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The State of the Internet

State_of_the_internetThe backbone of any 21-st century school is its Internet connection, and the latest survey of America’s ability to deliver high-speed data is sadly lacking. The State of the Internet report by Akamai paints a sad picture for the broadband data that’s available for U.S. schools. South Korea leads the world with the fastest data connections with 64 percent of the country’s Internet connections delivering 5Mbps or faster. By contrast, only 20 percent were that fast in the U.S. In fact, we not only behind lagged Korea, but Japan, Hong Kong, Sweden and even Romania and Belgium.

Where’re the best and worst places to set up a digital school in the U.S.? Surprisingly, Delaware led the states with 96 percent of connections over 2Mbps. Washington state has the dubious honor of having the slowest connections in the U.S. with 21 percent at less than 256Kbps. Akamai plans on compiling this data every quarter, so we’ll be back in three months with an update.

Sneak Peek at Next Generation Adobe Software

Dreamweaver_beta Want a take a look and try out the next generation of Adobe’s creative tools look and act like? Well, the company just posted free downloads of CS4, which includes beta versions of Dreamweaver (Web design), Fireworks (image editing) and Soundbooth (audio editing). The trials last for 48 hours, but will remain usable for those who have active licenses for the current version of the programs. Unfortunately, you’ll need to download them separately at: Dreamweaver, Fireworks and Soundbooth. Each download explains what's new in these versions.

Teacher Picks: Our Reviewer Tests Siboney Learning Group, Spelling Buzz

Diana Lawsky gives us her review of Siboney Learning Group's Spelling Buzz.

Description: Reviews the foundation of classroom instruction in spelling rules and is tied into each specific state’s curriculum standards.

Pros: It has a very bright and lively interface and the sound quality was excellent as well.  A bee called Buzz introduces each activity.  There is a program for grades K-3 and another for grades 4-6.  When using the product for K, 10 words with the short a sound were introduced.  A voice read the word, used it in a sentence, spelled the word, and read the word again.  In another exercise the student has to type the word that is spoken.  If she doesn’t do it correctly, she can press a hint button that uses the word in a sentence. If she gets it wrong a second time, the first letter of the word is filled in.  The third time wrong the word is put up on the screen and a voice reads each letter in the word.  This would help minimize frustration.  I really liked the worksheet generator.  The teacher can create worksheets on exactly whatever spelling rule the students need to practice.  Another activity lets students uncover a picture by spelling words correctly.  This is a really fun way to practice and learn an often boring subject.

Cons: None.

How would this product be useful in the classroom? This would be a great complement to classroom instruction.  Whenever the students are studying spelling, they can practice with this program.  It could be used as reinforcement whenever a student had free time. 

Price: Single license, $69.95.

New Mac OS

Leopard_boxFor schools that use Macs, it's time to download the latest update to Apple's Macintosh operating system. Available at Apple's Web site the software will boost any recent Mac to version 10.5.3, which includes a slew of changes. The big differences are changes that make Airport WiFi networks more reliable, allow smoother playback from video that's on a USB device and streamlines Spotlight searches.

Showing Video from all Sources

Extron_sw12Once video has been fully integrated into a curriculum, it starts to come from many different sources, including a class of laptops, DVD players, cable TV and others. To quickly and efficiently put it all on-screen requires video switchers, like Extron’s SW8 VGA Ars and SW12 VGA Ars switchers, which have 8 or 12 inputs. The devices can not only sense what type of input is being used but they good for old-fashioned analog video as well as high-resolution video streams. The switchers also smooth out audio signals so everyone in the class can hear the show as well as see it.

Mars Attacks!

MarsYour classroom, that is. At NASA’s Phoenix Web site, you can not only get a slew of information about the red planet, but the latest photos from the Phoenix Mars Lander. The probe recently landed and has started to beam back a slew of images from the northern polar region. Within a few weeks, it should start relaying the results of its search for water on the Martian landscape, a custom-made lesson plan on life as we know it. With this site, kids can check out the clock that started when the space ship landed, watch videos of the mission or take an in-depth look at the ship.

Teacher Picks: Our Reviewer Tests FLRT – a fluent reading trainer by MindPlay

Flrt Our teacher-reviewer Diana Lawsky of Lincoln School in North Bergen, NJ, gives us her review of MindPlay’s FLRT. See more teacher picks on our Instructor website.

Description: An online program designed to help students in grades K-12 read more fluently.

Pros: The word match looks very useful. The student hears a word spoken and has to click on that word on a screen with a bunch of different words. This is great practice for word recognition, using sight and sound. The eye tracking feature is excellent. It asks a student to follow a shape and tell how many times she sees it. It reinforces the proper way to read--left-to-right, top-to-bottom. The single line activity had the student watch a story line by line.  But each word in the line was only visible for a few seconds. This forces the student to read quickly. The multi-line feature uses the same idea, but a few paragraphs are put up on the screen and each word, from the top down, disappears after a few seconds. After these last 2 activities the student has to answer comprehension questions about the stories. All the activities build fluency.

Cons: None.

How would you use this in the classroom? This would be a great product for reading reinforcement.  I would use it during a guided reading session.  I’d have the students who are not working with me practice with the fluent reader on the computer.

Instant Math Tutor

Your_teacher_2 If your students are having trouble grasping the concepts of algebra or geometry, Yourteacher.com’s online service can help. Aligned with popular textbooks, the site has hundreds of videos that explain and show how to work out problems in middle- and high-school math. Each lesson has a summary and a nearly unlimited number of practice and quiz problems, which has answers that are fully worked out and explained. Try out the sample lessons and the first month costs $5; after that the service costs $29.50.

Freeing Musical Software

HitsquadIf paying for music software doesn’t fit into your school’s budget, the HitSquad Web site can help with an excellent variety of shareware, freeware or demo software for PC, Mac and Linux computers. There’s everything from programs for teaching music to kindergarten students to a variety of digital metronomes. The best part is that it’s all free, although you’ll have to put up with ads on the site.

Are Your Schools Cyber-Safe?

You’ve got the latest filter that blocks proxies and IM and FaceBook. So, is your district cyber-safe? A new study released today from CDW Government (CDW-G) found that when asked to grade their own physical and cyber security, one-third of school districts say that they “need improvement.”  Those same districts also reported increases in physical and cyber security breaches in the last 12 months.

CDW-G’s second annual School Safety Index finds that generally districts nationally are more successful in their approach to physical safety, but IT safety still needs work.

Key findings include:

  • More than half of districts are using network access control (NAC) to protect data and ensure that only authorized users and approved applications access their networks.  However, budget constraints, lack of staff resources and the need for more IT tools cancelled out districts’ efforts to improve cyber safety
  • Nearly half of districts are utilizing mass notification systems, and 70 percent are using security cameras; 29 percent of districts report that security cameras have had a positive impact on district safety
  • Districts should consider the instant access that IP security cameras can give their local police.  While more schools are using security cameras, only a small number of districts give their local police force the ability to access digital footage in real-time during an emergency

The study also finds that, measured on a scale from zero to 100, the national cyber safety average this year was 38.6, down 25 percent since 2007.  How does your district rank? Check out the complete study.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.