What Is It?

A doc cam is what every dusty, old overhead projector wishes it could be! It can project a page of a book or a three-dimensional object (baseball? frog?) onto the screen for the whole class to see.

Doc cams are basically high-res web cameras, so you can also take photos and record video with them!

How About the Bells and Whistles?

A document camera is one of the simplest and most useful teacher tools available. You can find one for under $100 or pay more than $1,000 for a more elaborate setup. The trick is deciding which features you really need for the way you teach.

  • You want a remote.
    Repeat: You want a remote. That way, you can move around the classroom and observe students at work. And you can pass the remote to students when they want to zero in on a map detail or the wing of a butterfly.

  • Split screen, baby.
    Many doc cams have a split-screen feature that allows you to project two images side by side. So, for example, you can project both an exam question and a sample student answer. Maybe you’ll finally understand the difference between an iceberg and a glacier.

  • Make the connection.
    A document camera has to be connected to a projector or monitor. Ideally, though, it should be connected to a computer to allow you to do things like take and store photos and record audio and video.

  • It’s a scanner, too.
    Most document cameras allow you to snap a quick image and store it either on the camera itself or on a connected computer. You’ll likely never need a scanner again. Look for all the basic photo features like freeze, focus, and zoom.

  • Read that fine print.
    Any doc cam should have an optical zoom lens, allowing you to zero in on small print or illustrations. Microscope attachments are available for many models, so you can give a sprouting flower seed or a pollywog its big-screen debut.


When you get a doc cam, one of the first places you’ll want to try it out is in science class. There is no easier way to demonstrate the scientific process than with using a doc cam. Here are just a few ways it will come in handy in the lab.

  • Demonstrate Science Experiments: Show the whole process step by step before students start working on their own.
  • Share the Close-Ups: Your students can document each stage of a biological process. For example, have them take a series of photos with the doc cam as their caterpillar transforms into a butterfly.
  • Model Data Recording: Recording data can be a tedious process. Project your data-recording form and then review the process together with sample data.
  • Label Diagrams: Project a scientific diagram of a paramecium or a human skeleton (or whatever subject you’re currently studying) and have kids work together to identify and label its parts.
  • Zoom In on Nature: What’s the best thing about a doc cam? Studying three-dimensional objects from every angle. As spring draws near, get ready to observe these natural objects up close.


Many teachers with doc cams in their classrooms say they use them “all day long.” What?! It turns out that the document camera is a surprisingly versatile classroom management tool. Teachers can use it on the fly for a variety of purposes, such as delivering clear, transparent expectations, modeling behavior and procedures, and making efficient use of time and resources. We asked teachers to share strategies.

Keep Kids on Track

  • Bell Work
    “As our schedule varies, I do morning work by jotting a quick list each day and projecting it on the screen.”
  • To-Do Lists
    “I always project a list of tasks to be done. It helps students remember what they need to get accomplished in a short time.”
  • The Daily Schedule
    “We have a complex 10-day schedule so I always start by posting the morning schedule, and later on, the afternoon schedule.”

Model Expectations

  • Step-by-Step Procedures
    “When our class does art projects, I put all the supplies under the doc cam and model the process. I do the same for science experiments.”
  • Math Strategies
    “I put math story problems under the doc cam and we work them together on the big screen, circling numbers and underlining important information.”
  • “Big” Thinking
    “During silent reading time, I post a comprehension strategy or two to help students keep them ‘front of mind.’”

Save Classroom Time

  • Timekeeping
    “I always place my kitchen timer under the doc cam. Then kids know how many minutes they have left to work.”
  • Check Your Answers
    “Instead of making copies of the answer key or reading each quiz item aloud, I can put up an answer sheet. That gives me a minute or two to prep the next thing.”
  • Big Book Read-Alouds
    “I place storybooks under the doc cam as I read aloud. Not only can everyone see the illustrations, I save the time I would spend walking the book around the group.”


Using a document camera for language arts can open up new opportunities to teach close reading analysis and the writing process. Here are just a few ideas from experienced teachers.

  • Enhance Writer’s Notebook: Use the doc cam to demonstrate the process of recording ideas and deciding what to write about.
  • Build Note-Taking Skills: Post the sequence for note taking as you lecture and then have students share their notes. Are they similar? Are they hitting the most important points?
  • Closely Analyze Readings: Project an important passage from a text the class is reading and then share your own sample annotations on that passage.
  • Share the Writing Process: Post a writing sample and work on the opening paragraph as a group. Review the process of turning a question into a thesis and writing an interesting hook or introduction.
  • Compare Thoughts: Have students take turns sharing their texts. What are their annotations? What questions do they have?


Top Five Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. Do I need to move it from room to room? 
    If you use several classrooms during the day or plan to share your doc cam with colleagues, make sure it’s portable. It should be light and easy to set up quickly.
  2. How much light do I need?
    Some doc cam models work best when the lights are dimmed or turned off. Some also mount a light source (or two) on a flexible gooseneck, independent of the camera head. This feature makes it easier for you to adjust the lighting to display items clearly.
  3. What if I want to use my doc cam as a webcam or video camera?
    If this is your primary purpose, you’ll want a model with a flexible gooseneck that can view objects from a 360-degree perspective. This will allow you to take lots of pictures of your students and their work.
  4. Do I want to connect to an interactive whiteboard?
    Some doc cams work seamlessly with any IWB. Others are brand-specific. As well, you’ll want to make sure your USB can accommodate the data rate needed to transfer images from doc cam to whiteboard quickly.
  5. Where will the funding come from?
    Simple document cameras can cost as little as $70. Elaborate models can cost thousands. Do you want to appeal to your district? Consult your tech coordinator or perhaps buy your own low-cost model that you can use at home as well as at school.

No. 6 MATH

Math Manipulatives

What better way to demonstrate hands-on math than by projecting the manipulatives on the big screen?

  1. Unifix cubes
  2. Geoboards
  3. Tesselations
  4. Playing cards
  5. Dice
  6. Base 10 blocks
  7. Pattern blocks
  8. Fraction bars
  9. Toy clocks 

No. 7 Choose Your Favorite

It’s a rare tech tool for the classroom that teachers are willing to pay for themselves. The doc cam might be it. But to start, keep your wallet closed, and tell your district exactly what you need.

AVerVision U10 USB

AVer’s U10 just might be the easiest document camera to use—and get funded, at $199. It’s powered by its own USB cable, making it quick to set up, and when the lesson’s over, it can be folded away.

Smart SDC-330
With a sharp 5.2X zoom lens and the ability to create stills or video for the class to see, the $949 SDC-330 can be seamlessly integrated into the digital classroom.

Epson DC-11

The $559 DC-11 has a pair of LED lights built in. The integrated microphone ensures the teacher can always be heard.

Elmo TT-12

The $719 TT-12 combines a 12X zoom lens and a high-def camera that can be rotated and swiveled to see just about anything.

Promethean ActiView 322

The 322 zooms in on docs and 3D objects and works with just about any microscope to create digital lessons. Compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux via USB.

PolyVision Fuse

Smarter than your average presenter, the Fuse’s proprietary TrueSnap technology makes sure every image looks picture perfect for the class. And it has one of the simplest control panels around.

Qomo QPC60

The QPC60 is ready for any lesson with its 5-megapixel resolution and preview screen. Explorers of tiny worlds will love the microscope adapter.

Samsung SDP-860 

It wows teachers with its ability to lean over and get close to anything from a map to a petri dish.


The MimioView sets its 2-megapixel camera between two lights that can be adjusted independently.