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EBooking Your School

FdrTired of musty old textbooks that always seem to be out of date, need expensive replacements and take up a lot of space in an increasingly cramped school? Think eBooks, which are page-by-page digital versions of the same volumes and can be viewed with a dedicated reader (like Amazon’s Kindle), a desktop PC or a notebook. The latest in eBooks is that four major text publishers, Nova Press, Oxford University Press, Temple University Press and Zed Books now are part of Follett Digital Resources’ repository of eBooks. The system now represents the works of 200 publishers and has more than 51,000 elementary, middle- and high-school titles available for instant download. The system keeps all the eBooks ready for a classroom on Follett’s servers and allows teachers and students to browse virtual shelves, preview and download what’s wanted.

Fold And Go Keyboard

Vax_77_openEven large elementary schools are increasingly stressed for space, and music and art usually get squeezed into ever smaller rooms. Infinite Response’s VAX77 folding keyboard puts a full six octave MIDI keyboard in a very portable format so it can be pulled out when needed and stowed in a closet when not. Players can use the VAX77 to shift the octave, add special effects, perform a pitch blend and modulate the tone. The best part is that the system can connect with a teacher’s notebook via a USB port.

Vax77_foldedLike other high-end MIDI keyboards, the VAX77 measures 46.6 by 14.5-inches. Unlike other keyboards, it can fold up to occupy to just half that size. Inside is an ADI Blackfin DSP 400 MHz processor and 300KB of flash memory to store instruments, sounds and full music.The key weight can be adjusted so it’s comfortable for use by teachers and students. It weighs just 25 pounds and has a wheeled cart available. The keyboard can be had in five colors.

Keeping Your (Notebook’s) Cool

Lap_loungeIs your notebook overheating? Burning the little laps in your class? Or are your notebooks just losing their cool? All these are symptoms of older systems with clogged or worn-out cooling fans. You have two choices: open the system up and clean out all the dust bunnies and maybe replace the fan so it works like it did when new or get a notebook cooler, like Xbrand’s Lap Lounge. At $50, it’s the quickest and easiest way to deal with a hot notebook because its 11-blade fan runs on USB power and can cool even the largest 19-inch laptop. Lap Lounge also adjusts to provide a comfortable tilt to the system and comes with a 1-year warranty.

Making Lunch Pay

Elunch_3Everybody knows that good nutrition is necessary for good learning, but it can also be a way for schools to save money by systematizing the cafeteria. eLunchroom can help feed a school’s worth of kids without breaking the budget by maximizing state and federal reimbursement. It works on both Macintosh and PCs, and can be used with a variety of point of sale identification, payment and receipt printers. Behind the scenes, eLunchroom figures out who qualifies for government lunch subsidies and creates the forms needed to get the cash flowing into the school’s coffers. The best part is that eLunchroom can scale up to an entire district and create reports on who gets lunch and who pays for it. The software costs $1,000 for a single school, $1,500 with a barcode scanner and $2,500 for a district license. A free trial is available.

A School’s Digital Eye

Easy3Your school is covered from door to door with video cameras to prevent vandalism, theft and strangers sneaking onto your campus, but how can you possibly view, manage and preserve all those video streams. Visec Security Software can integrate video from up to eight IP-networked cameras and notify you via cell phone, text message or email when its software motion detector picks up an intruder. The software records all video when motion is detected and can recall it at a moment’s notice. The program costs $150, and a free trial is available.

Kid-Sized Headphones

Kidz20gear20headphones20for20kidsWhy struggle with ill-fitting headphones made for grown-ups or ear-plugs that always seem to be falling out, when you can get ones that are designed and sized exactly for smaller heads? Kidz Gear turns classroom audio on its ear with headphones that are lightweight, comfortable and perfect for children two years or older. They have soft ear muffs, can reproduce sound between 20- and 20,000 hertz and have an individual volume control. The $20 headphones fold flat for easy storage.

The Big View

Sv470xvtIf you see kids squinting at the classroom’s big-screen monitor to keep up with the class, it may not mean that they need glasses. It might be a case of using a monitor that’s too small for the size of room and number of children. While most experts say that a 40- or 42-inch display is plenty for the typical class of 25 students, I say bigger is always better. And, with 47-inch monitors, like Vizio’s SV47OXVT, selling for at little as $1,300, it’s never been cheaper to make sure every child has a good view.

At 44- by 29.8 by 10-inches, the SV47OXVT is roughly the size of many 42-inch displays, but it has a 47-inch screen, making it perfect for teachers who want to make the most of their valuable wall space. Capable of showing 1,920 by 1,080 resolution, the screen can display full high definition programming as well as display more than 1 billion individual colors. In other words, everything looks great on it.

The monitor can connect with just about anything that a teacher or administrator can throw at it. On top of four HDMI, a computer connection, S- and composite-video jacks, the screen has component video plugs. It’s just as good for showing a Web site or the output of a document camera as a digital microscope or camcorder. Plus, it has an analog and digital TV tuner so it can handle either broadcast or cable programming.

Even though it competes with budget displays, the SVO47XVT is one of the first TVs with a 120-hertz imaging engine that puts images on screen twice as fast as conventional displays. This makes it perfect for showing quick moving scenes in movies, classroom software or videos.

Starting the SV47OXVT takes an interminable 8.2 seconds, more than enough time for the class clown to make a joke about the school not paying its cable bill. The class is rewarded, however, for waiting with close to pinpoint perfect images and smooth motion, regardless of whether it’s showing a DVD, computer screen or analog and digital TV.

Ironically, there are so many adjustments that it’s best to leave most alone, and works fine out of the box. On top of brightness, hue and contrast you can change the color temperature and set it in a host of specialized modes for different types of video. About its only shortcoming is the screen’s inability to show the deepest shades of black.

All can be controlled with the SV47OXVT’s slim remote control, but after about a month several of its buttons stopped working. Unplugging and restarting the monitor solved this problem.

While the TV is bright enough to keep the lights on for lessons, the SV47OXVT doesn’t waste electricity. When in use, it consumes 235 watts of power, which is normal for a 42-inch display and downright stingy for a 47-inch display. In other words, the extra display space comes for free when it comes to power bills. That level quickly drops to 4 watts when turned off, less than other monitors. That translates into an estimated annual cost of $21 a year – about half that of comparable monitors – based on 4 hours of use a day.

Wss_product_header1Although the system’s pair of built-in speakers should be plenty for most classes, Vizio sells a set of wireless speakers and subwoofer for surround sound. The satellite speakers need to be within 35 feet of the TV and it adds $200 to its price tag.   

Never heard of Vizio? You’re probably not alone, but the company’s products are sold primarily at discount warehouses, Sears and Circuit City stores. Vizio is the number 3 seller of flat screen HDTVs in the U.S. All told, the SV47OXVT is the rare TV that offers more screen and performance for less money while using less power, making it a good fit for schools looking for a bargain.

Vizio SV47OXVT

+      Excellent price
+      Same size as 42-inch monitor
+      120-hertz imaging engine
+      Low power use
+      Optional wireless speakers

-      Long start up time
-      Can’t show deep black

White Board Where it’s Needed

BoardlargeMost interactive whiteboards are mounted on a wall for convenience safe, but what about those schools that can’t afford to outfit every class with a board and projector. Try pulling a wheelie. That’s right, eInstruction’s Interwrite board with its optional floor stand is on wheels and can be rolled from room to room as needed. Sure, it’ll take some time to set up and align the projector, but it’s time well spent. Available in 60-, 71-, 77.5-, 85- and 95-inch models, every Interwrite board comes with software and works with either Windows, Mac and Linux computers; wireless Bluetooth communications is an option.

Making MacBook Music

Picture202Mac-centric schools take note, Leoné MusicReader now has an OS X version of its MusicReader program for working with music in the class, rehearsal room and auditorium. Forget about searching for paper score sheets because not only can you store the digital equivalent of sheet music and recall it at a moments notice, but MusicReader lets you browse a library and turn pages with the arrow keys. Any music can be annotated with a variety of colors and line types, and it doesn’t affect the underlying music so your days (and nights) of erasing notes are over. The $59 Solo Basic software is a good start but lacks the $99 Solo Pro’s built-in metronome, ability to tune instruments and show music full-screen. Get out your glockenspiel and download the free evaluation version.

Bird’s Eye View of Your District

SchoolvisionThe days when all you do is wait for students to register for school are long gone, but can a district administrator or superintendent do to estimate class sizes? The answer is to know the ins and outs of your district. SchoolVision 2.13f can help by combining demographic and geographic data of a district, producing maps that can integrate any kind of school or population data. For instance, instead of having your eyes glaze over while trying to parse sheets of Excel charts on future enrollment, SchoolVision can graph population shifts and birth rates with bar graphs superimposed over a district map. On top of ethnicity and income, the program can work with a variety of data including special education programs, bus routes and students who travel from other areas for classes.

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