Give Yourself a Break and Outfit Your Teach-From-Home Set-Up

School is almost here and we are still in a Remote Learning mode.

You have probably spent a lot of time thinking about, learning about and working about improving the experience for your students.

However, it is also important to think about your space at home (if you are teaching from home) and what it needs to help make sure your experience is improved.

Thanks to the hard work to the bargaining teams from ISD and IEA, it is now possible to bring some of the equipment you use and rely on in the classroom home.

Many of you did wonders with just a laptop but with just a few other pieces of equipment, you can upgrade your home studio/classroom and improve your workflow while making the ergonomics better for you.

Below is a guide to the equipment you can bring home, with a little explanation as to why it is worth it and some guidance on getting it to work together.

Add a Monitor

Laptop with extra monitor keyboard and mouse

Why You Should

Teaching remotely off a laptop is a pain. Sure, you made it work but there was a lot of work to make it work.

The biggest problem is moving between windows, especially when you are running a video meeting or attending an online training. There is just so much switching between windows and that slows you down and can be really confusing.

Of course there are work-arounds but they essentially add up to just more shuffling and a lot is still lost in the process.

Adding a second monitor to your home rig is probably the best thing you can do for efficiency and to help keep you focused on teaching and/or learning.

Your laptop has the software to run an additional monitor just like the desktop set-up that most teachers have at their desk. Study after study has shown that having a second monitory boosts productivity.

Additionally, in the context of presenting during a video meeting having a second monitor gives you space to assemble your materials for screen sharing and work off camera (e.g- fire off a quick email while your students are working on something.)

After running PD on a laptop without a second screen for the first couple weeks during quarantine, I was having back problems and also struggling to show the right things during training. So, I arranged to bring home a second monitor, and it made big difference. Every thing just felt easier and there was actually room to move (digitally speaking.)

Here’s how to get up and going with that monitor.

How to Add a Second Monitor

Adding a second monitor to a laptop is both easy and complicated at the same time.

The reason for this duality is that you have to match the ports on your laptop with those on your monitor (easy if they are the same) and there are lot of different combinations of ports out there (harder if they are different.)

The first step is to get to know the different type of display ports that are running around out there. Here is a handy graphic to help with that.

common display interfaces reduced

Your next step is to figure out what options you have on your laptop.

Chances are that your district laptop has an HDMI port. Most laptops made in the last five years have them.

If you don’t have an HDMI, it is likely, that the other kind of video port on your laptop is a VGA port, which is an older standard and fast disappearing from laptops.

Once you know what you are working with on the laptop, it’s time to take a look at that monitor.

Our district monitors range in the types of ports they have. You will likely find more than one, but the key is to find one that matches a port on your laptop. It can be a bit overwhelming….check out these monitors I found on my colleagues desks just one cubicle apart. They are pretty different in terms of ports.

Again, the key is to know what you are looking at and then look for a match to what is coming out of your laptop. If there is a match (e.g.- an HDMI port) you just need a cable that fits the port (e.g.- an HDMI cable) on both ends.

However, there is a good chance that you may not see a match. So what do you do?

You get a dongle AND a cable that plugs into your monitor (you probably already have one coming out of your monitor if you find yourself in this situation.)

Dongles are converters that you can plug into either your laptop or your monitor. The most likely scenario if you are using a district laptop and a district monitor is that you will need to convert an HDMI signal coming out of your laptop into a VGA signal for your monitor. To do that you would use a dongle and VGA cable like these:

You can find adapters like this on Amazon and through places like CDW. Search by typing in the name of the port plus the word dongle or adapter and then adding the type of port you are trying to connect to. Warning: they are not all equal in quality so read the reviews and double check you have the right connections.

Once you have what you need, connect the cable to your monitor and then connect the cable (or to your dongle and then…) to your laptop.

Your laptop will likely automatically figure out there is a second monitor, but if it doesn’t (and to make adjustments later) follow these directions from Microsoft for getting Windows to recognize that monitor.

Finally, your building tech specialist should be able to talk you through these steps and to help you identify your ports if you need.

Add a Keyboard and Mouse

Why You Should


Adding a keyboard and mouse to your laptop will really help with the comfort and health of your experience while teaching from home.

Ergonomic studies in the early days of computing made it clear that monitors should be at eye level (while sitting up straight) and that your wrists should be in a neutral position.

Laptops force you into a trade-off between those two factors. If you raise your laptop to eye level, you are forced to raise your wrists out of a neutral position, and if you move the laptop down to level your wrists, you will find yourself hunching over to see the monitor.

Adding a keyboard and mouse to your laptop allows you to push the laptop away and away, allowing you to get that better balance between monitor height and wrist position.

Additionally, you get a full width keyboard and the benefits of a mouse.

How to Add a Keyboard and Mouse

Wired keyboards and mice connect through USB these days (lets take a moment of silence for the venerable and now retired PS/2 port) and don’t need any additional software/drivers to work with you laptop.

So basically, plug them into USB ports on your laptop and type/scroll away.

That is true unless (you knew this was coming didn’t you) you want to plug in more than two USB devices to your laptops.

You’ve probably noticed that your laptop only has a couple of USB ports. This means that if you plug in your mouse and keyboard you’ll have used up all of USB ports and won’t have space for other peripherals (like a hard drive or a USB webcam.)

Fortunately, this is problem has a solution.

A USB hub.

USB hub

The hub (pictured above) plugs into the USB-C port on my district laptop and gives me three additional USB ports, along with an extra HDMI port. All of which are pretty handy (it also has a spot for an SD card!)

There are many, many, many USB hubs and many, many, many configurations. So be careful to look at the reviews and to make sure it will work with your laptop. Again, check with your Building Tech Specialist if you have questions.


Add a Document Camera

Why You Might Want to Add a Document Camera

doc cam in teams

Why You Should

Come on, do I even need to answer this?

Okay, doc cameras are awesome!

They are great tools for bringing the analog world into the digital one. You can easily show students things such as annotations, how to solve math problems, pages from books and a million other things that just don’t translate that well to the digital space.

Both Teams Meeting and Zoom allow you to have a second USB camera while running a meeting. They also both make it pretty easy to toggle between the cameras. However, you can only send out one camera feed at a time, so when using the doc cam, your students will only see what it is under it (and they won’t see your video feed, unless you are also logged into the meeting on a second device, but that is a future post so don’t worry about it now.)

How to Add a Document Camera to Your Video Meetings

Document cameras can connect to other devices in several ways depending on where the image is going. In order to use your document camera in a video meeting you will need to connect it to your computer using a USB cable. That’s not quite a simple as it sounds because those dudes in Universal Serial Bus land keep coming up with different types of USB ports.

There is Type A , Type B. Type A mini, Type B mini…I could go on but I’ll just put a picture below instead. Point is you will need a cable with an that matches the USB port on your doc camera and that also has an end that works with your computer/hub (probably a Type A) If you are using the one that was in your classroom, it probably had a USB cable connecting it to your teaching station.


Once everything is connected, your computer will likely recognize the device but you might need to grab the document camera software off the maker’s website or install drivers. Here are links to the two most common doc camera types: Aver and Elmo

Don’t hesitate to reach out your building tech specialist for help installing the software.

So, when you hooked and rolling with the document camera, open your video platform and start a meeting.

In Teams and Zoom, the process is a little different to bring in the document camera image.

In Teams, click on the three dots on the toolbar and the choose device settings. This will show you a list of devices. At the bottom is your cameras. Click on the camera name and you should see a drop down button that shows you two cameras. Choose your doc camera. The new video feed show your doc camera and then in the lower right a white button should appear that lets you toggle back and forth.

In Zoom, start a screen share and then click the Advanced tab.
Advanced tab in screen share

Click Content from 2nd Camera.
Select content from second camera

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