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FRIDAY FREEBEE: Vernier Workshops

Wrksp1 Science and math teachers looking for some new ideas on how to use Vernier’s sensors and probes can attend one of the company’s free workshops that start in early September. The four-hour classes can earn continuing education credits, help with ideas on class lessons and how to integrate data into the chemistry, biology, physics and math classroom. 

Here’s where and when the workshops will be held.
September 9: Tulsa, OK
September 10: Oklahoma City, OK
September 12: Wichita, KS
September 14:  Topeka, KS
September 14: Fort Worth, TX
September 15: Dallas, TX
September 15: Kansas City, MO
September 16: Austin, TX
September 17: San Antonio, TX
September 19: Corpus Christi, TX
September 21: Houston, TX
September 22: Lincoln, NE
September 22: Houston, TX
September 23: Omaha, NE
September 24: Des Moines, IA
September 26: Minneapolis, MN
October 1: Indianapolis, IN
October 3: Dayton, OH
October 3: Madison, WI
October 5: Columbus, OH
October 5: Milwaukee, WI
October 6: Chicago, IL
October 7: Cincinnati, OH
October 7: Chicago, IL
October 8: Lexington, KY
October 10: Charleston, WV
October 14: Grand Rapids, MI
October 15: Detroit, MI
October 17: Cleveland, OH
October 24: Pittsburgh, PA
October 24: San Jose, CA
October 26: San Francisco, CA
October 26: Erie, PA
October 27: Sacramento, CA
October 28: Buffalo, NY
October 29: Rochester, NY
November 7: Portland, ME
November 9: Portsmouth, NH
November 10: Boston, MA
November 12: Worcester, MA
November 14: Providence, RI  

The School Music Player

Califone_MP3_Player If Apple sells an iPod stocked with nursery rhymes and kids songs, I haven’t heard about it, but Califone’s MP3 player now has these items already loaded on them. The digital music player includes material from Twin Sisters Productions, including songs about phonics, speech, nursery rhymes and an album about sea life. The device costs $161 or $273 with four headphones and a hard case. 

Wide-View Eye on Your School

VB-C500D If your school’s video surveillance system just misses vandalism or theft, Canon’s VB-C500D can take in an 82-degree field of view, enarly double the typical 42-degree field of view. The mini dome camera blends into a wall or ceiling, connects with Ethernet wiring and can get a good image with as little as 0.2lux of light. The camera can create 640 by 480 images, has motion detection electronics built in for automatic taping of intruders and can be installed indoors or out. The camera costs about $600.

Picture Perfect

Gp8-inset When does a camera tripod not have three rigid legs that can be extended for a variety of heights? When it’s one of Joby’s GorillaPod camera stands. These unique camera holders use bendable legs so that students and teachers can set up cameras in places that traditional tripods can’t.

GorillaPods are available in four sizes, from the Original, which is perfect for point and shoot cameras up to 11.5 ounces to the much larger Focus that can work with 11 pound cameras, lights and gear. The price ranges from $25 to $110, and can be used anywhere, indoors or out. 

The key is that each GorillaPod has a trio of segmented legs that are flexible and rotate 360 degrees into a wide variety of shapes and positions, but can still hold delicate cameras securely. On the downside, at over a pound, the Focus model can be a lot of lug around in a classroom or on field trips. It is surprisingly good for other uses, like mounting a projector or elevating a science demonstration so that everyone can see.

Not enough room to set up three legs? Try wrapping one around the edge of the table or try twisting it onto a tree branch for the exact shot you’re looking for. All GorillaPods have soft rubber feet, a ¼-inch threaded screw for attaching a camera, and the Focus model that I looked at also includes a 3/8-inch adapter for using professional equipment. The company sells a variety of accessories for GorillaPods, including a flash card holder, a bubble level and spikes for stabilizing the device in dirt or ice.

I used the Focus stand with a point and shoot, digital SLR and a video camcorder to take all sorts of pictures and videos that a tripod could not help with.  I set it upit in a variety of ways, ranging from the back of a chair and a window sill to the dashboard of a car and over a steel fence. When I encountered a situation where the Focus legs were too long, I bent them over. Unfortunately, the GorillaPod isn’t as useful when a long-legged tripod is needed, such as for a class portrait, but putting it on a table works just as well.

Gp8-horizontal About the only devices that Focus can’t handle are cell phones because they don’t have mounting screws. The company does sell a small GoGo model for $30 that has a suction cup for attaching everything from a cell phone to an iPod. 

With mini tripods selling for less than $20, the Focus’s $110 price tag is quite high, but it’s more than worth it because it can help kids and teachers get the shot. The bottom line is that at least one of these camera stands needs to be in every classroom and art room that works with digital cameras.


     + Stable tripod
     + Flexible legs
     + ¼-inch and 3/8-inch mounting screw

      - Not long enough for portraits
     - Heavy
     - Expensive

Interactive Board on the Go

Conen1 For most schools, the missing element for interactive white boards has been portability. Sure, they can help bring lessons to life for a class, but only if it’s in front of them. Enter Conen’s Board of the Future, which can roll from room to room on wheels so that it can do double duty. The key is that the projector and screen move up and down in tandem, keeping the projector calibrated so that it doesn’t take too long to get it in position and started. Once it’s set up, just plug it in and teach. It works with either a Sanyo XL50 or Hitachi ED-A100 short throw projector and can slide up and down to accommodate tall and short students. The board can be ordered with hinged doors and a shelf for a computer.

Lights, Camera, Action

Q3_front_angle Schools that thought that they couldn’t afford to outfit classrooms with video cameras are thinking too big. A new generation of tiny handheld camcorders can create mini-movies that are perfect for playing on everything from computers and iPods to classroom projectors. The latest is Zoom’s Q3 Handy Video Recorder, which can capture high quality audio and video on a Secure Digital flash card and play it on a TV or computer; a 32GB card can hold 16 hours of clips. The Q3 can frame the action and playback video on its 2.4-inch screen and requires a pair of AA batteries. The Q3 sells for $249.

Serious Hardware

Eb14RY-1 Notebooks and especially the latest netbooks just haven’t been built for the daily abuse they’ll get at a school. Failures of screens, hard drives and mechanical things like the case are the result, which adds to the cost of outfitting students and teachers with notebooks. EarthWalk’s eBuddy 14RY is a good alternative with a shock-mounted screen and hard drive as well as magnesium case, reinforced hinges and rubberized corner bumpers. The 6-pound system is built around an Intel Celeron, Core Duo and Core 2 Duo processer, 14-inch screen and up to a 320GB hard drive.

FREEBEE FRIDAY: Instant Science Curriculum

Golden K Star If you’re looking for software to help teach everything from graphing to atomic weight, but don’t have a budget to buy it, Golden K Star has a variety of math, chemistry and physics programs that are available for free download. The 3.5MB file contains 9 Genius Maker mini-apps that range from curve fitting and resolving matrices to the refraction of light and molecular weight along with 25 trial programs for other subjects. Created by various institutes and universities across India, all the apps are interactive and guaranteed to grab the imagination of young scientists, but the software wants to run at either 800 by 600 or 1,024 by 768 resolution.

Put it in Motion

Edumedia Why use static images or hand drawn images for teaching science when you can use mini animation sequences to show how things actually work. EduMedia has hundreds of interactive clips that show everything from how Tsunamis happen and how CAT scans work to the different geometric figures. Each has an age range and are just as good for students to work with individually as when shown to the class with a projector or large screen monitor. There’s a free trial to try it out, and the system sells for $5 per month for an individual to $400 for a year-long subscription for an entire middle or high school.

The Calculator that Tests

Coverphotofinal2003 With calculators of all sizes and abilities filtering into math classrooms, why not get one that can interactively test whether kids have mastered their math facts? That’s exactly what FlashMaster does, and at $50 each, they’re an inexpensive technology that most schools can afford. About the size of a portable game machine, the 11-ounce FlashMaster is appropriate for second through sixth grades and can test kids on adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. Each math problem comes up on the unit’s small screen and kids answer it with keys along the bottom. About the only thing it can’t help with is word problems.


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