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No Blindfold Needed

Way back when I was in fourth grade I was taught to type on a manual Royal typewriter with blank keys, which was a bit disorienting to say the least. At the time it seemed like just another instance of a teacher torturing a student, but it worked. It was slow going at first, but the blank keys succeeded in getting me to mentally map the characters and stop looking at the keys. There are some who think that you should take sandpaper in hand and grind the letters from keyboards for typing instruction.

Daskeyboard blank I like a crafts project as much as the next guy but this seems like too much pain for too little gain, particularly when you have to do a classroom with 30 keyboards. The Das Keyboard Ultimate comes without the letters on the keys, and has a two-port USB hub built in. It’s available at ThinkGeek but at $130, it costs about five-times as much as a standard USB keyboard with all the numbers and letters in place.

SpSkpc Why not just cover the keys for typing class? That’s the idea behind SpeedSkin rubber overlays. The sheet covers each key, hiding its letter, symbol or number. At $10, it’s much more reasonable, and it allows a room of computers to be used for typing class in period 3 and as a computer lab in period 4. The keyboard covers have bumps for finger positioning and the function keys remain visible, but SpeedSkin works on external keyboards and select notebooks.

Hearing Without the Wires

DigiFi_Opera If having to fight the tangle of headphone cords happens every time you want to incorporate audio into a lesson plan, DigiFi’sOpera S1 Plus wireless headphones can let the audio come through. At less than an ounce, it’s hard to believe that the Opera S1 Plus can reproduce CD-quality sound and has an individual volume control. The Opera headphones come with a 2.4-GHz transmitter that has a standard 3.5mm plug to use with the headphone jack of any digital music player.

Doing Well by Doing Good

Heiffer One of my favorite charities is Heifer International, which buys farm animals for third-worlders to improve their lives through self-sufficiency. The organization has recently added an educational extension that is a one-stop clearinghouse for information on poverty and how to stop it. On top of lesson plans and online resources, the Heiffer site has printable classroom activities. It’s free but you’ll need to register and your class just might want to do a fund raising project to buy a village in Honduras a lamb.

A-V Central

Ezr500 What teacher hasn’t fumbled with three or four remote controls to turn on the projector, DVD and other audio visual devices, just to get a lesson started. What if it were all integrated into one wall-mounted control panel? Well, that’s exactly what Calypso Control Systems has done with its ezRoom 500 Classroom A-V control kit. The package has everything needed to create a one-touch control system for a classroom’s audio visual needs with the wall-mounted panel, audio amplifier and equipment to control a networked projector. The package costs $1,525 per room with discounts available for K through 12 schools.


Quick and Cheap Scanner

V30_HdOn_LidUp Whether it’s with a large screen monitor or projector, there’s nothing like showing a social studies class primary documents or actual works in an art class, but Web images often get fuzzy when blown up. The best way to get the images into a computer is with a scanner, and Epson’s Perfection V30 does it cheaper than any other quality scanner. At $80, the V30 won’t be able to quickly scan a desk full of standardized tests but it can create 4,800 by 9,600 dot-per-inch resolution images in vibrant 48-bit color from a variety of originals. With LED illumination, there’s no warm up time to waste and the scanner is unique in its class by having four instant action buttons that can quickly scan, copy, e-mail, or create a PDF for a class handout. The device can sit on a desktop, works with PCs and Macs and comes with a variety of useful imaging software.

Read, the Digital Way

FDR On top of the dozens of e-book viewers on the market, there’s a slew of e-book programs for reading on a notebook or desktop PC that are all basically the same. Rather than aiming it at publishers and readers of general fiction and nonfiction works, Follett Digital Resources is taking a different tack with its education-friendly e-book reader. The application will address some of the needs of schools and libraries that aren’t being addressed by existing e-book software.  On top of the choice of viewing the book one or two pages at a time, Follett’s e-book reader can zoom in and out of text and has a handy search bar. On top of annotating or highlighting any part of the work, a student or teacher can print selections, and teachers can add bookmarks to highlight sections for students. It will be available as a free download starting on February 9, and Follett’s extensive library of digital materials should be converted to its format by mid-March.

New Probes for Science Education

Products_labquest Vernier Software & Technology now has three new sensor probes for its LabQuest handheld data acquisition and analysis system. They include location based on a powerful Global Position System radio, extra-range temperature probe that works between -20 and 330 degrees C and a power amplifier that’s perfect for teaching about digital circuits. The GPS and temperature devices sell for $64 while the amp goes for $199.


FETC Round Up

Fetc At a show the size and scope of FETC it’s easy to miss a multitude of otherwise impressive ideas and products. All it takes is a second of lost concentration, and the item passes by without your notice. Here’re a few of my favorites from the show.

PBS TeacherLine’s Peer Connection professional development site has added videos and other resources from PD360 and The Video Journal of Education for its professional development courses.

eInstruction showed its Interwrite DualBoard interactive white board that allows the use of two pens at once so that a teacher and student can work through a problem or two students can collaborate.

Nobody thinks about an emergency until it’s too late. PublicSchoolWorks’ EmployeeSafe Suite can help train your staff to be ready in a crisis.

New Dimension Media’s  CCC! Technology Video on Demand adds 12 new software features, including Classroom LIVE!, which can help teachers connect with home-bound students.

AIM Education showed its Learn360 video streaming service for elementary, middle and high schools that now allows teachers to create their own video Web sites, which can incorporate assignments, tests and any of their own instructional documents.

Teachers Teaching Teachers

If you’ve ever wanted to give a subject the digital treatment but came up short on ideas and content, PBS Teachers can help with a connection with 35,000 other teachers to discuss what you’re doing and what you should be doing. The site has two new areas that can make education come alive.

Activity packs  PBS Teachers Activity Packs are self contained digital lesson plans that have everything a teacher needs to put together a 21-st century lesson. There are packs on the Arts, Health and Fitness, Reading, Science and Technology and Social Studies. Each area has between 2 and a couple dozen topics that range from immigration to the weather; there are 45 in total and the group hopes to have a couple hundred by this time next year. Each has flash-based content as well as links to a slew of resources to build a lesson around. The best part is that these packs can not only be used in a class but also can be incorporated directly onto a class or school’s Web site so the learning doesn’t have to stop at 3PM.

Looking for lincoln  Starting next Wednesday, the PBS Teachers will start monthly webinars that preview PBS TV shows that can be incorporated into a curriculum. It all starts on January 28 at 8PM when Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. presents “Looking for Lincoln,” a documentary that will be broadcast in February. The webinar will show how it can be incorporated into a lesson plan about Lincoln, abolition and controversies about the man. The webinar will be moderated by Steve Hargadon, founder of Classroom 2.0, which is supplying the technology to make it all happen. After this, there will be monthly topics explored, starting with a webinar and show about Shakespeare.


Meet Mobi

Mobi What good is a student response system if the results can only be viewed on your PC, tying you to a desk. The latest in student response technology is eInstruction’s Interwrite Mobi, a two-part system that combines a tablet for the teacher and smaller Learner handsets for students to tap in their answers. The teacher’s tablet has a 2.4-inch color display for viewing full-class averages or individual student responses and a 6.3- by 8-inch active area for writing comments. Capable of working with Windows, Mac and Linux computers, Mobi can operate up to 15-feet from its host computer. A starter pack that includes a Mobi tablet, two Learner tablets, a charging dock and software costs $1,150, while extra teacher and student tablets cost $399 and $349, respectively. 

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