“I had one of the kids say to me—and this is why I love kids—‘Mrs. Alperstein, you’re not using that right,’” says Neme Alperstein, laughing. “So I back off and say, ‘Well, can you do it?’ and of course they can. So they do.”
Mrs. Alperstein is talking about her grade-school class at PS174 William Sidney Mount in New York City, New York, and the Epson DC 20 Document Camera she received from DonorsChoose.org. It’s a classic case of the student becoming the teacher.
“I’m not just trying to make them feel good—I need them to do what they’re doing and show me what the product can do!” Mrs. Alperstein says. “I have to shamefully admit that I’m still learning what to do with it.”
As she points out, in urban schools such as hers, it’s not just the lack of resources that hurts education. The real enemy is time, especially when you have to share the resources. But thanks to DonorsChoose.org, she doesn’t have to share anymore.
“Kids never break the equipment. It’s always the adults,” she explains. “Other teachers ask to borrow it, but I don’t let it leave my classroom. They promise to be careful, but I tell them they can’t promise that! It’s like giving away your first born.”
This is not Mrs. Alperstein’s first time at the rodeo. She’s been teaching for 26 years, and can remember what it was like with such “technology” as a mimeograph machine. How does she like today’s technology? “Wow, I like being here. Anything that helps kids learn more efficiently, I’ll take it!”
The document camera fits this bill, and proved it when Mrs. Alperstein’s class pulled together to enter the Toshiba ExploraVision competition. They didn’t have a lot of time to work on it, and the deadline was looming. The document camera allowed them to work as a team as the clock literally ticked down. They put the project up on the screen, including diagrams and graphics that were hand-drawn as per the competition, and finished editing the project with an hour to spare.
“They won an Honorable Mention, and for a national award, that’s pretty exciting,” recounts Mrs. Alperstein. “It would not have been possible without that document camera. I felt very sad for my competition—they didn’t have our edge!”
Plus, Mrs. Alperstein notes that the document camera isn’t just a timesaver, it allows her to be more efficient with time. “When I’m trying to do four things at once, and I don’t have time to learn what the document camera does, I assign it to my students,” she says. “I get more done, and they get to learn from reading informational text, things like sequencing, implementation and text-to-real-life. Those are just a few of the many skills they’ll need as an adult.”
The document camera has transformed the landscape of her classroom—in a great way. “They like to be entertained. It hasn’t dawned on them that they are being functional because they just see this as a fun gadget. They think it’s a competition to find new ways to use it, but I know they’re really learning. And then they get to teach me!”
Photo: Paul Burns/Photodisc/Getty Images