A visualiser or Flexi Cam is like a webcam.
There is a small digital camera in the head of a flexible arm.

The visualiser is plugged into a computer via a USB cable. There is no need for a power cable. The camera takes the required power from the laptop.

As you can see in this photograph the flexi cam image appears as a live image on the computer. It can then be shown to a class on an interactive whiteboard via a projector. You can freeze the image and write on it (on the IWB).
A photo can then be saved by pressing a button on the computer.
A flexi cam can also show live video. This is rather like the cameras that you see when you enter certain shops. Again it can be used via a projector so that a whole class can follow a demonstration or activity.
Visualisers vary enormously in price. I have been using a Flexi Cam (by Ken-a-vision) for about 3 years in my previous school and found it to be a valuable and 'flexible' tool in the classroom. At Robert Hitcham's we have just purchased a visualiser / flexi cam for every classroom from Aver Vision. We have paid about £230 for each visualiser. They have a 3mega pixel camera and video capture. It is worth shopping around for a good price.

They can be used to show documents, children's written work, passages from a book, paintings / drawings, 3D work or objects brought into the classroom. It can really save on photocopying. One of the best learning uses is when using the live video function. It is great for demonstrating a skill to the whole class. Children who can do something really enjoy showing others via the flexi cam. It is much better than asking the whole class to 'gather round'.

In order to make the most of a flexi cam then it is worth getting into the habit of setting it up every morning. There are unplenned moments when it will become useful in a lesson - so it is best to have it ready. Don't forget that it is basically a camera so it canbe used to record the children's work in a whole range of subjects. You can also zoom in for a close look at work or objects. Some visualisers can be connected to a microscope.
It is a fantastic aid to learning and I would recommend one to teachers of all age groups or subjects.


More Ideas for Using Photos

Here are a few more advanced ideas for using photographs with your 'MSOffice' documents.

If you want to use multiple images which might overlap - then use the 'order' function. Right click on a picture - bring to front or back as required.
You can use a picture to fill a piece of 'Word Art'. Use the fill with colour tool (dawing toolbar)- go to fill effects - picture - choose picture from your files.
You can put text over a picture by using a 'text box' - see the 'Drawing' toolbar. The pictur will need to be 'Behind' - see wrapping or order. You can also use shapes. Put text in shapes
or 'colour in' the shape with a picture.

Using Photos in Documents

Here are some ideas / examples of what you can do with a photograph in any 'Office' document.
Click on each image for a full size version.

There is quite a lot you can do with a image without having to use a photo editing program.
You can adjust the colours on a photo with the picture toolbar with MSOffice. It is worth getting to know the picture toolbar - right click on a photo to bring up the toolbar.
Each of these examples has been 'edited' with MSWord but you could equally use these functions in powerpoint, excel or publisher.
You can also add a border, crop or resize a photograph. In order to put a photo within some text you need to use something called 'wrapping' - the little dog on the picture toolbar.
A picture will normally need to be 'tight' or 'behind text'. This will enable you to move it around your document and will bring up toggles in each corner of the photo.
See next blog for more ideas.


Wireless Mouse and Keyboard

A wireless mouse and keyboard set (by a company called Gyration)
is a great way of making an IWB more interactive. The teacher can become more mobile and the children can use the mouse or keyboard on their own desk. They work via a small radio transmitter plugged into a USB port on the classroom computer. It has a range of 30 feet so can be used anywhere in a classroom and because it is radio transmitted is not effected by obstructions - as an infared would be. The set only costs about £80 - a small price to pay compared with the cost of the board. At Sir Robert Hitcham's we have put a set into every classroom in order to make our whiteboards more interactive.

The keyboard is battery operated - they last for about 12 months. The mouse has an inbuilt rechargeable battery like a mobile phone. Once charged it lasts all day - just leave it on the charger when not in use.

The lack of wires across the teachers desk is a great benefit.

The mouse can also be operated in the air by using a trigger underneath it. This makes it very useful in larger spaces such as school halls. The keyboard also has internet and media control keys - useful with videos and music.
I have found the gyration mouse and keyboard a very useful tool in assemblies and presentations.
If you use the typing function on your interactive whiteboard the keyboard enables you to write on the board from anywhere inthe classroom. It can also be used by the children to enter data or numerical answers on to programs on the IWB.

Interactive Slates

An Activ Slate by Promethean is an excellent way of making an IWB more interactive. The board can be controlled from anywhere in the classroom. It works via a radio transmitter attached to the classroom computer.

The use of a slate also means that the teacher is no lnger tied to the board. He / she can move round the classroom working with children and still be able to interact with the board. The children can also interact with the board from their own desk - thus saving time and distraction of a child moving across the room in order to be next to the IWB.

The slates are A4 sized and use the same pen as the IWB.

Activ Voting System

At Robert Hitcham's we use the Promethean voting system called 'Activ Vote'.

There are several other makers of voting systems. The Promethean system is very easy to use and I have found that children like the handsets.

Activ Vote gives every child a egg shaped handset with buttons labelled A - F.

These are radio linked with a receiver plugged into the classroom computer (linked with whiteboard).

The handsets allow children to respond to questions written on an interactive whiteboard. These questions can be prepared in advance on a flipchart or produced on an ad hoc basis during a lesson. The teacher can simply write a question with the activ board pen and click on the voting icon. The children will then vote with their handset. Their responses are recorded and can be displayed as a bar graph or pie chart. All the questions during a lesson are recorded so that the teacher can see each child's voting pattern.

I have found voting to be a great way of engaging children at the start of a lesson. I often use hand written questions during an activity to find out if the children understand a particular concept. The beauty of voting is that it enables every child to respond to a question instead of children needing to put their hands up. The teacher gets 30 responses instead of one.

The instant feedback combined with the children's enthusiuasm (for activ voting) adds a very powerful element to the learning process.

I have made voting a regular part of plenaries in maths and science lessons. This obviously gives me important feedback on the class and individuals learning from a lesson. In literacy lessons I have used voting for some spelling activities.

One of my favourite uses for voting is in conjunction with interactive programs. The voting system enables the whole class to interactive with the program instead of just a few individuals.

I hope to add (over coming weeks) some more video clips demonstrating the various uses of voting in the classroom.


Which Digital Camera?

Having used several digital cameras I can offer you some key tips:

Get a camera that will take photos, movie clips (with sound)
At least 6 mega pixels - see image size information. The quality of the lens is also important.

Colour LCD screen

Docking Station for recharging lithium battery and / or connecting to computer.

Lithium batteries that can be easily charged and last for several hours. These normally come with a mid priced camera.
Standard cameras will use rechargeable AA batteries.
These will only last for about 30 minutes so you will need to keep other batteries constantly on a recharging unit.

Built in memory
Removable memory cards to extend memory

USB connector (possibly via docking station) to computer
Built in flash
Zoom function - optical zoom is part of the photo. Digital zoom is after the photo has been taken.
Macro function (flower button) for close up. This is very useful around the classroom for taking close up images of children's work.

Movie mode that does not have a limit on size - see section on image size

Built in microphone

Other important features to look for in a digital camera:

Easy to use?
Does it feel intuitive?
Can you use it without having to think too much about how it works?
Does it have or need a docking station?
Does it have a USB cable for connecting to your computer?

Does it come with or need software? If you have Windows XP then your computer will not need software to ‘pick up’ your camera or its memory stick. Some cameras will come with ‘free’ photo editing software. This does not mean that your camera & computer have to use this software. You can continue to use your existing software or the functions within MS Office.
See section on Using Photographs.

Are the symbols obvious?
Try the MODE function.

Size of camera
For classroom use and when out of classroom (trips / school grounds etc) it is best to have as compact a camera as possible. All the above functions can now be contained in a camera that will fit into your pocket.

Children’s use of camera
Buy a camera that you don’t mind the children using. You will find that most children are very comfortable with digital cameras. Many will have mobile phones with basic camera functions.
Make sure that children use the hand strap when using a camera.
It is worth having a selection of cameras in school that will suit different purposes.
It is worth giving children some training on the use of digital cameras and the key principles of photography i.e. lighting, focus, and avoiding camera shake etc.


Why take your own photos?

Why not use photos from the internet?
Images from websites are generally low resolution (so that they can be downloaded easily) but they are not very suitable for projection and enlargement on Interactive Whiteboards.
The number of pixels (photos are made up of tiny squares called pixels) on these internet images are relatively small. You can take your own photographs in a higher resolution (more pixels means greater detail) so that they can be used with digital projectors and interactive whiteboards, enabling you to zoom in on areas of an image without losing quality.
Contrast this image of a caterpillar found by a child with the internet images. Click on images for full size view.
See section on ‘Image Size’ for further advice about using various photo resolutions. An image with fewer pixels will become blurred as you try to enlarge it.