Snappy Ideas for Using Scanners
in the Classroom

By Warren Buckleitner

OK... I know what you're thinking. "What, me — use a scanner? I have enough trouble with that moody photocopier! You know, the one that breaks whenever I'm in a hurry?"

But wait. Not only have scanners dropped in price (to about $100), but they've also become a snap to use, thanks to their popular acceptance in millions of homes. They're also more powerful and faster. As a result, more and more teachers are discovering how valuable a scanner can be as a teaching tool. Perhaps you will too. Here are some concrete examples:

Self-Esteem Builder

The next time Timmy makes that amazing drawing, briefly borrow it and drop it in your scanner. Watch his eyes light up as a small crowd of children gather around the monitor to see his picture appear on the computer screen — in living color. Once it's scanned, you can return the original to him, and then print out as many copies as you like.

Look How I've Grown!

Ask children to gather behind the scanner or a photocopier. One at a time, let them take turns scanning their hands. They can do this at the start and end of the year and compare the growth of their hands over time. (Note: Keep some glass cleaner handy to remove the smudges after you finish!)

Classroom Slide Show

Once you've scanned in some work, it is easy to incorporate it into your classroom newsletter or Web site. You might want to feature a story dictated by one of the children in your group; perhaps you'd like to share the details of a field trip experience with parents. The possibilities are endless.

Electronic Portfolio

Every day, you're aware of the amazing things children create. The trick is to document them. Your scanner helps with the documentation. At the start of the year, make a folder for each child in order to keep things organized. Thankfully, the computer dates each file for you, which is very handy. You can print out what you need for parent conferences.

Beyond Paper

Did you know you can scan all sorts of things? For example, fabric or wallpaper can make a great background for a collage. Put a penny on the scanner and play with the settings to enlarge it to the size of a dinner plate! This can be a fun way for children to explore the details of small objects.

For the Beginner: How Do I Use a Scanner?

1. What do I Need?

  • A fairly new computer (either Macintosh or Windows-based PC). Make sure it can receive a USB plug (the little rectangular plug).
  • A scanner (prices range from $60 to $300)
  • A flat table near the computer and near an electrical outlet

2. Choosing a Scanner.

Stay mainstream, avoiding no-names or the cutting edge. Canon, Epson, Hewlett-Packard, and UMAX all have established reputations and offer a scanner in the $100 range. We've yet to be disappointed by the Hewlett-Packard ScanJet line. Choose a scanner that can scan or see at least 600 dpi (dots per inch). For about $100 more, you can get a scanner that can see 1200 dpi, but this is not really necessary for everyday classroom use.

3. Set It Up.

Take it out of the box, plug it into your computer and the power outlet, and install the software. Usually, this is a step-by-step process, but it never hurts to have an experienced friend around for confidence. Thankfully, you only need to set it up once.

4. Start Scanning!

Your new scanner looks like a miniature photocopy machine. Lift up the lid and lay the picture face down on the glass. Next, start up the scanning software on your computer, or use any mainstream creativity programs such as Adobe PhotoDeluxe or Microsoft Picture It! Just experiment with the options under the File menu.

The Intel Play QX3 Computer Microscope

Here's the ultimate addition to your science area — a digital microscope with a screen-size viewing window! Like most scanners, this versatile microscope plugs into your computer's USB port and puts some of the latest digital imagery technology at the fingertips of young children.

Children can zoom up to 200 times in on a bug's eye or detach the microscope from its base to view the skin on their arm from the perspective of a hungry mosquito. The microscope comes with software that captures the images so that they can be made into a slide show or resized. There are several nice features. For example, the microscope contains a light that is powered from the computer, meaning no batteries or extra wires are required, and there's a built-in storage feature so that tweezers, slides, and other accessories won't be misplaced. You'll want to keep it available all year, for when a child a finds a ladybug or perhaps wants to examine the structure of that first blade of summertime grass. (Intel, $99.99;

Warren Buckleitner, a contributing editor to Early Childhood Today and Scholastic Parent & Child, is editor of Children's Software Revue ( All the software he recommends has been tested with young children.

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