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Up Close and Personal

UNI-STA Short-throw projectors are a great way to turn a small room into a digital classroom and to reduce the shadows from a teacher working in front of the screen. The problem is that they’re particularly hard to mount on the ceiling due to the sharp projection angle they require. Premier Mounts’s Uni-Sta works with a variety of projectors that weigh less than 50 pounds. It can be adjusted right and left as well as up and down to 16.5 degrees. There are even channels to hide wires as well as hardware for installing it on wood, steel or concrete. Available in white or black, it costs $370.


Inside Ed’s Head

Edheas machines Teaching science with blackboard and chalk or even whiteboard and colored markers doesn’t cut it anymore with kids brought up in the digital era.EdHeads Web site has interactive games and animation sequences that show science in action much better than any science teacher can. At the moment, there are only eight online activities ranging from playing with simple and compound machines like levers and pulleys to the surgical replacement of a hip. My favorite is investigating a car accident, which takes students from examining the evidence and interviewing witnesses to interpreting the data. Teachers have written innovative lesson plans for some of the activities but they are posted separately. Although EdHeads is free, there’re advertisements that are easy enough to ignore. You can also donate to help Ed get some more heads.


Get a Jump on Earth Day

Wednesday is Earth Day, and it offers a wide variety of online curriculum for teaching children about ecology, recycling and our fragile environment. Here’re a few places that offer a free way to teach about the environment.

Discovery earth day Don’t be afraid to trash with your class as a way of discussing where all the waste from our homes, schools and factories go and what happens to it over time. Discovery Education’s ThinkGreen Classroom provides everything from videos and puzzles to assignments and complete lesson plans for a variety of classrooms. It’s sponsored by Waste Management, the largest garbage disposal company in America.

For the first grade set, a coloring book can stuff a lot of teaching into an hour with a box of Crayons. The Happy earth day cover EPA has a free downloadable 12 page coloring book about Earth Day and helpful hints on how to help the planet.

101 earth facts A great way to celebrate the earth, and sneak in a little education without your students knowing it, is to play Space.com’s 101 Amazing Earth Facts game as a class. There’s a lesson plan and the game is set up in three different levels that are keyed to specific grades.

All Business about Learning

VT M2 standalone close up - new ID When schools go shopping for computers, they should look at business systems because while they might not be the cheapest, they have been designed for power and reliability. All this can let you sleep a little more soundly knowing that they probably won’t break down as often. Acer’s Veriton M265-ED2220C balances cost and performance about as good as any desktop system with a blend that any school could use. Based on an Intel 2.4GHz Dual-Core Processor, 2GB of system memory and a 160GB hard drive, the ED2220C uses either Microsoft Vista or XP Pro and has a SuperMulti optical drive. Its price starts at $419


Cashing in on the Stimulus

CA ARRA With billions set aside in the Stimulus bill for education and infrastructure, every school should be trying to its fair share. Curriculum Associates has created a Web site with a plethora of help for districts looking to cash in on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Better known as the ARRA or the stimulus bill, there’s a look at how the money can flow to educational institutions, guidelines in interpreting the law as well as a good list of links for other helpful stimulus sites.


New Perspectives in Assessment

Perspective1 We all know that wading through a pile of student assessment results can not only numb and otherwise active teacher’s mind, but can provide a misleading view of what a class, school or its individuals are capable of. We have to test to provide feedback for students, parents and administrators but Meg Litts, Professional Development Specialist at Minnesota’s Onamia Public Schools has found a better way to interpret and distribute the data.

For the past year her district has been using Pearson’s Perspective to provide accurate data on students and makes reporting this information to parents much easier. The good news is that rather than a complex program that needs to be installed on computers, Perspective is Web-based so that any recent computer with an Internet connection can just log on to use the program.

As a result, none of the district’s computers or those used by parents to check on their child’s progress needed to be upgraded. Just make sure that it does have the most recent version of Adobe’s Flash player installed. “That’s a huge benefit because it relieves much of the stress of using technology for families and teachers alike,” explains Litts. 

Even better, the program doesn’t require any specialized training other than familiarizing parents, teachers and district paraprofessionals with what Perspective is capable of. To get parents up to speed, the district, which has about 750 students in rural central Minnesota, sent a letter home about Perspective with some simple how-to instructions on getting started. Beyond that, the program has an informative built-in Flash-based tutorial that shows how to get the most out of the program.

Learning locator Key to Perspective’s usefulness is the Learning Locator, which puts together specific curriculum materials based on assessment results. For Litts and the Onamia school district, it works well because the locator is aligned with Minnesota’s Academic Standards. “This is a great way to differentiate within and outside the classroom,” observes Litts.

The Onamia Public Schools uses Pearson’s assessment exams as well, although Perspective works just as well with a variety of tests from other providers. The district uses Perspective to create an annual Learning Locator number for each student in math and reading.

Perspective and Learning Locator is not an end to itself or a substitute for classroom work. In fact, Litts, thinks it helps teachers identify at-need students and tailor a growth plan for each of them. “Perspective is not a tool to replace teacher instruction and assessment,” she adds, “it is a fantastic resource to enhance teacher instruction and assessment.”

Tag Team Presentations

PLC_XU355 angle wRemote There are few things that waste more time in a classroom than switching computers for kids to do their presentations. Regardless of whether it’s on the history of the Iroquois Confederacy or right triangles, Sanyo has a new way to do tag team class presentations that does away with plugging computers into the projector. Sanyo’s Simple Wireless Setting involves using a special USB memory key that gets plugged into the computer that needs to end up on-screen. All it takes is a single click and the computer is wirelessly connected to the projector. It works with PCs and Macs, has a range of nearly 100-feet and going from PC and takes less than a minute. The PLC-XU355 projector uses three LCD panels to create an XGA image at a brightness of 3,500 lumens and weighs 6.4-pounds. It costs $2,600.

Making the Digital Grade

Admin04 As soon as you use your computer to prepare grades you never go back to hand tabulated report cards. GradeLink can help with easy to use software that’s just as good for first grade as for a high school. By integrating attendance and grades, the program is a one stop center for teachers and administrators trying to streamline a school’s operations. With the ability to assign letter, numerical or percentage grades, GradeLink can use custom grade scales as well as weighting assignments or tests with different rankings. At any time, the teacher can get an individual average for a student as well as see what assignments are coming up. The software costs $708 per year for up to 50 students or $3,708 for up to 1,000 kids.

New Twist on Traditional Desk

ElementalAppleHi No longer just a place to stash books, pencils and the occasional spitball, the classroom desk has morphed into a multitude of shapes these days. SmithSystems sticks with the traditional open-front format, but updates it with better ergonomics and a variety of colors. Buyers can mix and match materials in 17 different colors so that it will match just about any school décor. With instant access to all that’s inside, the Elemental Desk means that getting classroom materials won’t take the class 10 minutes. The desk sells for between $166 and $191, depending on the choices.

Save, Now and Later

Samsung-series-6-6000-led-hdtvs-front If you think that getting a large screen display for classrooms is an expensive double whammy with a high price tag now and huge electric bills later, think again. Samsung’s latest Series 6000 monitors have LED backlighting that uses 40 percent less power than comparable screens that displays that have fluorescent lighting tubes. This display has two USB outlets so that teacher and student can pop in a memory stick in with a presentation or a video.


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