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A Bottomless Pit for Student Work

Eport_21_box0507Angel Learning has just updated and generally improved its ePortfolio package, creating a place to put a nearly unlimited amount of a student’s digital work. Based on feedback from users, Version 2.1 of ePortfolio is not only easier to use and melds better with the company’s Learning Management Suite, but it has a slew of new features and services. It’s now much easier for a teacher or student to add homework and assignments to an ePortfolio while including a slew of new templates for publishing a portfolio’s contents. A demonstration is available.

Mighty Mini

Studio_hybrid_family_bamboo_300Need to fill out a classroom with PCs, but don’t have the room for 20 or 30 bulky desktop cases as well as a teacher and students? Dell’s Studio Hybrid is one of the smallest computers around, yet doesn’t skimp on performance. Available in six colors, including a bamboo finish, the Hybrid sells for $500 and includes an Intel  Core  2 Duo processor, up to 4GB of system memory, up to 320GB hard drive and either an 8X CD-ROM/DVD+- RW or 6X Blu-ray optical drive. Each system has a good variety of ports as well as built-in wired networking, although WiFi is an option. About the size of a book and weighing just 2 pounds, the Hybrid can easily be stashed in a variety of places, like on the back of a monitor or screwed in under a desk. A big bonus is that the Studio Hybrid is made from notebook parts, which means that it’s 70 percent more efficient than the typical desktop or mini tower PC and can cut a school’s out of control electrical bills.

The Sound Bar

Htx810subwooferside_2Tiny, overcrowded elementary, middle- and high-school classrooms usually don’t allow room for high quality speakers, and what do you do with all those wires? But, what if you could get high quality audio out of a single bar no wider than a flat screen monitor that connects wirelessly? Well, that’s the idea behind Samsung’s HT-X810, a speaker bar that can fill any classroom with sound. The $700 speaker set is about the length of a 42-inch monitor, yet is only 6.5-inches tall and has an external subwoofer. The best part is that it can connect to a PC via its built-in Bluetooth radio and has 300-watt amplifier. Everyone in the class is sure to hear it all.

Next Time, Search the Whole Web

CuilWeb search engines, like Yahoo and Google, generally only look through a few billion pages at a time to find what you’re looking for. What about the other 110 billion pages? Sometimes what you’re really looking for is hidden in a small site that doesn’t rate being indexed by the large search services. By contrast, Cuil’s search service examines the entire Web, all 120 billion pages out there. The name is pronounced “kool,” is based on an old Irish word for knowledge and the technology was created by several ex-Google employees. It’s hard to believe that Cuil sifts through the whole Web and can deliver hundreds of page results in less than a second. The best part is that rather than just text results, Cuil presents its results in two columns along with a thumbnail and a chunk of text from the site.

Using Computers to Teach About Everything

K8If your kids aren’t up to 21-st century computer literacy skills, K to the 8th Power can get them up to speed without missing out on important curriculum items. With more than 600 online courses, K to the 8th Power has a wide range of assessment and teaching resources for students, teachers and administrators. The key is that it rather than teaching how to use computers in a vacuum, the system uses computers literacy as a doorway into traditional scholastic achievement. For example, K to the 8th Power uses a lesson on Web browsers to show how to look for a job and PowerPoint to teach about adjectives. Each online class comes with a lesson plan that includes how to assess performance indicators as well as an outline of each grade’s curriculum. The site includes a technology literacy test.

Back to School Bags

You’ve done your homework and over the summer purchased enough notebooks for your school’s incoming class, but what about bags? Sure, you can rely on each student’s family to get a bag, but expect to see many that won’t protect the system from accidental damage. Here’re three different notebook cases that are appropriate for students and cost less than $40 each.

With both handles and a shoulder strap, Kensington’s Contour Cargo Notebook Sleeve has a traditional look, yet is versatile enough for students on the go. Endorsed by the American Chiropractic Association, the Contour Cargo is perfect for growing children and fits notebooks with up to 15.4-inch screens. The $30 bag is not only waterproof but has DropShield technology that absorbs the shock of being dropped (or tossed) protecting the fragile notebook inside.

Eclipse_ii_2 At 1 pound, Brenthaven’s Eclipse Sleeve II is the lightweight of the bunch, meaning that kids don’t have to lug around a heavy bag all day. Capable of protecting up to 15.4-inch notebooks, the Eclipse II is made of soft DuraTech fabric with nylon reinforcements at the corners and has faux suede inside. Its $40 price tag may be more than the others, but it comes with a lifetime guarantee.

The Targus 15.4-inch Sport Backpack is like two bags in one because it can not only hold a huge amount of gear but has a pull-out sleeve that protects the notebook. Weighing in at 1.2 pounds, it’s midway between the Eclipse II and the Contour Cargo and is made of polyester fabric. It costs $30 and, like the Brenthaven bag, it comes with a lifetime warranty against damage.

Instant Online Curriculum

HippocampusNeed a quick lesson plan on the foundations of the Constitution or the water cycle? HippoCampus’s online lesson plans include hundreds of online tutorials on a variety of topics, making it a great way to fill in your curriculum or for a substitute teacher to use. While topics from Algebra to U.S. History are covered and there are several Advanced Placement courses, the breadth of topics is a bit skimpy without any thing on literature, European history or geometry, for instance. The sessions are keyed to popular textbooks and teachers can customize the lesson pages. Provided by the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education, the best part is that it’s all free.

Keeping an Eye on the School

Dcs6110Schools are a huge target for theft, vandalism and graffiti after classes are let out and teachers go home, but a video surveillance system can keep an eye on the grounds even when nobody’s around. But, online video cams needed to be plugged in to get their power. No more. D-Link’s DCS-6110 network camera can be powered by the same Ethernet network that moves its data. With its included D-ViewCam software, the DCS-6110 can peek in on any nook or cranny of the school, and everything can be recorded. The camera costs $700, has a clear plastic dome and captures highly compressed MPEG-4 video.

Posturing for School Success

Perch_deskLike chalk and the blackboard, the basic student desk hasn’t changed a lot in the last century, but Simon Dennehy is out to transform it for 21-st century learning with his Perch Desk design. Based in Ireland, Dennehy’s mission is to make kids sit up straighter so they are more comfortable, pay greater attention and – just maybe – learn more.

Supported by sturdy tubular steel legs, his desk is a simple design that’s that accommodates two elementary school children and features chairs and table that work together. Every imaginable surface is easily adjustable to suit a wide variety of child sizes and shapes, and the chair has a foot rest. Those tired of stooping over a horizontal surface will love the fact that Perch’s work surface can be tilted to several different angles.

The innovations don’t stop there. I think that the trough at the end of the desk is a big step forward for educational furniture. It's not only for pens and pencils, but works well at propping up a book. A sliding tray is perfect for all those accessories that are quickly lost inside a traditional desk.

Perch_desk_bMy favorite aspect of the Perch design is that both the desk and chair fold for easy stowage and storage when an open classroom floor is needed. Unfortunately, Perch is still a concept and not a manufactured product, but Simon is trying to set up a factory to produce the tables and chairs. He hopes that the Perch desk set might be available next year and cost something like $75 for the desk and $60 for the chair. Because this is such innovative furniture, I hope so as well.

Radio Free Classroom

Comonewifiradio_smallIf you’ve been trying to integrate podcasts and Internet radio into your curriculum and gathering around a PC to listen isn’t cutting it for your tech savvy kids, a stand-alone Web radio is a great addition to the classroom’s digital toolbox. Between now and Thanksgiving Com One is giving away one of its $200 Phoenix radios every week. Capable of bringing the BBC, Public radio shows and a variety of recorded podcasts, the Phoenix is portable and connects to the Internet via built-in WiFi. All you need to do to win is register.

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