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Freebee Friday: Space to Learn

Interstellar_gravitylessonGoogle Play for Education and the movie “Interstellar” have teamed up with a slew of lessons that use the film as a way to teach about the science of space. There are 20 lessons online that are indexed to Common Core and Next Generation Science standards, including designing a planet, building your own biosphere and a tutorial on black holes.

Little Big Phone

Nexus 9 H Image aAs tablets get smaller and phones get bigger, they are meeting in the middle with devices like the Nexus 6. The Motorola-made Nexus 6 is one big phone, that’s for certain. It barely fits into a shirt pocket, occupies 6.3- by 3.2- by 0.4-inches and weighs in at a hefty 6.5-ounces, nearly 30 percent bigger and half an ounce heavier than the iPhone 6 Plus

Still, it feels good int eh hand, but its curved back menas that it wobbles if you use it on a desk. The system’s 6-inch AMOLED screen is one of the best and brightest displays around and can show 2,560 by 1,440 resolution, putting it at least two steps ahead of the iPhone 6 Plus’s Nexus 6bdisplay. Made of Gorilla Glass it should stand up to punishment and the phone has a pair of cameras front and rear that can create 2- and 13-megapixel images.

Powered by a 2.5GHz Snapdragon 805 quad-core processor, 3GB of RAM and 32- or 64GB of storage space, the Nexus 6 uses Google’s latest Android 5.0 software and will cost $650 when it is introduced later this year, although you can get it for a lot less with a two-year service contract.

Snap-Together Electronics Lab

Little bits aWhen it’s time to teach a physics class about electronics, the soldering irons, alligator clips, resistors, capacitors and wires usually come out of drawers. That dynamic can be changed for the better with littleBits with an innovative set of discreet electronic modules that snap together to make all kinds of things from lights that turn on when you clap to a pressure switch that starts a fan.

An ingenious approach to teaching about electronics, littleBits is based on self-standing functional electronic modules that do a specific thing. They are color coded for power (blue), input (red), wires (orange) and output (green), but the key breakthrough is that the modules have magnets at their ends that draw them together, creating a circuit. In fact, the modules are so well designed that if you try to use one backwards, the magnets repel each other, making it impossible to make a mistake.

Education is front and center with littleBits. In addition to the $99 Base Kit, there's the $149 Premium Kit I used, which  includes enough modules for up to three students to make a bunch of projects. There’s also the 24-part $233 Student Set that’s good for small groups as well as the $999 100-module Workshop version and comes in a plastic case and is perfect for a full class. Finally, littleBits sells the $3,299 Pro Library with 100 modules packaged in a wall storage unit that’s more than enough for an afterschool activity or club. You can get the littleBits kits online or at Radio Shack stores

The included booklet provides nice descriptions of the modules along with their color coding and a photo with what looks like hand-written explanations of its purpose. Each module has its circuit diagram printed on the board and you can use them on a desk or attach them to a board that costs $15.

Little bits classThe booklet has a dozen projects with step-by-step directions for things like creating a back massager and drawer mounted burglar alarm. My favorite is involves using the LED lights as eyeballs for a haunted Halloween mask.

While the projects are fun, the real learning happens when you throw the book away and get kids to think independently to create their own projects from the modules and whatever might be lying around the classroom. For instance, I animated a small Teddy Bear by putting the vibration motor underneath its arms along with the pulse generator and topped it off with the sound level trigger that makes the stuffed bear moves when you talk to it. All told, 5 minutes to think-through, 10-minutes to make and less than that to take apart for the next project.

There’re several videos of how to make projects as well as 50 lesson plans and a workshop guide. It, however, falls short of a teacher’s ideal because there’re no measurement modules, for things like voltage, resistance or current that could help make littleBits part of a physics lab. I was able to sneak in a multimeter’s probes but the connections are a tight fit.

A USB module with simple measurement software for a tablet or notebook would have been a great addition to the kit. littleBits does sell an Arduino-based control module and a software development kit, so this could be the class’s next project. 


Little bits d

littleBits Premium Kit


+ Snap-together electronic modules

+ Wide assortment of parts

+ Inexpensive

+ Project videos

+ Lessons

+ Quick to make and take apart projects


- Lacks module for meters




The New GED

Ged Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 12.10.08 PMThe next-generation General Equivalency Diploma test is coming and Odsseyware has an online prep class to help students who missed out on a diploma the first time around pass it. It prepares them to take the GED, TASC and HiSet tests with modules for all the major test topics, assessments, study tips and test-taking strategies. Each program has four practice exams and Odysseyware’s text-to-speech generator that lets it speak to students as well as translate items into several languages.


One Cable to Connect Them All

Tego cable bTired of fishing for the right tablet cable for your class’s tablets? Tego’s Trio Cable is the only charging cable has tips for the new Lightning, the older 30-pin iPhone and iPad plug as well as a standard micro-USB one. That makes it the one cable that works with just about every tablet in the classroom. The 3-foot $30 cable is available in three-packs for $60 and can be ordered in black or white.

The Book on Math and Science

Shelter harbor booksIn an age where e-books, tablets and notebooks are trying to dominate science education, there’s still a place for the good book, or more precise, four good books. For example, Shelter Harbor Press’s Ponderables series provides not only a good look at the history of math, physics, astronomy and the elements, but includes wall timelines to adorn the typical classroom that show how each topic fits into our scientific and cultural history.

All four books are by science writer Tom Jackson and sell for $25, although you can get the set for about $70.  Each is organized around 100 small and mid-sized snippets of text along with lots of historical photos and illustrations. The set should be part of every middle and high-school classroom.

  • “The Elements,” not only provides a guided tour of the periodic table, but is organized by historical period so it can provide perspective on everything from the discovery of the electron to magnetism. The back of the book has brief illustrated biographical sketches of all the major players.
  • “Mathematics” is more abstract, dealing with the history and evolution of numbers and their manipulation. With sections that range from the Pythagorean Theorem to Pi, the book is a great companion to just about any math class. It’s up to date with the latest information on Mersenne primes that are key to current encryption techniques and fractals.
  • As its name implies, “Physics” deals with the physical world, from subatomic particles to string theory. Along the way, the book explains Newton’s laws, the Doppler effect and how the electron microscope works.
  • While the other three books deal with thousands of years of history, the “Universe” volume reaches back nearly 14-billion years to the big bang. A big bonus is that the back of its timeline has a star chart of the known universe.

Freebee Friday: Panel or Projector?

Display_Guide_LPWith interactive projectors, smartboards and touch-screen monitors around, how’s a school to choose? Mimio has a 28-page ebook that goes over the major questions and answers that deal with specific school and district needs. There are five buyer’s tips, a look at collaborative lessons and includes the factors for selecting a touch-screen over the competition. Be warned, though, you’ll need to register with Mimio to get the ebook.

Freebee Friday: Parent-Teacher Conferences, the Easy Way

Ptcfast scheduleWhether your school uses a physical sign-up sheet taped to the classroom door or the luck of the draw, PTCFast is an online app that can make putting teachers and parents together quick, easy and – above all – fair. The software centralizes the scheduling of all parent-teacher conferences and has an optional Web page for parents to sign-up. Just pick the time and day and if it’s available, the appointment is scheduled. Best of all, it’s a freebee.

Time for Time for Kids

TfkThe weekly print edition of Time for Kids is now supplemented by a digital one with a classroom app for iPads. The software and content are free until the end of the year. In addition to getting kids caught up on world and national affairs, TFK has a multitude of videos, images, maps and animated sequences. 


The Next Big Thing

Project-NextTech-w-Tag-LogoLearning.com’s NextTech is an ambitious program for getting high-school kids ready for the digital world with instruction in media literacy, technology and information. Developed with non-profit Generation Yes, the program has four nine-week sessions that include a week in each for the students to develop and create a real-world project.  



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