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Graphing for Less

It’s accepted wisdom that students of High School math and advanced science classes need to use an expensive handheld graphing calculator. At $100 a pop, the price can add up to some serious cash for a school or district. There is an inexpensive, or free, alternative for schools where teachers and students have notebooks. They can be used for solving complex equations, graphing lab results and even working with pesky trig problems. The bonus is that with full-size color screens, notebooks can produce better looking results than even the best handheld calculator can. Here’re four of my favorite calculator programs.

Hrw calc Think Holt, Rinehart and Winston and you think of textbooks, but the publisher also has a great Web-based graphing calculator available for a free download. It can work with up to four independent variables and has full trigonometric functions. On top of showing the intersections between lines, you can zoom in on any line.

The Java-based GCalc2   Gcalc2
is incredibly powerful, but to make it work, you’ll need t load the latest release of Java JRE software. It runs as an applet and presents a rather intimidating interface that definitely requires reading the manual to make the most of the program. Just type in your function in the unmarked text bar at the top and it’s immediately graphed.

Coolmath calc A more kid-friendly Java calculator comes from CoolMath’s online math site, which, like the rest of the site, is a real winner. The center of attention of the Graphit Graphing Calculator is the keypad on the left, which has number keys as well as trig functions and the ability to zoom. On the downside, to graph a function, you need to hit the tiny Eval button, which is well hidden in the keypad.

Webgraphing calc The beauty of WebGraphic.com’s online graphing calculator is that rather than a one size doesn’t fit all approach, it has different levels for basic, intermediate and advanced work, making it perfect for different classes and needs. To use its most basic functions, you can just jump right in, but if you register, you can graph functions and solve systems of equations. Paying members get 3-D visuals as well as some truly cool math abilities, and it costs $75 for a class of up to 35 students and decreases as the volume rises. There are a bunch of how-to examples, but do yourself (and your class favor) and spend sometime exploring the Weird functions area.

Guaranteed Brilliance

D732MX Side Most classroom projectors put an adequate 2,000 lumens of light onto a screen, but this amount of light can be washed out by overhead lights or sunlight streaming in through the windows. There are times when brighter is better, and Vivitek’s D732MX projector does the trick with 3,200 lumens of brightness at its disposal. The D732MX can keep the lesson going with the lights on and the shades up. Based on the latest Texas Instruments Digital Light Processing (DLP) chip, the projector creates 1,024 by 768 images and has a 2,100:1 contrast ratio. The price you pay for this is its weight, which at 7.3 pounds is heavier than most new classroom projectors, but the sturdy built-in carrying handle means that it can be lugged from room to room as needed. It’s priced at $1,250 and comes with the standard one-year warranty on the lamp, but a five-year warranty on the DLP imaging engine.

Next Generation Learning Management Suite

2009_LMS_7.4_BOX_Right_DK If you’ve been frustrated by limitations of the digital classroom, like the lack of automatic back ups and ability to integrate rich media into your lessons, Angel Learning Management Suite’s latest release takes learning into the 21-st century. Version 7.4 of the Learning Management Suite won’t be out until the Spring, but here’s a quickie preview of what it will include. It not only improves workflow and allows teachers and students to create video mash-ups but it has a new grade-book. The best part for many teachers is that it now supports automatic back-ups of key data. That way, at the end of the school day, the software automatically saves everything so nothing goes missing. Look for the software to be released sometime this Spring.


 

Habla ESL?

Tell me more boxes Teaching non-English speakers to master a second (or third) language is one of the most trying frustrations for teacher and student alike. ESL.net’sTell Me More Kids is a program for non-English speaking students from 4- to 12-year olds. The idea behind the set of programs is to immerse the kids in English with interactive cartoons, games, karaoke and structured dialogs. All the while, the program’s two mascots follow them around in the software. With speech recognition technology, the software listens and analyzes how students speak in English and corrects their accent and pronunciation. The complete package costs $130 with educational discounts available.  


 

Like Printing Money

P2035 When buying a laser printer for a school’s office or a building’s worth of classrooms, the purchase price matters less than how much the toner costs and how much electricity it uses. It’s a fact that over its five-year lifespan, a printer will often use ten-times its price on power and consumables. HP’s LaserJet P2035 printer goes against the grain in both areas by using half as much power as conventional printers and using inexpensive toner cartridges. But, you won’t pay for it in speed with the ability to crank out up to 30 pages per minute and the ability to connect via a USB cable or network. The printer can create super-sharp 1,200 by 1,200 dot per inch prints and is priced from $200 to $250 depending on whether you want networking.


 

The Interactive Globe

Purpose games How can you expect kids to hand in neat, crisp homework when your worksheets are barely readable and look like they’ve been photocopied a dozen times. Try teaching them geography with Purpose Games’ variety of educational interactive games. There are programs for identifying states, capitals, and a variety of country and regional maps. All students do is click on the city, state or country that the program asks for and it lets you know if you’re correct. For the teacher, the game tabulates a percentage of correct answers, and the game keeps track of top scores, which leaves open the possibility of a state capital contest. The best part is that all the games are free.

See it All On Screen

Elmo P30S When you’re showing how to dissect a frog or a page from an art book, there’s nothing like a document camera to put it all on the big screen. With its 1.3 megapixel camera, auto focus and an amazing 64X zoom lens, Elmo’s P30S can show anything from a science experiment to everyone’s signature on the Constitution in super-sharp high definition. A flexible articulated arm allows the camera to be angled in a variety of ways to catch the right angle. It has its own 3.5-inch LCD screen so you don’t have to continually look over at your PC to make sure you’re showing what you want and not you elbows.


 

WANTED: Your Favorite Web Sites

Techtools logo I need your help. As part of a story on Web sites for schools, I’d like to know which are your favorite Web destinations, which ones you use everyday and what parts of the Internet most affect your classroom. Just comment on this posting with your info and it could end up as part of the story

Lean Green Network Switches

Dgs 2205 You may not know it but your school’s network may be costing your school’s budget a small fortune. That’s because every networking hub, switch and router uses electricity and chances are that if they’re older than a year or two, they’re not only wasting power but also add to the cooling load of the building; those in cold climates take note, the equipment may help to heat your building but not particularly efficiently. D-Link’s latest gigabit switches feature top performance but only use maximum power when in use. Parts of the equipment that aren’t being used go to sleep, saving lots of watts. The five-port DGS-2205 switch is available now while the 8-, 16- and 24-port switches will get power saving features later this year. For the typical usage pattern, the switch can cut power use by between 45- and 66-percent, depending on usage and cable length. The DGS-2205 costs $60, but can pay for itself in a year or two of use with lower electricity bills.


 

Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

Tropical bio contest That’s Costa Rica. Well, two hard working and lucky biology teachers will go to Costa Rico to study tropical ecosystems. Sponsored by Pearson, the Tropical Biology Scholarships 2009 will pay for two high school biology teachers to the study adventure of a career at the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) in Costa Rica. Interested teachers need to apply online with a 500 word essay on how going to Costa Rico will change the way they teach science. The deadline is March 1st and the winners will be announced at the National Science Teachers Association Conference later in March. The two-week trip will take place in early July, 2009. On top of having the opportunity to explore the rain forests, the winners will conduct field research 

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