Document Camera for Under $50

With the cost of LCD projectors coming down, many more classrooms are being equipped with this technology.  However, document cameras remain quite expensive.  As I often need to project an enlargement of something on the screen, I decided to see if I could get similar functionality from cheap and readily available materials.

Since my projector is wired to my computer, I decided to go with a webcam as the video source.  I’ve seen many plans online for connecting camcorders and digital cameras to computers, and while they may provide a better quality and higher resolution image, a webcam serves the purposes of a document camera.  It’s definitely less bulky and the desktop microphone stand is great to hold up the tiny webcam.

The webcam (at least the one listed below) is plug-and-play with Windows.  Plug it in, open My Computer, click on USB Video Device, and it works out of the box.  No special software or drivers necessary.  The Genius webcam listed below offers 1280 x 720 resolution, though I believe that can only be achieved through the included software.  The most I’ve gotten Windows to do is 640 x 480.

The webcam is a manual focus by turning the lens, but if you set it to view a document once, it should be set for the most part.  I’ve seen the autofocus on a document camera do some weird things at times, so that may be for the best.  There is also no zoom on the webcam, so you have to adjust the mic stand to get different fields of view.  Also, the usb cord on the webcam was only about 5 feet long, so if you want to position it further from your computer, you’ll want to get a USB extension cable.  Note that if you want to use a USB hub with your webcam, you’ll need a powered one.

If you want a full-screen view of your webcam on the screen instead of the smaller view available through Windows Explorer, try FS Cam View.

Parts List:

Black 19 Inch Musician’s Gear Gooseneck Black 19 Inch $3.99

On-Stage Stands DS7100B Basic Fixed Height Desktop Stand $6.99

Musician’s Gear Clip-Type Mic Holder $1.95

Genius eFace 2025 2.0 M Effective Pixels USB 2.0 WebCam $24.99

Assembly is fairly straightforward.  Attach the gooseneck to the desktop stand and the clip-type mic holder to the gooseneck.  Clip the webcam onto the stand and use some cable ties or electrical tape to run the cord along the gooseneck out of the way.  Plug it in to an open USB port on your computer and Windows should recognize your webcam.

So there you have it.  A document camera for $37.92 plus a few bucks for shipping.  As a science teacher, I’ve used it to allow lab groups to share their experimental data and graphs with the class and to enlarge some chemistry lab safety demonstrations so the whole class can see them.  It’s worked pretty well so far.  Someone may find a better way to connect the webcam to the mic stand, but the clip-type mic holder works pretty well for me.

I’m also keeping my eyes peeled for some type of probably USB-powered lighting system that I can attach to the whole contraption, though the webcam does a decent job in medium light conditions.  Best of luck to those who build their own, and feel free to share your own ideas.

Classroom Quiz Games

With all the testing, assemblies, and various schedules in a 5-12 public school, teachers invariably end up having to supervise a group of students they may not even teach for an hour or two without any real lesson plan. When that happens, I’ve discovered an activity that keeps the students engaged and requires no real planning on your part (unless you want to).

Jeopardy Labs

Jeopardy Labs provides a web-based jeopardy experience.  It works best if you have access to an interactive whiteboard and projector, but it could possibly work OK without them. All it takes is to go to the website, type in a topic (e.g. chemistry review), and it searches through hundreds of teacher-created jeopardy-style games.  Find one you like and get started.  It’s that easy.

It’s also super-easy to create your own jeopardy game.  It’s great because there’s no software to install–just use your web browser.  You can even use HTML to incorporate things like images, subscripts, bold, italics, etc.  Maybe someday Jeopardy Labs will incorporate a rich text editor onto their site to make those things easier.

I also just got access to an Education Insights Eggspert – like a buzzer system to tell who buzzed in first.  I’ll try using that this year for review activities–previously I’d let everyone respond on a personal whiteboard and maybe give double points to the team/individual who got the answer first.  But my students tend to get very competitive so it causes problems when two people respond at about the same time.  Anyway, I’ll try the Eggspert and let you know how it goes.

Track Meet Tools

Scoring Program

As a new track coach responsible for hosting and running a track meet, one of the biggest concerns is keeping up with results and scoring as events are completed and score cards come in.  As I didn’t really want to do all the scoring by hand and also didn’t have the time or resources to invest in track meet management software, I adapted an excel spreadsheet to do this task. It’s based on a much simpler version by Berkshire Sports.  Basically, you put in results as they come in and the spreadsheet will keep track of team scores and outstanding individuals in track and field.

Track.Meet Results & Scoring Program (current version)

The current version (updated June 2015) updates team scores automatically after each change.  Please report any problems you may have in the comments below.

Google Sheets Version

Older Version (Excel ’97 compatible)

Track Meet Results & Scoring Program (older version)

Note: For the “update” button to work and determine team scores, macros must be enabled.  Sometimes, security settings prevent this from working, so you can just right-click on the table itself and choose “Refresh” to update the team data.

Recommended alternative: I recently used and Racetab to manage our parish track meet.   See my post on the topic for more.

Scoring Cards

Also, here are a set of scoring cards I put together for our meet.  The file includes cards for races with multiple heats, other race entry forms, throwing field events, and jumping field events.  There are no finals included in any of the cards, but that could be added without too much trouble.

Track Score Cards (Word .doc)

Track Score Cards (PDF)