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Better than the Bell

Schoolbell_screenshot2Tired of hearing the same old school bell over and over again? Despite its name, SchoolBell software can play a variety of tones or music over a school’s public address system. For instance, a school might play the reveille bugle call at the start of the day or any audio file as long as it is in the .mps. .wav or .mid format. The program can handle up to five different schedules with different sounds for different events. Free to try out, SchoolBell can be licensed for $30.

Writing with the Web

Papertoolspro At TechTools, we love programs like PaperToolsPro, which helps kids organize their thoughts and put them on paper, well, a computer screen. The software can now help with Web research and reports for middle- and high-school students. There’s even a way to show where a student has plagiarized a source by distinguishing between honest citation errors and lifting entire passages. The service costs $20 per year for each student or $75 per teacher plus $1 per student. An entire school can license the program for $200 plus $1 per student.

InfoComm Greatest Hits

Every year, everybody who has anything to do with monitors and projectors gets together for the InfoComm trade show. This year’s show is in Las Vegas and here are our favorites from the show floor.
Plcxl51_xl50_mounted_view_smlSanyo’s PLC-XL51 sets the pace for short-throw projectors by being able to fill a 6-foot screen from as close as three inches, making it perfect for small rooms converted into classrooms. Capable of delivering 2,700 lumens and 600:1 contrast, the XL51 has networking built in and a unique alarm if someone tries to move the projector. The projector sells for $4,000
Pj1173_us_eng_front_highres • For when brightness counts for everything, Viewsonic’s PJ1173 projector combines 5,000 lumens with a 1,000:1 contrast ratio. Perfect for a large room or auditorium, the PJ1173 has 7 screen modes for use with everything from a standard screen, a greenboard or a blackboard. The price of the PJ1173 is $3,799.
• At $550 Epson’s PowerLite S6 may be the quickest and least expensive way to fill a classroom screen. Its trio of high aperture LCD screens put out 2,200 lumens of brightness and is up and running in as little as 5 seconds.
Np905_upperslantNEC’s NP905 can create an undistorted image, even in an odd shaped room because the 3,000 lumen projector can be adjusted vertically, horizontally and diagonally. The projector has network connections but has been designed to work with Windows Vista computers. The projector costs $2,000

Tag, You’re It

Does classroom reading instruction grind to a halt when you need to give one student some personal attention? LeapFrog’s Tag School Reading System can let reading teachers and coaches provide one-on-one help while the rest of the class reads along with special electronically tagged books.

Tag_2The center of attention is LeapFrog’s Tag handheld, which is an off-shoot of the company’s Fly digital pen technology. At 3.1 ounces with two AAA batteries, Tag is about the size of a large marker and is a little bulky for the smallest hands. The guts include a 32-bit processor and 64MB of memory, enough to hold 20 books. A tiny infrared camera in the pen’s tip interprets a complex pattern of dots printed on the page to link audio to individual spots on the page.

The way Tag works is deceptively simple. Forget about instruction manuals because all the kids do is press the Tag pen on highlighted parts of the page of a special book. The pen reads the passage to the student, providing hours of read-along time. Many page elements, like illustrations and page numbers, are also active and add to the experience with sound effects and additional dialogue.

Despite its bright colors, Tag is not a toy. The reading pen has a USB connector, an on-off button and volume control. Its audio is surprisingly strong and clear despite its tiny speaker. There’s also a headphone jack, so an entire class can be working on different books without disturbing each other. On the downside, if it had dual headphone jacks, two kids could work as a team, halving the hardware investment for a class.

The curriculum is self-paced and students having trouble can have individual words, sentences or passages reread to them. Each page has simple comprehension games and at the end are interactive pages where key vocabulary words are available for review as well as reading tips.

Book13_2I used LeapFrog’s “Ozzie and Mack” book with a student and found it not only occupied his time and helped him, but he enjoyed the experience. The books are nicely printed and look like they will last for several years of use. At the moment Tag has only a 22-volume library with titles ranging from “Olivia” to “Sponge Bob Square Pants.”

It’s just the start. LeapFrog will introduce texts for a wide range of readers from Kindergarten to middle-school. A big step in this direction is the company’s School Connect software which lets teachers download new material for use with Tag.

LeapFrog will also add a program for tracking student progress and reporting their reading ability. At $525 for an 8-pack that includes the Tag reader, books, headphones, cables and a storage case, Tag is expensive when you consider outfitting a classroom or an elementary school with devices. It’s more than worth it in the time that it liberates from reading teachers to spend face to face with students.

LeapFrog Tag School Reading System
$525 for classroom 8-pack

+ Reads a book, passage or individual words to students
+ Included Games
+ Downloadable books

- Small number of books available
- Expensive
- Bulky for small hands

Brighten up the Classroom

Pr5030_frontIf your classroom projectors are getting washed by overhead lights or when the blinds are up, a new generation of super bright projectors is on the way. Planar’s PR5030 creates a WXGA (1,280 by 1,200 pixel) image with a DLP imaging chip that has a special five element color wheel. The $1,600 projector has three brightness modes, digital keystone correction and operates at a quiet 29 dBA.

The Color of Data

If DVDs are filling up faster than attendance records need to be filled out, it might be time for a Bluray drive. With the ability to put as much as 50GB of all sorts of data onto a single 4.5-inch optical disc, Bluray technology has the power to hold the equivalent of 75 CDs, making it the perfect media for back-ups, archives and digital student portfolios.

While some of the newest computers come with Bluray drives, most will have to add external drives. All of these three Bluray burners are easy to connect to an existing notebook or desktop computer and show the potential for this storage technology in the school.

Lg_be06 • LG Electronics BE06 is the speed demon of the pair with the ability to read and write at up to 6X speeds. This translates into 16 minutes to create a disc chock full of data. The BE06 can not only inscribe a label in to top of the disc using HP’s LightScribe technology, but connects simply with a USB cable. The drive sells for $380.

4xbluray3qright_jpg • La Cie d2 sets the standard in style for optical drives with a sleek white and black design that will look great in the office or the classroom. With the ability to connect via either USB or Firewire cables, the d2 is flexible and creates or plays discs quietly. Limited to 4X speeds, the d2 takes 24 minutes to fill a disc with data. The d2 costs $690.

Mediastationhires_2 • Buffalo Technology’s BRHC-6316U2 is the Bluray drive to get if you want to read HD discs as well as burn Bluray ones. This 6X drive can fill a Bluray disc with data in 16 minutes and offers complete compatibility with older discs, including the now abandoned HD DVD standard. The drive connects with a USB plug and costs $650.

Home Schooling At School

Timelearning_sand Middle school students often get caught between software meant for younger students that’s not challenging enough and high-school programs that are too hard. Time4Learning has a new approach that tunes the curriculum to the student’s needs. Based on home schooling, the service has online sections for reading, writing, math, science and social studies. With more than 1,000 animated classes, Time4Learning can help struggling students with the basics while encouraging advanced students to explore the subjects more fully. The service is correlated to state requirements, costs $20 per month and a free trial is available.

Go Ahead Have a Cow

Homer_mathWhat better way to teach the details of math than with the Springfield’s favorite dysfunctional family, the Simpsons? The simpsonsmath site site may not be pretty but it has loads of lesson ideas that range from Bart and calculus to Homer considering the implications of Fermat’s Last Theorem. The site’s lessons are correlated to show episodes and there are practice exercises and worksheets.

Special Ed is Nothing Special, Anymore

Goalviews_b Is creating and monitoring individualized education plans for special-needs students taking time away from teaching? GoalView’s Learning Tools can help by setting up Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) quickly and efficiently and then monitor whether their goals are being met. The software enables the quick setting up of clear educational goals and allows school- and district-wide reporting and the generating of statistics for state and federal entities. A free trial is available.

The True-View Monitor

Lp2480zxA teacher setting up a digital art class can do no better than HP’s new DreamColor 30-inch professional monitor. Developed with movie studio DreamWorks, the 30-inch DreamColor LP2480zx has a 30-bit graphics engine that can show 1 billion colors with 1,920 by 1,220 resolution. Look for HP to start selling a calibrated color laser printer from HP in the coming months so print look as good as on-screen images. On the downside, the computer you hook the LP2480zx up to requires a special video card and the monitor’s $3,500 price tag may make the district’s financial officer blanch, but the cost is actually about a quarter that of comparable professional monitors.

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