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Check Mate

Chess_clubWith money getting tighter and tighter, it may not be at the top of your priority list but a school- or district-wide chess program can help stimulate students to think creatively and maybe even put their cell phones away. Think Like a King’s Chess Workouts 2.5 School Edition can teach the game, train students, organize a chess club and track matches. The software works with PCs and Macs and can be set up on a district’s server for ease of use at multiple schools. The program costs $150 and there’s a demo program available for free.

The Fast and the Quick

Kdl_52xbr7_240hz_lgJust as 120-hertz LCD flat-screen monitors and TVs become commonplace, Sony speeds things up a bit with the first 240-hertz LCD TV. With the power to make even fast-changing scenes flow smoothly, the Bravia KDL-52XBR7 monitor-TV actually displays images four-times faster than conventional TVs. Capable of showing 1,920 by 1,080 resolution, the KDL-52XBR7 can display full high-definition 1080p programming on its 52-inch screen, measured diagonally and can show every detail of a dissection or lab experiment. The system has three HDMI, one PC, two component-video connections as well as an Ethernet port. The display just went on sale and costs $4,200.

Keeping up with School Maintenance

Xmweb_largeAre you afraid that with your district’s budget stressed by disappointing property tax revenues, maintenance will fall by the wayside and your schools will start to crumble. There is another way. MicroMain’s CMMS is an integrated program that can assign, track and help supervise everything from painting the gym to fixing leaking faucets. It’s easy to create a work order, assign it to an employee or contractor and send it to them via a PC, handheld or just printed out. The best part is that you can set up CMMS to assign scheduled maintenance in between emergencies, so buildings will always look fresh. The Building Services Department at the Santa Ana Unified School District in Santa Ana, California uses the software to assign, inspect and track the costs of maintaining its 60 facilities. The program has a free trial so you can try it out.

Help in Hard Times

DonorschooseGetting the lab equipment, furniture, computers, software or any teaching supply that your school needs is going to get tougher as the economy and tax revenues go south. Donorchoose.org brings educational donors and schools together, enriching schools. The Web site lists schools in need of anything from fetal pigs for dissection to Post-It notes. Those interested in helping can donate money, but not the actual items needed, to help the school fill its need and get a tax deduction.

Password Protector

Ms8b1416You can remember the PIN code for your debit card, the password for your PC and maybe even a few Web sites, but what about all the different PCs in your school. Printing them on paper and locking them up is a good idea for when teachers or students forget their passwords, but it isn’t exactly secure. Enter Atek’s Secure Password Organizer, a credit card sized gizmo that can hold up to 200 passwords that are protected by AES data encryption. It’ll even generate random passwords and then save them for future use and has an identifying screen if it’s lost. The card costs $30, just don’t forget its master password.

Seeing Really is Believing

EfilmWhen teaching a difficult subject there’s nothing like a well-made short film to bring it all together. ePals and SnagFilms are teaming up to put non-fiction titles in front of school students. Called eFilms, the service has movies on a variety of subjects from a look at Incan tombs to a history of the Wright Brothers. The service is free, the flicks can be shown full-screen and there are ads on and around the player. So far, there aren’t many videos available, but the catalog will grow as the venture gets started.

Get the Word Out, Fast

InovaUsing a school’s public address system, digital phone screens and instant messages are all good ways to hasten a school evacuation, but there’s nothing like having several well placed information screens to get students, teachers and staffers out quickly, safely and efficiently. Inova Solutions’ On Alert is a complete system that can not only show that an evacuation is in progress but route occupants to the nearest and safest exit. The signs measure 31- by 7- by 2.3-inches, can be seen from 100-feet away, are self powered and use Ethernet for their data. When they’re not being used to assist in an evacuation, the screen can show the time, date, period and even post a reminder to buy the school’s yearbook.

Don’t Be A Square

Face it, conventional school computer furniture has not been designed for desktop PCs, much less notebooks or tablets. On top of being the wrong height for small hands to rest comfortably on the keys, there’s rarely enough room for a mouse and school work. And, don’t get me started on what to do with all those wires for power and peripherals. Sure, traditional school furniture is OK for kids to scribble notes or write essays, but are not exactly optimal for a keyboard, mouse and screen. This is changing, but slowly, with a variety of classroom furniture that’s been designed from the start to accommodate computers.

Versa_revolutionWhile its name implies a break with the past, Versa’s Revolution Desk isn’t as radical as its name. It sticks with the traditional rectangular table shape, but everything else is changed for the better. Instead of allowing kids to hide behind a screen, the Revolution keeps the display below the surface and angled so that they get a good view while the teacher can keep an eye on them. A keyboard tray pops out of the bottom, the whole desk is built on a sturdy steel frame and it comes in four choices of laminate surface color. The best part is that the Revolution comes with a lifetime warranty. The 48- by 30-inch desk costs $800.

QuarkSmartDesks’ Quark system is the first computer furniture made especially for classrooms built around laptops. Curved and swooping, Quark is inviting for kids to use. It provides a 34- by 34.5-inch work surface made of long lasting medium density fiberboard with thermofoil laminate coating. On top of thoughtful places to stash wires, Quark has a cup holder, a pencil tray and a way to lock a computer into place. The desk’s central pillar can be adjusted with a pneumatic lift by six inches so it fits bulky high schoolers or tiny first graders. Several Quark desks can be put together with the QStar table, making an instant computer center.   

Acrobat_3 Acrobat Tech Labs from Smith Systems does away with the rectangular desk altogether and replaces it with an arrowhead shaped table that provides more room on the side for mouse work. On top of standing individually and in pairs, the Acrobat can be set up in clusters of four for flexible classroom designs. To work comfortably with kids of differing ages and sizes, the 24- by 60-inch tabletop adjusts from 24- to 36-inches high and there’s no shortage of places to hide pesky wires and cables. The best part is that with the optional riser shelf, there’s a lot of space to put a printer, scanner and no shortage of books. The Tech Lab table costs $660 while the riser and shelf add $390.

Parlez Vous Polyglot?

Ks_spanish_screen_1_300_2If there’s anything harder than teaching elementary school kids a foreign language I don’t know what it is. Transparent Language’s  starts small by exposing 5-to-13-year olds to a variety of languages in a non-threatening way. The goal is to introduce students to any of six popular languages (Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Hebrew), but instead of declining nouns and tortured sentence mapping, KidSpeak concentrates on building a vocabulary of 700 words, recognizing the language’s native alphabet and reading simple sentences. On top of games, the program comes with 12 printable activities. The software costs $50 and works on Macs and PCs.

Tomorrow’s Tech Teaching, Today

Nova5000_hiresHow tough a sell is a high school science and technology lab lesson these days? Despite how important these subjects are to our country’s future, it rates a loud yawn by many students more interested in YouTube videos, FaceBook strangers and GameBoy bouts. Fourier Systems Nova5000 handheld data acquisition and analysis computer can change all that by giving kids hands-on experience with labs and experiments.

At 2.4 lbs with a 7-inch touch screen and full school day battery life, the Nova5000 can capture a kids imagination while being easier for small hands to work with and costing much less than full PCs or Macs. Nova_5000_sw2The key is that these small devices have the power to work with a wide variety of sensors – from acceleration and magnetic field strength to temperature and humidity – that can make the basics of science and technology accessible and as easy as zapping aliens on a Nintendo DS Lite. So, instead of writing the formulas for Newton’s laws of motion on the board, why not strap a Nova5000 to a bicycle and take it for a ride. The best part is that as small as the Nova5000 is, it has a word processor, spreadsheet and a full Web browser built in. With its wired and wireless networking, kids and teachers can get the background information they need to write up an interesting lab. Tulsa Oklahoma’s McLain High School of Science & Technology magnet school is building a curriculum around the Nova5000.

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