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Hear Every Sound

Calypso_WCM-RF_Audio_System Classrooms can now be outfitted with a sophisticated sound system that doesn’t require the expense of running audio cables with Calypso’s WMC-RF Audio Systems. The system combines a digital radio frequency sound system with an infrared control to deliver clear and rich sound that’s always at the right volume. The system is smart enough to turn itself off when the teacher goes into the hallway for a private discussion and costs $1,000 with school discounts available. 

Notebooks that Stay Put

64576_redlock As soon as a school buys a bunch of notebooks, the first thing they usually discover is how easy it is for people to steal them. Kensington’s ComboSaver cable lock can help notebooks from walking out the door. At $25, it’s an inexpensive way to protect notebooks, projectors and other digital gear. It has a coiled 6-foot long plastic coated steel cable that locks onto a device’s Kensington Security Slot. The four-number lock can be opened with a unique combination, and if that gets forgotten, Kensington can recover it for you. It comes with a lifetime warranty.

Making a Good Calculator Better

CAS-2 The Texas Instruments TI-Nspire calculators may be the most advanced graphing calculators for math and science classes, but they’re about to get better with a software upgrade. The free program raises the handhelds to version 1.7, which adds a bunch of abilities. On top of being able to customize when the system goes into battery-saving sleep mode, the latest software has application hints that can help teach how to use the calculators. The systems can now create a variety of statistical graphs, students can view data and plots side by side and they can now work with conical sections. The download is 7.8MB.

Sound from Above

Califone_ClearSound_Speaker When it comes to classroom audio, there’s nothing that compares with speakers that are mounted flush in the ceiling for sound quality, but it can be expensive to install. Califone has a new approach that can make installation of its ClearSound speakers quicker, easier and more budget-friendly. The kit comes with an adjustable steel frame that fits perfectly into drop ceilings and is UL fire rated. Each unit has a 6-inch woofer and a 1-inch tweeter for accurate audio reproduction.

Singing Better Grades

Chorus It may have something to do with the new TV shoe “Glee,” but a recent study by Chorus America shows that members of a school singing group do better in school and have better social skills. According to the survey, 70 percent of choral parents say their child has greater self control and discipline as well as improved memory. Meanwhile, 9 out of 10 teachers add that chorus can help at-risk students stay in school and keep them engaged. The study was paid for by the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, The McKnight Foundation and The National Endowment for the Arts.

Teach Without Wires

PLC-XU355_web-26988600 I’ve found that the best teachers just can’t sit still. One moment they’re helping a child write a sentence, the next highlighting equations on the board or showing the class where France’s Maginot line was. Frankly, wires and cables just get in the way and slow a good teacher down, which is why the best digital classrooms combine wireless connections with notebooks and projectors.

Sanyo’s PLC-X305 projector makes putting what’s on a teacher’s notebook on the big screen about as easy as plugging in a memory key. The center of attention is Sanyo’s Auto Capture key and Network Capture software that has all the configuration information needed to make a wireless connection with the projector. It works first time, every time.

Rather than fussing with IP addresses, network names and encryption keys, just plug the key into any recent PC or Mac and run the software. After that, in less than a minute the computer starts broadcasting what’s on screen right to the PLC-X305 projector over a secure peer-to-peer connection. With an Acer Aspire One netbook, the projector had a 75 foot range, more than enough to roam around the typical classroom.

The image looks great and appears no different from when the projector and notebook are connected with a VGA cable. The video quality and controlling the pointer are smooth until you get about 15 feet away from the projector when the response gets choppy. Of more concern is that the wireless link uses the system’s WiFi radio precludes using the notebook to wirelessly connect to the school’s servers or the Internet.

Plcxu305 remote The rest of the PLC-XU305 is no slouch either, and is arguably the best rounded school projector on the market today. Its trio of .63-inch LCD panels creates a vivid and rich 1,024 by 768 pixel image in a traditional 4:3 aspect ratio. It works equally well for widescreen material, like DVDs and the latest notebooks.

At 6.5 pounds, the projector can be carried from room to room as needed, put on a cart or ceiling mounted. I really like that schools can set up the projectors to require a password to start up and display a school logo or other image during its start-up. One thing is for sure, it’s not the quickest to warm up and cool down, with the PLC-XU305 taking 36 seconds to get going and an interminable 1 minute 32 seconds to shut down. On the other hand, the projector can be silenced immediately by pulling out its plug.

With a 1.6:1 optical zoom and automatic keystone correction, the PLC-XU305 can fill just about any screen, but its focus ring is too close to housing for the lens cap, making adjustments awkward. Rated at 3,000 lumens of brightness, I measured its output at 2,983 lumens with excellent uniformity from corner to corner. In other words it can support a lights-on lesson with the blinds up on all but the brightest days. On the downside, pure white has a slight blue cast to it and its dark greens look yellow.

Sanyo back The projector has a great assortment of ports with VGA, DVI, Composite video and S-Video plugs. It can connect with another projector or big screen monitor but lacks the latest an HDMI outlet.

For teachers who have trouble managing team presentations by students, the PLC-XU305 can lift images off of its Auto Capture memory key. Kids can transfer their work to the memory key, plug it into the projector and display their work in less than a minute. Unfortunately, it only shows .jpeg images, so PowerPoint presentations need to be converted.

A big bonus is the projector’s remote control, easily the best remote on the market. On top of having a built-in laser pointer, the remote can add a highlighted zone to the screen, freeze the action or blank the screen. It can digitally zoom in for close ups and page back and forth during a digital lesson.

Plc-xu305 highlight While the PLC-XU305 has a list price of $2,400, if you shop around you find it online for about $1,800. It comes with a 3-year warranty, but the projector’s bulb is covered for only 90-days and a replacement costs $500. The projector’s estimated annual power costs is high at $270. 

The big pay-off is that because its wireless connection works well and is easy to use, schools can forgo running video cables from the teacher’s desk or podium to the projector, saving hundreds of dollars per classroom, more for older buildings. The PLC-XU305 is a winner of a projector that can transform any classroom.

Sanyo PLC-X305

     + Easiest wireless set up 
     + Good wireless range
     + Very bright and rich image
     + Highlights portion of screen
     + Best remote

     - Expensive replacement bulb
     - Can’t use Web and wireless projector link at once
     - Hard to get to focus ring

Tomorrow’s Teaching Tech

Committee on Education and Labor What will we be teaching with in a decade or two? It’s anybody’s guess but the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing on how classroom technology is changing what we teach and how. The participants included:

Scott Kinney, Vice President of Outreach and Professional Development for Discovery Education. 

Jennifer Bergland, Chief Technology Office, Bryan Independent School District, Bryan, Texas

Aneesh Chopra$, Chief Technology Officer, White House Office for Science and Technology

Dr. Wayne Hartschuh, Executive Director, Delaware Center for Educational Technology, Dover, Delaware

John McAuliffe, General Manager, Educate Online Learning, LLC, Baltimore, Maryland

Abel Real, a student at East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina

Lisa Short, a science teacher at Gaithersburg Middle School, Gaithersburg, Maryland



Right Write

Pulse_white_bkg The pen and paper will seem so 20-th century when teachers and students get their hands onLiveScribe Pulse Smart Pen. It’s a modern marvel that not only remembers whatever is written, but captures sounds as well. It’s a little larger and heavier than the typical pen, is powered by a rechargeable battery and requires special paper that has tiny dots on it. Anything that’s written is captured by the pen’s built-in infrared camera and anything that’s said is recorded on the pen’s flash memory. The key is that LiveScribe’s software puts the two together so that everything from interactive research to department meetings get saved. In the hands of students, it can transform the classroom. With 1- or 2GB of memory, the Pulse sells for $150 or $200.

Instant School Calendar

HTML caldenar maker Pro For schools that haven’t yet put their calendars online, it’s an efficient way to make sure everyone’s schedule is on the same page. HTML Calendar Maker Pro can help do it without needing a degree in programming by creating a customizable monthly online grid calendar that takes minutes to make. You can not only pick your favorite fonts and school colors but add links for things like field trip permission slips and directions to the athletic fields. While other programs of this type can cost a school upwards of $300, HTML Calendar Maker Pro costs $27 for a single copy or as little as $19 each for 30 or more copies. There are versions for PCs and Macs.

Desk that Hides Cables

BL_StudioDesk_STR10 Without a doubt, classroom computers come with lots of cables for data, power, audio and who knows what. The traditional school desk hasn’t kept up, resulting in a messy and potentially dangerous situation with wires hanging everywhere. BlueLounge’s StudioDesk has a cool hidden area under the desktop for hiding small peripherals and cables. It slides open so that teachers and tech staff can gear and slide it shut when ready for school. The $600 desk measures 27.5- by 47- by 25-inches high.

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