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More for Less

Msi_wind_u120For school buyers whose curiosity has been tweaked by the latest generation of netbooks, MSI’s Wind U120 squeezes a lot of notebook into a surprisingly small and inexpensive package. Based on an Intel Atom 1.6 GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, 10-inch screen and 160GB hard drive, the system weighs only 3 pounds, making it perfect for slipping into a backpack or locker. Inside is basics, plus a flash card reader, Web cam and Bluetooth for wireless connections. The U120 should cost less than $500 when it goes on sale later this year.

Just Loud Enough

Loud_enoughEver wonder how much damage children do to their ears by cranking the volume of their music players to full blast while wearing headphones? Well, audiologists agree that it’s a major problem, but Ultimate Ears is doing something about it with its Loud Enough Earphones. The in-ear phones work by limiting the output by 40 percent to prevent hearing damage. Even thought they’re small and light, the Loud Enough earphones can accurately reproduce a variety of audio and are excellent at isolating outside noise. A set weighs half an ounce, comes with a plastic case as well as three sets of earplugs. The earphones cost $35.

Big Screen, Big Sound, Small Power Bill

Prnphotos077074viziolcdhdtvIf you think that a bigger monitor will mean outsized electricity bills as well, Vizio’s 55-inch XVT TV-monitor has the power to change your mind. In spite of having one of the largest LCD displays available, a double-speed 120Hz imaging engine and the ability to show full HD programming, the monitor is Energy Star 3.0 compatible and uses 15 percent less power than comparable products. It even uses less than a watt when it’s turned off. With nine input jacks, including 5 HDMI connections, it can host a variety of devices.

Vizio_sound_barWith SRS Labs surround sound and volume control technology built in, it sounds great. While you’re at it, complete the set up with Vizio’s VSB210WS Sound Bar and Wireless Subwoofer, which can fill a classroom with rich and accurate audio. Inside are four 3-inch high efficiency mid-range bass drivers and a 1-inch high performance aluminum dome neodymium tweeter for each channel. The best part is that the external sub-woofer can stay connected without wires or cables as far as 30-feet from the sound bar. Look for these products to be introduced in January with the 55-inch monitor-TV selling for $2,000 and the sound bar adding $ 350.

Teaching the Teachers Online

Keylogo_hiresAdmit it, you’re tired of your class embarrassing you by knowing how to use Geometer’s Sketchpad and Fathom better than you do and it’s getting old. Key Curriculum Press, the creator of both programs can tutor you online with a great series of professional development seminars on how to make the most of each program and transform your science or math class. On top of basics like using Geometer’s Sketchpad in the middle school and teaching algebra with the program, there’re classes on teaching statistics with Fathom. The Web classes start on December 1st, cost $225 and count as two professional-level academic credits from the University of California Berkeley Extension. That is if you pass.

A World without Memory Keys

Pentagon_baseWe may all work in and around elementary- and secondary-schools but there’s a lot we can learn (and ignore) from the military and their headquarters, the Pentagon. After having some of its computers infected by a virus brought in on a memory key, the Department of Defense is banning this ultra-cheap and -convenient way to move files. They’re even going as far as confiscating any memory keys found on employees
     Talk about an over-reaction. The chances are that rather than Chinese or Russian spies trying to bring down the Pentagon’s computer networks, it’s probably the result of an honest mistake by someone trying to do their job just a little too quickly. In a real sense, you can’t turn back the hands of time and pretend that new devices, like memory keys and external drives, don’t exist.
     Sure there are computers that have sensitive data and should never be allowed to have information copied from them, but these are a small portion of the Pentagon’s – or a school’s – computers. What’s needed are well-thought-out policies that weigh the risks of a rouge virus with the danger of stifling legitimate information transfer. And, in a very real sense, that’s what schools are all about.

Small Wonder of a Projector

Mitsubishi_photo_xd95uIf lugging overweight projectors from room to room has you down, Mitsubishi’s XD95U is your kind of machine. At 3.3-pounds, the XGA projector is a lightweight that has the illumination of a heavyweight. Capable of putting 2,200 lumens on screen, it can be easily carried from the classroom to the music or art room. On top of use with a traditional screen or classroom smartboard, the XD95U can be set up to project onto a variety of painted walls, including shades of yellow, green, blue, pink; my favorite is the blackboard mode. The projector comes with a three-year warranty, although the lamp is covered for 90-days, and costs $1,495.

Refill Time

Cropped_20water_clock_20blue20_pourWhen I first started looking at the Bedol Eco Friendly Water Clock, which runs on nothing other than salt and water, I was told that it would keep time for a couple of weeks. In fact, it has kept excellent time for nearly two months and then slowly lost power. At first, the digital display started to flash and then the whole thing went dead. All it takes to revive the clock is to pour in some fresh tap water to the fill line. Oh, I did need to reset the clock to the current time, and it’s good for another month or more of keeping perfect time under its own power. On Bedol’s suggestion, I’m adding a little lemon juice to make the battery solution a little more acidic and more efficient.

1-to-1 X 6

The mantra of one computer per child misses the opportunity for kids to share a school’s digital resources, which could allow districts, rich or poor, to enter the 21-st century of technology. Why not two, three, four or even five kids per PC? If it’s done right, the ratio of kids to computers can be much greater than one to one and still succeed.

Ncomputing_x550That’s where NComputing’s X550 desktop virtualization kit comes in. It is an almost magical device that allows up to six kids share a single PC; with two kits, up to 11 kids can use and learn from a single PC. It’s not for everyone, but the set up is a great way to stretch a technology budget or use older desktop PCs in a computer lab or library on the cheap.

At $450, the X550 has the power to slash the costs of computerizing schools by up to 70 percent. The kit comes with everything that’s needed except for keyboards, mice and screens, which can add about $150 per station. More than 20,000 schools throughout the world use NComputing’s products, including the Natomas Unified School District in Sacramento, California. The site has a trial offer as well as a video that explains the product.

Instant Tutor

Hot_math_helpHotmath may have the answer to kids who need some extra after-school one-on-one help. The online math site now offers online tutors anytime day or night to explain everything from the order of operations to geometric proofs. The first 50 minutes of help costs $5, but after that this program costs $20 per 50 minute period.

Virtual Classroom

DesignuYou can spend hours cutting out squares of cardboard that represent desks, tables and bookshelves to try out different classroom configurations but it’s hit or miss whether you’ll end up with a good design. DesignU from Smith System can take the guesswork out of furniture layout and make it as easy as point, click and move. The design program is free, works with PCs or Macs and requires Adobe’s Shockwave software. Start with a pre-made blank room or one that already has typical classroom set-ups for you to rearrange and customize. Next, size the room to match yours and add furniture, take some out and move it all around. You can save designs and work on them later. As a classroom activity, how about running a contest where students design their ideal classroom, and then spend some time discussing what the class comes up with.

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