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Interactive Board, Without the Board

LiteBoard_Projector_00 Every once in a while I see something that makes me want to slap my forehead because it is such an intuitive idea, yet nobody had thought of it before. This is the case with InFocus’sLiteBoard projector that not only puts all sorts of lessons on the big screen but can turn any wall into an interactive smart board. I’ve seen LiteBoard and it is as close to magic as technology gets.

LiteBoard_Wand_03 The key is the wand that the teacher (or student) uses to write, move the cursor or click on an object. Rather than writing on a digital board it works anywhere the projector’s beam of light goes, although I found it works best when the wand is up against the wall. The beauty of LiteBoard is that it works on any flat surface, from a pull down screen to a plaster wall. The projector uses TI’s digital light processing technology and puts 3,000 lumens onto a wall or screen.

The prototype I saw and played with worked well with the ability to draw or write in space or touch the wand to the wall for more precise action. LiteBoard should be available later this year and sell for about $2,600 for an XGA version and $3,000 for WXGA.


Kid Science

Learning.com stem One of the hardest things any teacher can do is teach science to young students without boring them or dumbing it down. Learning.com’s Elementary Science curriculum can help by integrating science, technology, engineering and math. The online package includes three Aha!Math (for K through fifth grade), Aha!Science (for third through fifth grades) and EasyTech (for K through eighth grade). Through interactive learning, games, simulations and activities, the idea is to stimulate an understanding and appreciation of math and science that will blossom with a new generation of scientists.

More Math

Critical math If figuring out new and creative math assignments and lessons has you down, Key Curriculum Press’s Critical Math can help with a slew of online content. The interactive activities not only help students relate to the assignments but they actually retain it. The service is aligned with state standards, is meant to augment the traditional teaching of Algebra 1 and 2 as well as Geometry courses and comes with lesson plans, worksheets and teacher notes. It will be available in September.

Curriculum Plus Content

Discovery Curriculum mapping is a great way to get a handle on who’s teaching what when, but it’s flaw is that it is nothing more than an outline that is devoid of actual content.Discovery Education Science and Discovery Education Health wants to match content with curriculum with its new curriculum alignment service. The service seeks to integrate digital content from Discovery’s library of a quarter of a million videos, audio clips and other materials into classroom instruction. 


What's Happening in Washington

Image3 Chances are that if you have anything to do with computers and schools, you’re either in Washington, DC right now, or on your way to the National Education Computer Conference. Sponsored by the University of Oregon and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), The conference is where buyers and sellers of all sorts of computers and accessories meet face to face to see the latest in classroom technology.

Running until Wednesday, NECC has a multitude of educational programs, from keynotes to
a wide variety of workshops and career development classes
http://center.uoregon.edu/ISTE/NECC2009/program/other_special_events.php to hone a teacher’s skills. When you feet begin to give out, give the tech lounge a try.

Over the next few days, I’ll report on the coolest and most innovative ideas, products and trends that I see on the show floor. In other words, stay tuned, the fun is just starting.

FREEBEE FRIDAY: Windows 7 for Free

Windows7_h_Print We all know that the developmental beta of Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 7 operating system is available for a free download, but what about when the real program comes out this fall? HP is offering to give you a copy of Win 7 for qualifying PCs bought between now and October 22, when the software is introduced. The upgrade kit will include a disc with the new operating system, drivers as well as directions on how to safely upgrade the system.


FREEBEE FRIDAY: Earth Science Online

Geology.com Having trouble getting through to students about volcanoes, earthquakes and how the earth works with dusty old textbooks? Geology.com has a slew of lessons that can explain everything from plate tectonics to what the inside of the earth look like. Each lesson has drawings, animation and interactive goodies. A big bonus is links on the left for things like Google Earth’s view of the San Andreas Fault, a geology dictionary as well as maps.


Keeping an Eye on the School

PVC300_photo_large Tired of seeing your school through the eyes of inexpensive security cameras that never provide enough resolution or the ability to follow an intruder to see what’s really happening? Cisco’s PVC300 security can not only tilt, pan and zoom but it can stream its video or save it as MPEG4 or Motion JPEG clips. There’s even a built-in motion detector and the ability to snap images so that the camera can be part of a school-wide security system. It costs $575.


Instant Digital Art Class

Tablet notebooks may be a great way to marry the convenience of the keyboard with the power of the pen in a computer, but schools and districts have found them to be budget-busters. A financially realistic approach for many districts is to team a standalone tablet pad with drawing software. Even though the two are sold separately, Adesso’s $50 CyberTablet 6400 and Ambient Design’s $25 Art Rage program can create a digital art room on a tight budget.

CyberTablet%206400 The tablet package includes a 6- by 4-inch digital pad, a mouse and digital pen. It works with either recent versions of Windows or Mac OSX, connects with a USB cable and takes about 10 minutes to set up. Along the top are a dozen instant launch buttons for bringing up your favorite applications.

While the two-button mouse is accurate and is sized for smaller hands, it lacks a scroll wheel for whizzing through long documents or Web pages. The pen is supple, smooth and my favorite. It can detect 512 different levels of pressure to create thin or thick lines. It works just as well for sketching a drawing as for pointing out the subject, object and verb in a sentence or drawing a geometric figure. Both require one triple A battery.

A big bonus is the tablet’s clear plastic cover that lifts up so that you can put a photo or map underneath for accurate tracing. Just go over the lines of the original with a pen and any student, regardless of talent, can feel like an artist.

The pad comes with software for creating and editing images, handwritten notes, presentations, turning handwritten notes into editable text and melds well with a variety of programs. The tablet really comes into its own with Art Rage 2.5, an inexpensive drawing and image editing program that puts the emphasis on creativity.

Jamie art rage While Photoshop can take a lifetime to learn, just about any teacher or student can familiarize themselves with the ins and outs of Art Rage and create a sophisticated art project in about 10 minutes. In addition to a traditional menu structure, the program’s central workspace is surrounded by tools for choosing the type of pen, brush or spray gun, adjust the pen’s pressure, pick a color and add a new layer.

In other words, it can get a little cramped because the program can do so much. On the other hand, as the artwork starts to encroach on a tool, it temporarily disappears and returns later.

For younger children, Art Rage 2.5 has a cool tracing feature that ghosts any image on screen so that budding artists can fill in the image as if it were a coloring book. It’s perfect for filling in the details of a map. At any time, you can bring up a ruler or series of stencils to encourage a class’s creative juices to flow.

A big bonus for teachers having trouble creating new lesson plans, Art Rage’s online forum has a multitude of tips as well as dozens of suggested projects. In fact, as kids create their artwork, they can post them online for others to see and comment on.

The pad and software work surprisingly together well, but it takes a little eye-hand coordination to work the pad while looking at the system’s screen. Still, it quickly becomes an intuitive way to draw and color. The best part is price. Downloadable copies of ArtRage go for $25 (a boxed version sells for $50) while Adesso’s tablet adds another $50. At $75 per seat, it’s the art deal of the century.

Adesso CyberTablet 6400

     + Inexpensive  
     + Includes mouse and pen
     + Excellent control and sensitivity
     + Nice assortment of software

     - Pen and mouse require batteries
     - Mouse doesn’t have scroll wheel

Ambient Design Art Rage 2.5

     + Best bargain in image creating and editing
     + Excellent assortment of tools and color control
     + Innovative interface

     - Cramped workspace
     - Boxed version doubles price

Mini with Maxi Strength

HP Mini 5101 small The biggest question about notebooks this year for schools has been over whether netbooks are strong enough to take the daily abuse of teachers and students. HP steps in with the first netbook that’s been built to last. The Mini 5101 is just as small and light as the others, but has a rugged magnesium base and anodized aluminum display frame so that it can take a licking and bounce back for more. Based on a 10.1-inch screen, Intel Atom processor and high-performance hard drive, the system starts at $450 but weighs only 2.6 pounds.

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