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Three-of-a-Kind Projectors

Small classroom projectors that can be easily carried from room to room as needed no longer have to sacrifice brightness for portability. Regardless of whether it creates its image with tiny LCD screens or a DLP engine, the latest crop of projectors pump out the photons, have sharp focus and are surprisingly affordable. Here’re three of my favorites.

Benqmp623_cropBenQ’s MP624 squeezes a digital light processing (DLP) chip that puts out 3,000 lumens of brightness on a screen into a 5 pound package. With pinpoint sharp XGA resolution, the projector’s inputs include a computer connection, plus S-Video, composite, component and HDMI jacks. Look for it in the coming weeks at $600.

In3100_120jpg_2Easily the brightness king, InFocus’s IN13104EP can put an astounding 3,500 lumens on a screen or blackboard so that the lights never need to be turned off for a lesson. The projector creates XGA images and has a mini-USB plug so that it connects quickly and accurately with a notebook. The projector weighs 7 pounds and sells for $1,700.

Plc_xw57_angle_3At 6.4 pounds, Sanyo’s PLC-XW57 is right in the middle but can still pump out 2,000 lumens in XGA resolution, making it good enough for lights-on lessons. A big step forward for classroom projectors, the PLC-XW57 has Sanyo’s 3D Automatic Uniformity Correction Control, which makes sure that the image doesn’t have the hot spots that we’ve all seen. The projector sells for $895.


Top Tablet

Hp_tx2_small_2The latest in convertible tablet technology comes from HP in the form of the TouchSmart TX2, a notebook that’s just as good for typing class notes as it is for sketching map or drawing an illustration of the heart. Using technology from the TouchSmart desktop PC, the TX2 has a 12.1-inch screen that sits upright for traditional typing with its keyboard but swivels and folds flat for using the screen as a sketchpad. The touch-screen can be used with the flick of a finger or with the included stylus. Built around an AMD Athlon or Turion X2 processor, the TX2 can be ordered with up to 8GB of RAM, up to a 50GB hard drive and a Super Multi optical drive. A remarkably well-equipped base model will sell for $1,149.

One Screen to Rule Them All

SchoolvueEver wanted to view and control every computer screen in a classroom? Sometimes, taking command is the only way to know that everyone is concentrating on the lesson at hand so you can focus on teaching. CrossTec’s latest version of SchoolVue allows a single desktop or notebook PC to eavesdrop on every system in the class as well as turn other systems on or off, blank screens, lock a mouse or keyboard and even give visual rewards. The software includes a printer manager as well as a lesson planner. The program costs between $210 (for two licenses) to $4,700 (for 100 licenses).

Performance on a Budget

Studio_xps_s2409w2_smallWhen you need to edit video or teach how to create a complex Web site, there’s nothing like having the performance of Intel’s new i7 processor. But, how to outfit a computer lab with top-notch PCs without breaking the bank? Dell’s Studio XPS desktop packs in power at the budget price of $950 or $1,100 with 6GB of RAM and a 24-inch monitor.

Make the Class Gyrate

080730_air_mouse_product_shot_angleIf fiddling with the keyboard and a mouse during a projected lesson are coming between you and your students, think about gyrating instead. Rather than using a clunky table mouse, the Gyration Air Mouse can move move anything on screen without taking your eyes off the class. Basically, a handheld gyroscope, Gyration Air Mouse controls the cursor on-screen and cn make right- and left- mouse clicks. The air mouse is surprisingly easy to blend into a digital classroom because oif the the GyroTools program that lets you customize what the air mouse does. For example, simple hand gestures can translate into actions in presentation and educational software. With a range of 100-feet, the air mouse and teacher can navigate anywhere in the typical classroom or auditorium. The device costs $99.99.

Office for Less

Macoffice2008jpgWhile it doesn’t affect the price most schools pay for licensing Office for the Mac, there’s a great deal for students and teachers to buy their own copies of this suite. The Special Media Edition, which includes Expression Media, will be available for $250, a 50 percent savings; the Student and Home version still sells for about $150. The special offer is available at Amazon, Apple and BestBuy, it ends on January 10, 2009.

Listen to This

PfemicblackxlI know that this is going to go against the grain for teachers, administrators and district purchasing managers but for years you’ve been needlessly buying two different kinds of headsets for kids. The time has arrived for a rethink because one device can handle playing high quality audio as well as have a microphone for videoconferencing or adding a voice-over to a video clip. Phonak’s Audeo ably combines the two into one earphone/microphone set that works as well for speaking as for listening.

Based on Phonak’s digital hearing aid technology, the Audeo earphone not only sounds great but comes with a variety of accessories for fitting to just about any ear in the class. The package comes with three different sets of silicone and one pair of foam earplugs as well as two ear loops so that every kid will be able to listen and talk in comfort.

In addition, the earphones come with 6 sets of audio filters as well as a tool to remove and install them. It all fits into a small canvas bag, so nothing should get lost. Unlike other headsets, Phonak sells all the tips, filters and loops separately as replacement.

The Audeo earphones weigh only half an ounce and have a standard 3.5-milimeter jack. This lets it work with a wide variety of devices, from MP3 and DVD players as well as notebooks and media players.

The sound is nothing short of phenomenal, with balanced low, high and mid-range tones, particularly compared to the typical headsets that most schools provide. Capable of reproducing between 5- and 17,000-hertz, the Audeo earphone’s output is accurate, even at low volume. The big payoff is that kids no longer have to turn up the volume on cheap headsets into the danger zone in order to hear what’s going on.

After using the microphone with Skype’s videoconferencing service, it’s sensitive to a small voice without picking up too much background noise. On the downside, the earphone’s wires tangle easily, something that might prove frustrating to a room of kids.

While the $159 price tag for Phonak’s Audeo may make administrators and district buyers blanch, they’re worth it because they not only perform two classroom tasks but do them extremely well.

Phonak Audeo
$139 for audio only; $159 with microphone

+ Excellent audio and microphone
+ Light weight
+ Includes several different ear plugs and loops
+ Comes with canvas case

- Expensive
- Wires easy to tangle

Instant Lesson Plans

Teaching_mattersEver need ideas on how to put together a technologically up to date curriculum and lesson plans? I know you have, and Teaching Matters is a great place to start. A non-profit organization whose goal is to improve public education with technology, Teaching Matters has a cool selection of lessons available on social studies, writing, media literacy and other areas. The site has three sample class lessons on “Democracy in Greece,” “Constitution Today,” and “Civil Rights.” Each has objectives, an outline of the lessons and animated lessons that are sure to catch your class’s attention.

HDMI Extension Cord

Hdmi_blaster_front_hWant to put the DVD player, digital microscope or high resolution document camera at one end of the room and the projector or large screen monitor at the other, but the video cord just isn’t long enough? Join the club, because high definition HDMI cables are limited to 30-feet long for use with the best resolution sources. A way around that limit is Key Digital’s HDMI Blaster, which can double the length of video cables without degrading the signal and doesn’t require its own power. This makes the HDMI Blaster perfect for stashing in a ceiling or wall. The small box has two HDMI jacks, supports the HDMI 1.3 spec and can extend the distance to 150-feet for 1080i programming or 60-feet for 1080p. The device costs about $200 and has a two-year warranty.

Bright Idea

WhiteboardscreenHave you ever noticed that too many interactive smart-boards are a compromise between showing the projector’s output and what you’ve written on the board? Elite Screens has an answer by creating an interactive board out of a highly reflective material that allows white board ink to show up prominently. Called Starbright4, the material uses a multi-layer design that is four-times as reflective as a traditional screen, but has been designed to resist showing hot spots. It’s used in the company’s new StarBright Whiteboard, which is available in traditional 4:3 and wide screen 16:9 aspect ratios. The board can be ordered in sizes from 60- to 106-inches with pricing starting at $399. They come with a 2-year warranty and will be on sale in December.

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