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Digital Art Free-Bee

Art_rage_25One of my favorite art programs, Ambient Design’s Art Rage 2.5 is now available for free to schools that are part of the Promethean Planet program. The software combines a wide assortment of drawing tools (including brushes, chalk, pen, crayon and others) and a variety of processes (like tracing and adjusting a canvas’s grain and color) so that kids and teachers alike can let their creativity rule. The best part is that Ambient Design’s Web site has several online lessons on how to get the most out of the software.

Rolling out the Big Screen

Elite_vmax_plus3_2Classroom projector screens are one thing, but what about the big one you need for events in the auditorium, gym or multi-purpose room? It needs to be huge, easy to set up and, above all, make whatever you’re projecting look like it’s in a theater. That’s where Elite Screens’ VMAX Plus3 screens come in. Available in sizes up to 33-feet diagonal, you can get the screen in two aspect ratios: the traditional 4:3 shape or in the newer wide-screen 16:9 form. The best part is that with its remote control the screen appears or disappears in a matter of seconds. Made of a woven synthetic fabric, VMAX provides excellent visibility while being fire resistant and easy to clean.

Pay it Forward, Electronically

Mpn_logoIf parent payments for everything from tuition, supplies and field trips are costing your school a fortune to collect and process, think electronic. My Payment Network’s School Payment Network can set up a way to collect the roughly 35 fees that on average each student is required to pay during the typical school year at minimal expense for the district, school or PTA. Based on the latest in eCommerce, the system processes the payments and includes full documentation for internal accounting purposes. The Texas PTA has approved the system for its 2,600 schools.

Push Button A-V

Buttonmate_xlIf getting a PC, projector, document camera and DVD to cooperate just confuses you and amuses your class, Mediatech’s ButtonMate XL Control Panel can get a handle on multiple devices. By controlling any devices that use serial connections or infrared remote controls, the ButtonMate can control and integrate most classroom technology. There are buttons for power, volume up and down, stop, play as well as fast-forward and rewind. Based on Microsoft Windows software, the ButtonMate XL sells for $375 and is only about the size of a switch plate.

The Desk that Networks

Smartlink_student_desk_image_1If plain old rectangular desks are making you look like a square, HON SmartLink desks can change the way you think about tables and chairs. Shaped like arrow-heads, the student desks can be set up individually or in a number of different shaped groups. Big enough for a notebook and papers, the desk are ambidextrous. Each table has a wire shelf for books and a hook for backpacks or bags. The desks come in three sizes to accommodate different size kids and table height is adjustable from 22- to 32-inches.

ABCs of Spelling

Spelling_cdlIf childish spelling programs, flash cards and over-copied word lists aren’t getting through to the class, Prenap’s Spelling Made Simple offers a time-tested approach to getting every word right. Spelling lists can be imported, entered manually or built from any text on the screen. Any word can be spoken to students at any time, and once lists are put together, any teacher can either use them or create their own spelling lessons and tests. Of course, Spelling Made Simple can spell check its work, saving a class of chuckles and embarrassment over a misspelled word. In this year’s national Spelling Bee, Spelling Made Simple students made it to the fourth and sixth rounds. The software costs $45 on CD or $30 as a download, and a free demo is available.

Getting an A in Grade Books

GradelinkTeachers: Turn in your grade books because GradeLink’s online service can automate the tedious and error-prone process of turning individual scores into a semester’s grade. Because it’s Web based, there’s neither hardware nor software that needs to be installed and it won’t take up valuable server space. Teachers can record letter or numerical grades, add extra credit, drop lowest grade and then have the program compile the semester’s report cards. On top of comprehensive school or district reports, GradeLink can let parents know about grades and attendance in either English or Spanish. The online service runs from $708 for up to 50 students per year to $3,708 for up to 1,000 students; a free trial is available.

Bringing Data to Linux Notebooks

Loggerlite_screen03_2If your school has or is considering getting inexpensive Linux laptops for students, Vernier has developed a program to use its line of sensors for science and math classes. It may not be able to do as much as the company’s Windows-based Logger Pro 3 software can, but the Logger Lite software can help kids understand the world around us through innovative labs and investigations. It’s free and available for download at Vernier’s Web site.

Teaching Teachers Online

TeacherlineThink PBS and thoughts turn to the local public television station or the Nova science TV show, but did you know that the organization’s TeacherLine is a great way for instructors and administrators to keep up with the latest in teaching research and classroom techniques. Aimed at pre-K through 12-th grade teachers, the service offers more than 100 online courses in reading, math, the arts, science and instructional strategies. Our favorite is the ISTE Capstone Certificate Program in classroom technology that integrates everything a teacher needs to know to get the most out of digital classroom technology and master the NETS-T standards.

ThinkPad or IdeaPad, You Decide

X200_01_2For years, the ThinkPad brand of notebooks has been the gold standard for education-oriented notebooks, but Lenovo’s IdeaPad line is often less expensive and offers different options. The company recently revamped both lines with a pair of school systems.
 The ThinkPad X200 continues the evolution of the small notebook format with a system that has a 12.1-inch wide screen and weighs less than 3 pounds. Based on Intel’s latest Core 2 Duo processors, the systems start at $1,200 and have the same sized keyboard as the company’s larger and heavier ThinkPad T series. The X200 is sturdy enough to stand up to the clumsiest teacher or student.
 Even though the IdeaPad U330 comes with a 13-inch wide screen, it is less than an inch thick, has a Web cam and face recognition software. It can be ordered in either indigo blue or basic black and is one U330of the first systems to offer what’s being called switchable graphics. The idea is that when the machine is on battery power the student can use low-power integrated video or switch to high-power graphics when plugged in.

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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.