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Type by the Colors

Use_step1_new There’s no doubt that learning to type is one of the hardest – and most valuable – skills a child can learn at school these days. And, with keyboards everywhere, the earlier they learn to master tapping out words, sentences and essays, the better. An innovative approach to letting your fingers to the walking comes from KeyRight with its Look & Learn color-coded keyboard that can speed up the process of learning to type.

The keyboard is a standard 101-key QWERTY device that connects to any recent PC or notebook via a USB cable. It’s like no other keyboard because it is like a rainbow with keys marked with eight different colors. This makes the keyboard so unique that it has a patent on its design.

Contrary to the way many teach typing, Key Right ignores the home row concept and creates groups of keys that are color-coded and associate those keys to their letters. It’s called the Direct Reach Method and it requires lees reaching. Research shows that it can speed up how quickly kids can learn to type.

The key (no pun intended) to its success is the included CD that walks kids through the process of associating the colors with certain keys and fingers. The software works with PCs and Macs, but not Linux computers. All the tasks are friendly and non-intimidating, with plenty of positive feedback for hitting the correct keys and encouragement after mistakes.

Look & Learn Repetition is central to teaching typing and there are games and tests of accuracy and speed. There are also sections on the ergonomics of safe typing and a tabulation of the student’s progress for the teacher to look over.

With a 11-year old who was a dedicated two-finger typist as an example, in two weeks of use he was able to type faster and more accurately after completing only half of the course. At that point, he had doubled his typing speed and his accuracy was much higher. KeyRight says that four to six hours is what it takes to learn touch typing, but I’d say that twice that time – or more – is the minimum needed to learn this skill.

Unlike keyboards with blank keys, the Look & Learn keyboard has all its characters boldly marked, so when it’s not being used to teach typing, the keyboard and computer can be used as a lab in its off hours. With USB keyboards selling for $10, Look & Learn costs four-times that, which can be a tough sell in a time of tight budgets. On the other hand, the Look & Learn keyboard is a complete system that can teach a generation of kids how to type without the pain.

KeyRight Look & Learn Keyboard

+     Painless way to learn typing
+     Standard keyboard with letters
+     PC or Macs

-     Requires longer time to master skill than claim
-     More expensive than standard keyboards
-     No Linux version

Defending the Classroom

310 610 In an age where computer viruses are as common as schoolchildren with runny noses, a two layer defense can help keep malicious software out of the classroom. And, that’s exactly what Linkys is doing with the latest version of the WRT 310N and 610N WiFi routers. The equipment is nothing new, but these 802.11n routers now have Trend Micro’s Home Network Defender antivirus software that incorporates a sophisticated barrier to hackers to keep the school free of malevolent programs. Don’t let the name fool you, the software is powerful and flexible enough for the classroom and small businesses.

Home defender Anybody with a WRT 310N or 610N can upgrade its firmware to provide the digital equivalent of a chain link fence around the classroom. Whenever a student or teacher types in a Web address, the router automatically goes to Trend Micro’s online database and then provides access (if the site is clean) or blocks it (if it’s a known source of malware, adware, viruses or contains offensive material). The database is arranged by categories, like social networking or those that discuss risqué topics, and is continually updated as the Web changes and new sites come out. According to Linksys and Trend Micro, the software doesn’t slow the Web connection by more than one percent.

Because building a fence around the digital classroom isn’t enough these days, the package comes with four licenses for Trend Micro’s PC-based Antivirus software; licenses for more computers are available at a discount. For those who already have installed either a WRT 310N or 610N router, the software is free to download and use for a month. The routers cost about $90 and $150, respectively, but the site blocking service costs $60 a year, $50 if you order it in the next two months.


The Classroom is Ringing

ProjectKNect_cmyk Raise your hand if you’ve confiscated a cell phone being used during a class lesson? I thought so. According to a recent report by the Digital Millennial Consulting, you may have been holding back their education. Based on a year of using smartphones by 100 9-th and 10-th grade algebra students in a rural school in North Carolina, grades not only improved by 25 percent but collaboration among kids increased. Called Project K-Nect, the idea is to put smartphones into the hands of kids who have limited or no use of computers at home, build a curriculum around them and then test to see what the effect of using the phones is. The kids also get to use the phone for a limited number of calls and text messages.

Wr_projects_knect_usa The phones may be cheaper and less expensive to maintain than traditional desktop or notebook computers, but they require a monthly phone account to move data back and forth, they’re less powerful and more limited in the curriculum software available. The $1 million study, itself, may be suspect, however. Project K-Nect was paid for by Qualcomm, a maker of cell phone chips, and a company that’s likely to gain financially if smartphones take their place along side protractors and pencils.

Books for Cash

Follett textbook sale With property values, tax receipts and school budgets all down, what school district isn’t cash-strapped these days? Follett Educational Services has an innovative idea: sell them that room full of old textbooks. Not only will it free up space for better uses, but it will put money into your budget rather than draining it. Those districts that choose to take the book payment as credit for new textbooks (physical or electronic) will get a 10 percent bonus. Follett’s employees will even come, pack up the books and take them away.


The Learn Station

PKPartyonPatio3_jpg Try turning a classroom negative into a positive by building the curriculum around the hypnotic handheld Sony PlayStation Portable gaming machine. Instead of dreaming about Kirby, Zelda and other animated characters, Plato’s Achieve Now system will have kids thinking about the five dozen different games that can help teach and drill them on math, reading and language arts skills. Aimed at K-through 7-th graders, the lessons are aligned with national standards.

Short Throw, Long Value

Np600s_slant Short-throw projectors that allow small, previously unusable rooms to be good venues for instruction are no big deal anymore, but they can cost as much as three-times as much as traditional projectors. NEC Display sets the pace in bringing these projectors down to earth by offering two short-throw projectors for $1,200 each. They’ll both be available in April, have an excellent contrast ratio of 600:1 and can create a 77-inch image from only 46-inches away from the screen. They are, however,  aimed at very different classrooms. While the NP500WS creates a 1,280 by 800 resolution wide-screen image with 2,100 lumens of brightness, the NP600S puts the more traditional 4:3 1,024 by 768 image onto a screen with 2,600 lumens of light. Which you get depends as much on which you prefer more: image quality versus brightness.

Ready for My Close Up

0203nikon2 If digital microscopes don’t have the optical quality you need to show what you want and document cameras don’t have the magnification, Nikon has an alternative: use a Nikon digital camera with the Fabre Photo EX hybrid. The microscope snaps onto the Fabre Photo EX stereo microscope to produce stunning photos. At $1,200, it’s pricey, but it can produce professional looking images of everything from a biology dissection to what minerals look like up close. It can be adjusted among 20-, 45-, 56- and 66-times magnification and it has its own LED light and the microscope runs on a single AA battery, which Nikon says lasts for 10 hours of use.


Box of Life Lessons

Chatterbox Games open What’s the best way to teach life skills to kids? Discussing hypothetical situations of interest or reading about how people made serious mistakes are a start, but there needs to be more. Chatterbox is an innovative card game that can help start a classroom discussion on everything from how people should deal with their peers to managing money. On top of an online e-zine, Chatterbox has a downloadable book on achieving goals. The game costs $30.

Take the Plunge

Google oceans Ever wanted to show an earth science class what the underwater world under the oceans looks like, but didn’t want to get wet? The latest version of Google Earth lets you go for an underwater journey showing what the seafloor, mountains taller than Mt. Everest and trenches deeper than the Grand Canyon. Version 5 also lets you create tours – above ground or underwater – so every class gets the same treatment. All without needing a SCUBA mask or needing a towel. The 10MB application is available for a free download.


Form, Function and Fun

XL30x60Corner48Hi I am a firm believer that school furniture doesn’t have to look boring and come in one size that doesn’t fit all. And, it seems, so does Smith System, which just introduced its new UXL line of school desks, chairs and work tables. Aimed at high school students, the furniture is sized for their growing bodies. There are several choices from a student desk large enough for a computer and books to the Diamond desk that can be combined with five others to create a hexagonal work space. All the items are available in 17 different colors and edge molding so every room looks consistent.

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