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Castle Why flip through books or show pictures of what medieval castles look like when your class can explore these structures from the inside out by making their own. It won’t be out of granite and oak timbers but the Build A Medieval Castle Web site takes kids through location, materials, shape and how the people lived in these ancient fortresses. As a class, individually or in small groups they can download and print out the castle’s paper parts that are then colored, cut and glued together to create their own citadel. Later, they can have mock battles with paperclips and crumpled up paper.


Making Chem Lab Relevant

Chem lab Tired of running through the same old chemistry labs year in and year out? Vernier’s “Investigating Chemistry through Inquiry” lab book can open a new world of investigation for students with more than two dozen inquiry-based experiments. The labs cover essential skills, like vapor pressure, stoichiometry, enthalpy, oxidation-reduction titrations, and mesh well with Vernier’s probes and equipment. The book costs $48.

Video Netbook

HP Mini 110_White Swirl_left open If you’ve been disappointed with the video quality from the current crop of netbooks, HP has redefined this notebook genre by adding a high-performance video accelerator. The Mini 1100’s 10.1-inch screen can play back high definition video without jagged lines, lost frames or the jerkiness that’s so common among even the best netbooks. Available in three colors and case patterns, the Mini 1100 family is powered by either a 1.6- or 1.7GHz Intel Atom processor and comes with up to a 250GB hard drive. It all weighs less than 3 pounds and is available with either Windows XP (for $329) or HP’s Mobile Internet version of Ubuntu Linux (for $279).

Bottomless Pit for School Data

The one constant about school computers is that no matter how big a hard drive you buy, it will sooner or later fill up. Sooner or later, even a 500GB or terabyte (TB) drive will at some point not have another byte of spare space for a class project, test or video. That’s where an external USB hard drive fits in. The current drives are easy to install, are responsive and provide up to 4TB of extra space for the flotsam and jetsam of school life. Here’re three of my favorites that can easily fit into any classroom or school office.

Hd_2bignetwork_5 If getting maximum raw storage space is what you’re after, it’s hard to beat LaCie’s 2big Quadra, which offers room for a pair of hard drives and can hold up to 4TB of data. It can connect with a PC or Mac with either an eSATA, FireWire 800 and 400 or USB 2.0 connection and comes with back-up software. If that’s not enough room, you can stack them and connect several together for a nearly unlimited storage system. A 4TB version of the 2big drive costs $660.

WdfMyBook_Mirror_H2U Western Digital’s 2TB My Book Mirror Edition external drive has enough room for half a million photos, 150 hours of video or a bazillion classroom lesson plans and assignments. It can connect with any computer that has a USB slot and comes with back-up software. At $329, it’s about the price of a netbook but worth it for anybody with a computer whose drive is filling up.

Toshiba USB Looking for something a little smaller, lighter and cheaper? Toshiba’s 500GB USB 2.0 Portable Hard Drive uses smaller 2.5-inch notebook drives, costs less than $150 and works with both PCs and Macs. At 6 ounces it’s portable enough to fit into a pocket or the inside pound of a briefcase and go from computer to computer. 

Small School, Huge Web Site

Lakota site It is a truism in schools today that big schools and districts with lots of resources have big complex Web sites with all the digital doo-dads and small schools either do without or have minimalist ones. Now, thanks to School Loop any size district can have an expansive online presence. The key is that anybody can be a Web designer with the company’s design program. You don’t need to speak HTML, Flash or Acrobat because all you do is grab the items you want to use on the site and drop them in place. On top of using your school’s photographs and videos, School Loop can create directories, calendars, tables and news sections. The program is used by the Lakota Public School District in North Dakota.

Is Bigger Better?

S12_Family_01 For all those of you who have thought that netbooks are too small for school use, Lenovo has a bigger, and hopefully, better idea with its upsized IdeaPad S12 netbook. It has a 12-inch screen with LED backlighting, but the system weighs close to 4-pounds and sells for $450, or about what a budget notebook goes for. Like other netbooks, the S12 is powered by an Intel Atom N270 processor, but is closer to a traditional notebook with a full-size keyboard and a 160GB hard drive. Look for a version in at the end of summer that has Nvidia graphics and an HDMI plug to connect it to a large-screen monitor. It will sell for $500.

FREEBEE FRIDAY: Buy 7, Get 1 Free

PL_84-85-825_Right_Profile Need a bunch of projectors? What school or district doesn’t? The difference is that Epson is offering educational institutions one of the best deals in the business: for every seven PowerLite 84, 85, 825 and 826W projectors you buy you can get a free-bee. The offer is good through July 15 and the projectors need to be shipped to the same address. Happy shopping.


Reading Help Via the Mac

Fact mapper mac While most schools have standardized on PCs, there are a lot of Macs out there in classrooms, and they can help kids master fluent reading with Texthelp Systems’ Read&Write 3 Gold for Mac. This program focuses on helping struggling readers to read regardless of whether they’re using Word, Safari, or the Adobe Reader. The key is that the program’s floating tool bar is always there and gives students access to a variety of reading support techniques. The program can read any passage in a variety of voices, present the student with a graphic organizer or translate any passage for English as second language learners. A single copy of Read&Write costs $645 and schools can set up a license $4,990 per building.


Instant Audio

Core_black Is there anything worse than having to string speaker wires throughout the classroom so that you can put speakers where the kids can best hear them? Eos Wireless has a new approach to wiring a classroom or small auditorium that puts the sound where it belongs without a wire in sight.

By replacing speaker cables with a 2.4GHz wireless digital spread spectrum data link, the Eos Wireless Gigawave speaker system doesn’t use wires or cables but is not hard to set up. The base speaker plugs into a computer or other audio source, and communicates with up to four satellite speakers for the easiest surround sound system anywhere. Each of the speakers is attractive with a black and silver design that should fit into any classroom, but they each require an AC outlet to operate.

It’s the simplest audio system to set up in the computer world. All you do is plug the base speaker into a source and plug it into an outlet. Alternatively, the base has an iPod dock so that it’s perfect for playing lesson podcasts or music for a party. All told, a classroom should take no more than 10 minutes to fill with wireless audio.

As you add remote speakers, the blue LED on their antennas start to glow, indicating that a connection has been made. Each speaker has an individual volume control and there was no interference with WiFi or Bluetooth gear or cordless phones, all of which use the same frequencies.

Eos says that the system’s range is 150 feet, but I was only able to get a 100 foot range. When I turned on the system’s Range Ex range extender, it increased a little but also added in annoying echoes if the speakers are too close together. Still, it should be more than enough for most classrooms and even small auditoriums and cafeterias.

There’s no static, the sound is absolutely clear and there’s SRS WOW audio enhancement that can make the speakers sound richer although the output favors high tones and needs stronger mid-range. The speakers did emit sporadic pops and clicks.

The best part is that the speakers are light and can be moved from classroom to classroom as needed. Eos sells the set of five speakers for about $650, which is beyond the means of most districts for outfitting classrooms. But, if you shop around you’ll find them at a variety of online stores for as little as about $400. They’re still not cheap, but a good investment to make sure that every kid hears the lesson.

Eos Wireless GigaWave

     + Good, clear audio  
     + No speaker wires
     + Great range for classroom
     + iPod dock

     - Expensive
     - Extended range can result in echoes
     -Clicks and pops

Learning Netbook

Lat 2100 There’s been no shortage of new netbooks over the past year, but Dell has one that’s been designed especially for schools. I think that at $369, the Latitude 2100 will compete strongly with HP’s MiniNote and Acer’s Aspire One for the desks of elementary, middle and high schools. The systems come in five colors and have rubberized surfaces so they are easy to carry and can survive being dropped into a backpack. Based on an Intel Atom processor, 10.1-inch screen and the choice of Windows XP, Vista or Ubuntu Linux, the Latitude 2100 weighs under 3 pounds. The best part is that schools can have their logos printed on the systems.
 Dell video frame

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