk into class to attend his World War II lectures.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.

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