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Twist and Shout

Peewee pivot Whether they’re netbooks, budget notebooks or basic school systems like OLPC XO or Intel’s Classmate, these systems all have one thing in common: they’re not all that exciting to a 10 year old kid raised on GameBoys and PlayStations. Enter PeeWee’s 3-pound Pivot notebook, which on top of being spill resistant and rugged, has a screen that swivels and folds flat like a tablet so kids can type on its keyboard or draw on its display. At $600 it’s a bit pricey, particularly in light of its Intel Atom processor, 8.9-inch screen, 1GB of RAM and 60GB hard drive. It does have a good assortment of ports, WiFi and a screw-on handle so kids can carry it to and from school. In addition to Microsoft XP Home, the system comes with Works as well as programs for creating art, handwriting recognition and an e-book reader.


Small Wonder

Acer-aspire-one-aod150-1669-white-02 Luckily for schools in search of inexpensive notebooks for students and staff, the appearance of the netbook has arrived on the scene none to soon. Small, light and – above all – priced several hundred dollars less than even budget systems, netbooks have meant that schools that couldn’t afford computers can now get a system for every student and teacher.

While every week seems to bring out a new design, my favorite netbook at the moment is the Acer Aspire One AOD-150. At $350, it’s a bargain that combines an adequate 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor with 1GB of system memory, a 160GB hard drive and a sharp 10.1-inch wide-screen display. In other words, it should be plenty to satisfy a teacher’s need to create curriculum and tabulate student results. At the same time, it’s more than enough to open the digital world to students.

The good news is that instead of being a bulky and heavy budget computer with disappointing battery life, the D-150 is among the smallest and lightest in its class. The whole thing weighs just 2.3-pounds with the base three-cell battery or 2.9-pounds with the six-cell extended capacity power-pack. It has dimensions of a pad of paper that’s between 1.3- and 1.5-inches thick and easily fits into a kid’s backpack or book bag. On the downside, the system’s extended battery sticks out of the back.

While most adults will find the keys and touchpad to be a little skimpy, they’re perfect for most kids, particularly elementary and middle schoolers. Around its perimeter, the D-150 has a good assortment of ports, including 3 USB, external monitor and audio. Add to that a flash card reader that works with the most recent modules and you have a system that can work with all facets of digital curriculum from creating podcasts or presentations to playing online educational games and doing Web research.

It’s got wired and wireless LAN connections built-in for Web access at home, at libraries and at school plus two things that few other netbooks include. On top of a Web cam, the D-150 has Bluetooth so that it can host a video learning event and works with a wireless keyboard, mouse or headphone.

What’s missing? Well, there isn’t an optical drive for creating and playing CDs and DVDs. I don’t think many schools will miss that, and it’s one fewer thing to break.

The system’s performance won’t set any records but it provides an excellent balance between power and battery life. It rates a 214 on Passmark’s Performance 6.1 benchmark, making it one of the most powerful netbooks available, but also can run on its extended battery pack for more than 5:30. That means that the D-150 is a full school day computer, so kids and teachers can leave the AC adapter at home; expect about 3 hours on the standard battery.

10-inch_acer_aspire_one Available in four colors, the D-150 comes with matching battery, a soft case and lots of software, including Microsoft Works, which should be fine for most school projects. The D-150 comes with a 1 year warranty and Acer has a video that describes the unit.

Overall, the Acer Aspire D-150 goes to the head of the class with an inexpensive yet well-made and powerful netbook. And, that’s exactly what schools are looking for these days.

Acer Aspire One AOD-150

     + Excellent price 
     + Top battery life
     + Good performance
     + Web cam, Bluetooth and WiFi

     - Battery sticks out
     - Small keys
     - No optical drive


Help with Head Start

Brigance Admit it, one of the toughest tasks that a teacher or administrator face is accurately identifying those at-risk students in need of extra help before it’s too late. It gets a little easier with Curriculum Associates’ Brigance Head Start screening and assessment system. Look for it to be introduced at the National Head Start Conference this week in Orlando, Florida. The system’s screenings take 10 to 15 minutes per child and can provide the on-going analysis of skill development to create a personalized educational plan. The system will debut later this summer and sell for $999 for up to 20 children for three years.


Netbook Cases

LArobe-Netbook8p9-Poivre-front Is there anything worse than buying a slew of netbooks for students and staff to use only to find that they’re tiny compared to the bags you ordered? French Designer Be.ez’s new line of LArobe netbook sleeves can protect netbooks with either 8.9- or 10.2-inch screens with 5 millimeters of polyurethane padding. They come in a variety of colors and fit most recent netbooks, including the Asus EeePC 1000, Dell Mini 9 and Samsung NC10. Just like the netbooks they’re meant to hold, they're a bargain at $20.


Go Ahead, Pick Your Processor

Under NDA Until 4.28.09.Available APJ Only_4410s Once you’ve chosen your ideal notebook for a school to use, there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to get exactly which processor you want for it. HP is turning that notion on its head with the ProBook 4410s and 4415s notebooks. On top of a bright 14-inch screen, up to a 500GB hard drive and as much as 8GB of system memory, you can choose from either an Intel Core 2 Duo, Celeron Dual-Core, Celeron or AMD Turion, Athlon or Sempron processor in a variety of speeds. A big bonus is that these systems can run Windows Vista or XP as well as several Linux versions.


The Teacher’s Touch

Wind Top AE1900_05 Like the idea of a touch-screen PC where your fingers do the teaching but like most schools you can’t afford the HP TouchSmart. MSI’s Wind Top AE1900 is a good alternative though with an 18.5-inch screen rather than the TouchSmart 22-inch display. Completely equipped, it’s got everything from an Intel Atom processor, 1GB or RAM and a 160GB hard drive to 4 USB ports, a flash card reader and a Web cam. It has high-end details like a DVD Super Multi optical drive and SRS surround sound. The best part is that it uses a fraction of the power that a full PC uses and runs quietly only consumes 50 watts or less. It costs about $500.


Trade-In Time for Projectors

EPSONLogo What if someone would give you cash for your old and antiquated digital equipment so you could get the latest and greatest gear out there. After all your kids are worth that much, aren’t they? Epson is doing just that with the company’s Brighter Futures Graduation program, which offers $25, $50 or more in trade for older Epson PowerLite projectors. Those projectors that are turned in are recycled.


Germ-Free Typing

MedKeyboardLrg What teacher hasn’t recoiled at least once at finding something disgusting on a classroom or library keyboard. The truth is that keyboards can be germ factories and can grow unspeakable things as fast as a Petri dish. Advanced Input System’s Medigenic Medical Keyboard is not only easy to clean but will remind you with flashing lights and an annoying sound when it needs a cleaning with sanitary wipes. Cleaning the keyboard turns off the alarms. The 104-key keyboard uses a USB connection, comes with a 30-day return policy and sells for $115.


Supercharged Calculator

Ti nspire The graphing calculator takes a big step forward for teachers and students with two new sites from calculator maker Texas Instruments that are chock full of customizable lessons, examples and help for the numerophobic. There’s a TI Npsired site for algebra and geometry that are aligned to popular textbooks and state standards and have lots of downloadable assignments and teaching resources. No surprise, the focus is on lesson plans that use the handheld devices to help kids learn about everything from linear functions to transformational geometry.


Next Gen Geometry

GSP_Preview Teachers heading to this week’s NCTM conference can get a sneak peek of Key Curriculum Press’s next version of Geometer’s SketchPad. It’s still under development but Version 5 of Geometer’s SketchPad provides more power and the ability for students and teachers to more fully use algebraic expressions. The program’s Learning Center has click-by-click tutorials as well as fully built classroom activities. The best part is the LessonLink online library of curriculum keeps growing, which has to make teaching math a lot easier. The program should be out by this fall and you can sign up for information about the program.

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