Improve Curriculum Delivery with Document Cameras

If there is only enough money in your budget to splurge on one piece of equipment for the art room then a document camera, in my opinion, is it.

A document camera is not a fancy overhead projector but a versatile piece of equipment that can help improve the way you deliver curriculum. The most obvious function of the camera is that you can place any object, drawing or small piece of equipment under the lens and it will be projected in full color onto a large screen.

What is often overlooked is that the document camera can be highly interactive, save on equipment and space, improve classroom management and produce it’s own art. Below are several different ways I’ve incorporated the document camera into my art room and some of the techniques that might work for your room as well.

Still Life Drawing

Turn the document camera lens out and project a still life that the whole class can see. Instead of having to find multiple objects and set up numerous still life displays use your document camera to enlarge one set of objects. It cuts down on the materials that need to be collected and saves space in the classroom by only needing one display. Another perk is you can instantly change to another still life when a different grade comes. You also can easily control the lighting to show a full range of values and actually demonstrate how artists select portions of a still life to draw.

The kids love to watch me reposition the still life by turning the stand multiple directions in combination with zooming in and out on different sections of the objects. It allows me to show the entire class the concepts I’m teaching such as light source, highlight, shadow and reflected light. My document camera also has a feature that allows me to turn the image from color to black and white. I’ve found this to be especially useful when teaching rendering /shading or to help a class focus on drawing the actual object shapes and not be distracted by color. I’ve traveled to four different schools in my district, each with a different document camera, and they all had the black and white feature. You might need to do a little experimenting to find that feature on your camera but it will most likely have it.

Here’s how I used my camera to project a still life (click the image to enlarge):

First, find a table or platform at the right height to display your objects. I used a sturdy music stand. It works beautifully for light to medium weight materials and it easily can rotate or slide up and down for demonstrations. Next, turn the lens or rotate it out so that you can see the objects you want to display. Now you can zoom and reposition the stand to focus on different sections of the still-life. Then add a light source to create depth and shadows. You can get a utility light that clips from the hardware store, use a desk lamp with a flexible arm or a flash light. My motto is what ever works and is cheap.


Change your perspective and the classes by taking advantage of the microscopes used in science class. I use a great lesson I got from my colleague to take an artist’s view-point when looking at fall leaves. Originally the class would collect leaves, draw an outline of the leaves they observe and then fill in each leaf shape with tiny circular shapes to represent the molecular structure. We took the artistic license to imagine what the cellular structure looked like but since getting a document camera we  don’t have to imagine. I call up students to put samples of the leaves they collected under the microscope and focus the lens. Then we discuss what we observe and how we can relate it to our art. We are able to make greater connections to what we see and tie back into the science curriculum at a deeper level.

Here’s how I use the document camera to project the microscope (click the image to enlarge):


Don’t just use your document camera to project an example piece of art or a demonstration. Let the kids use it to create their own original art. I was inspired by the illustrator and caricature artist Hanoch Piven’s book My Dog is As Smelly As Socks: And Other Funny Family Portraits to have 2nd graders create their own assemblage portraiture.

I showed students several of Hanoch Piven’s books and talked to them about assemblage and discussed different ways to use found objects in our art. I had students draw the shape of their own face and hair and add color but no facial features. Students put their picture under the document camera and added facial features with different found objects (i.e., buttons, sea shells, bolts, nails, rubber bands, small toys, pieces of yarn, candy, art supplies, tools). Then students would take a picture with the document camera. Most of the document cameras came with software to use in conjunction with a computer for recording, editing, adding annotations and taking pictures. You’ll have to investigate how your particular document camera takes pictures. All of the found objects would then be put back into the box for other students to use. The images can then be printed, shared through a classroom website, used in an enhanced podcast or in a voice thread.

You can view more photos of using the document camera in the art room at The Teaching Palette’s Flicker photo stream.

Hillary Andrlik

Hillary has been teaching art in the Chicago area since 2002 and was named Illinois Elementary Art Educator of the Year in 2012 by the Illinois Art Education Association. She received her art education degree from Illinois State University and masters from National Louis University. She is the co-founder and co-author of The Teaching Palette, a blog authored by art educators for art educators, and the digital editor for Illinois Art Education Association. Hillary's teaching strategies and lessons have been featured in numerous media, including School Arts magazine, and she has made several presentations on art education and technology in front of the Illinois Art Education Association and the National Art Education Association. Follow her on Twitter @hilland


  • January 17, 2010


    Having a bonafide document camera would be nice. For my small budget, a web cam works wonderfully. I have a web cam with a goose neck that I use in the same way. Just this past week I did an entire clay demonstration using a web cam and projector. The kids followed right along without having to leave their seats. jan

  • January 19, 2010


    While I love the idea of a document camera for many reasons – the main one being that EVERYONE can see, I have certain hesitations regarding its use for projecting 3 D objects. The moment the real objects are seen on a screen they are not in its full threedimensional form but already in a 2D rendering. One might as well look at a reproduction at that point… as a starting point this is great, but it cannot replace working from life.

  • […] two point, high, low or normal vanishing points. While in Miss Millan’s Geometry class I used a document camera which I found to be extremely helpful in my demonstration and presentation to a large class. Our […]

  • June 25, 2011

    Sue Murren

    We have a document camera at school that I have played with. Not successfully however. I get this rainbow effect when I draw on it. Any help would be great.
    Thank you,

  • Hillary Andrlik + Theresa McGee
    June 25, 2011

    Hillary Andrlik + Theresa McGee

    What type of document camera were you using? Also the projector is just as important as the document camera. Could there be any problems on the projectors end (i.e., old bulb, lose cables, etc.)?

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