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Web Cams Bring Lessons to Life

Whether the topic is another country, a distant city, natural disaster, or a sporting event, Web cams provide students with a bird's-eye view that enhances their understanding. As the number of Web cams increases, teachers are finding great new uses for this technology -- whether it's visiting cams online or establishing their own windows on the world! What can Web cams do for you? Included: A list of Web cam sites to use in your classroom!


"Web cams offer wonderful opportunities for teachers to take their students on meaningful cyber field trips," Chatham (Massachusetts) Middle School teacher Ann Morgan told Education World. "It's the frosting on the cake for students. The more they see, the more they want, and the more they'll lick it up!"

Chatham, Massachusetts, located on the "elbow" of Cape Cod, has two primary industries: fishing and tourism. For most of the students in Morgan's fifth-grade class, travel is a luxury they can seldom afford. Morgan describes technology as an educational boon for these children.


"I've been using the Iditarod as a teaching tool since 1984," Morgan explained. "Each year, technological improvements have made following the race easier and more exciting. The addition of Web cams made last year's race the most thrilling ever!"

Morgan's students viewed the Iditarod from start to finish via live Web cams. During the school week, the students checked both weather cams and race checkpoint cams. Parents reported that they too became hooked on the race and watched the cams at home with their children.

"The start of the race is always spectacular!" said Morgan. "Using the Web cam links, students could watch the mushers during the start. They calculated the time difference and then watched from their home computers."

She continued, "On the day Doug Swingley crossed the finish line in Nome, students were checking the Web cam on Front Street throughout the day, hoping to see their mushers cross under the burl arch."

Tracking the race via Web cam allowed students -- in near real time -- to see the actual weather that faced the mushers; to hear their tired, but excited, voices; and to watch the dogs firsthand. Morgan says this closeness to the action made her students feel more invested in the race. They became attached to the individual mushers, and the adventurers became real people.

For Morgan, the Web cams offered an opportunity to relive her own Iditarod experience. For 17 days in 2000, she followed the race in person, and sent daily pictures and reports to her students.


In Grand Forks, North Dakota, students used Web cams to share their personal struggle with a natural disaster. In April 1997, the level of the Red River was rising quickly. The winter -- with nine major blizzards -- had been difficult, and spring water levels were expected to be high. Activity in the city was focused on preparing the citizens for possible flooding.

"The administration building for our school district was located approximately a block and a half from the river. Our building was four stories high, so Darin King, our present director of technology, placed an old video camera on top of the building. This camera, focused on the bridge that crossed the Red River, became our 'flood cam,'" recalled the Grand Forks schools technology facilitator Cindy Grabe.

The district's teachers constructed classroom activities around the flood cam, linking to sites that provided readings of the river's height, safety advice, and weather predictions. Other activities dealt with sump pumps, plugging drains, and sandbagging efforts.

Said Grabe, "Little did we know that on April 18 our city would be flooded and the residents evacuated. Our flood cam took its last pictures as the electricity went off!"

During the time the flood cam was operational, Grabe and her class received e-mail from around the world. The students communicated with classrooms in other parts of the United States that were using the site as part of their study of weather and natural disasters.

"It would be easy to work with Web cams for the sake of using the technology, but then the technology is used for technology's sake instead of the communication tool it should be," Grabe explained. "In deciding when and how to use Web cams, we first ask What is the benefit? Is the change that is occurring significant and observable? Is this format the most appropriate format? What can be gained from this experience?"

Grabe believes that the flood cam is an example of what Web cams do best -- communicate ongoing phenomena in a timely visual format.

Find an Online Web Cam!

Visit one of the sites listed below to provide your students with a unique Web cam experience.

  • Panda Central
    See live video of giant panda Hua Mei from the San Diego Zoo's Pacific Bell Giant Panda Research Station.
  • National Zoo Animal Cams
  • Still and video cameras broadcast the activities of naked moles, Amazon River fishes, Asian elephants, ferrets, and other creatures at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
  • Wild Birds Unlimited
    Wish you had a bustling birdfeeder outside your window? This site's Bird FeederCam is nearly as enjoyable as the real thing!
  • Passages of the Deep -- Shark Cams
    This site from the Oregon Coast Aquarium offers four shark cams!
  • Kelp Cam
    The Monterey Bay Aquarium sponsors this cam that spies on its kelp forest. The site also offers a peek at its penguins!
  • EarthCam
    Find a Web cam for nearly any location or purpose with this online guide. Be sure to carefully preview this material to make certain that it's appropriate for your class.


Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2005 Education World


Updated 11/22/2005