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1 to 1 Computing Plus 4

As many schools strive to deliver on the promise of one-to-one computing, some are discovering that they really don’t need to have a computer for each student. Don’t worry, every kid gets access to a screen, keyboard and the ability to go to Web sites, play educational games and work with whatever application they need to. The difference is that a small group of students share a powerful, yet inexpensive, desktop PC. 

Recently, I saw two different methods of stretching your school’s IT dollars by virtualizing classroom computing resources. With an inexpensive quad-core desktop or tower PC, these systems can go further by sharing the system’s resources, saving thousands of dollars per class. 

Fiddlehead 3 Based on Containerized Operating system for Multiple Operators System (COSMOS), Fiddlehead uses a special graphics card and software to share a quad-core desktop PC among four students. Each workstation has access to the host’s optical drive, USB ports, streaming video and the Web, but can save as much as 60 percent on equipment and 70 percent on electricity costs. The system works with Windows XP and Vista and costs $800 for a 4-student kit, but displays, keyboards and mice are extra. 

X550_kit_product_shot By contrast, nComputing’s X550 kit uses standard networking cables to connect as many as five clients to a PC. The package includes a card for the host computer, a connection box for each workstation as well as all the software needed. It works with either Windows or Linux, but like the Fiddlehead system, screens, keyboards and mice are extra. It costs $400 for five virtual systems and can cut hardware costs up to 70 percent for a computer lab, classroom or library. 

If having an external connection box is too complicated for you to consider, LG has 17- and 19-inch monitors that has the connection hardware built in for an X550 system, making it neater and easier to use nComputing’s technology. 

Ready for My Close-Up

Kena_DigitalMicroscope_1 A good digital microscope can turn a boring science lesson into an interactive journey with kids investigating anything from the surface of tree bark to a strand of hair. With the ability to zoom-in from 20X to 100X magnification, Ken-a-vision’s Kena USB digital microscope can display a 640 by 480 image that’s perfect for most projectors. It has a built in LED light, is powered by a USB cable and can be detached from its base for mobile investigations. It comes with software for PC, Mac and Linux machines, and sells for $289.

Teaching the Teachers

Public school works Few schools and districts can stay on top of teacher and employee training when the prime concern is to instruct children. PublicSchoolWORKS can integrate a series of training courses into the development of employees by tracking who takes which of the 150 online courses available. The titles range from preventing bullying and conflict de-escalation to cyber safety and head lice; more are on the way.


FRIDAY FREEBEE: Preventing Drop-Outs

Hechinger Why do some schools, districts or states produce more drop-outs than others? A new Webinar sponsored by the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College at 1:30 P.M. on July 22 will attempt to answer the question. It’s astounding but 17 states – less than one-third of the total – are responsible for 70-percent of high school drop-outs. The program, which features Robert Balfanz of the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University and Adria Steinberg of Jobs for the Future will update the situation, and talk about what can be done to reverse these dangerous trends. You can apply to participate online.


We choose the moon Buckle up, put on your space suit and get ready for a trip to the moon. On the 40-th anniversary of Apollo 11’s trip to the moon, the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum has put together an interactive journey that includes the spaceship’s trip and the first walks on the moon. With the use of 3-D models, archival footage and a map showing the journey’s progress, We Choose the Moon is the next best thing to actually going to the moon. Don’t forget to bring your helmet. When you return to earth, check out NASA’s celebration events.


Mini Workshop

Dateien_80 Few schools have the money, staff and space to equip a full woodshop, but why not downsize it rather than eliminate it. That’s the idea behind The Cool Tool, a set of miniature woodworking tools that can give kids creativity an outlet while teaching them skills. Check out the video of it in use. There are saws, drills, lathes, milling machines and more, and there’s an advanced set of numerical control tools that can teach computer programming. The tools are safer than the full-size variety and sell for between $80 and $2,500.

Curriculum for the Real World

Teachscape video In a perfect world, a school or district’s curriculum would be coordinated with its curriculum maps, online content and professional development program. Too bad most schools don’t get this far, but TeachScape XL’s learning platform does it all. With tools for assessing student performance and aligning curriculum, TeachScape has programs for early childhood development, English, Literacy, math, new teacher support and elementary school science. Check out this video of the material in use. The program has 50,000 users and it costs $2,500 per year per building


Small Tablet That’s Big on Value

Pivot c If conventional Tablet PCs are what you’d like to build a digital curriculum around but they are too big and expensive, a mini-tablet just might be just right. Priced at $600, PeeWee PC’s Pivot Tablet Laptop is perfect for small hands and comes with an extraordinarily rich assortment of features and software, making it a classroom bargain.

Size matters, particularly with small children, and the Pivot is one-third smaller and weighs half as much as conventional tablets. In fact, at 3 pounds, it’s on a par with the current generation of netbooks. With its small AC adapter, the Pivot weighs 3.8 pounds.

The white and gray system is an Intel Classmate under the skin. Its flexible carrying handle means that it doesn’t have to travel inside a bag or backpack. Pivot can be personalized for each school or student with a name tag that’s built into the handle. If the handle gets in the way, it can be removed with four small screws. 

As a convertible tablet, Pivot easily goes from a traditional keyboard-based notebook to a pen-centric tablet by twisting the screen and folding it flat. On the downside, the 8.9-inch display doesn’t lock into place and the screen is recessed below the surrounding bezel, which can make writing awkward.

Pivot b The square stylus has a convenient storage place in the side of the case and a hole for a tether so it won’t get lost. Rather than using an electromagnetic touch-screen, which requires a special electronic pen, the Pivot’s resistive touch-screen can be activated with a finger or pencil point. It’s responsive and comfortable to use, regardless of whether the system is held horizontally or vertically and is just as good for drawing a map of Europe as for scribbling notes during a class.

A big step forward for budget tablets is that inside is an accelerometer that automatically changes the screen orientation as the machine is rotated. It’s the closest thing to computer magic, and generally works well, although sometimes it misses.

While the screen and pen get a lot of attention, the keyboard is a dream come true for schools. It’s been designed to stand up to small spills but its 16mm keys are just right for elementary and middle schoolers. They will prove to be too small for teachers and many high-school students, however.

The rest of the system is no slouch either with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, 60GB hard drive and 1GB of RAM, but no optical drive. Its assortment of ports is adequate with a pair of USB, external monitor, microphone, headphone and a SecureDigital flash card reader.

Communications shouldn’t be a problem with both wired Ethernet and wireless 802.11b, g and n WiFi networking that has a range of 95-feet, plenty for even the largest classroom. Above the screen is a 1.3 megapixel Web cam that takes surprisingly good photos and rotates 180-degrees.

It all adds up to a system that performs well with a variety of school software. On Passmark’s Performance 7.0 benchmark, the Pivot scored a 229.9, putting it on a par with many netbooks, but its 7,200 milli-amp hour battery pack ran for 4 and a half hours of use. This allows kids to leave the AC charger at home.

Pivot a While many notebooks provide software that kids will rarely – if ever – use, Pivot comes with the best mix of educational programs. On top of Windows XP Home, Works 9, Art Rage and a variety of utilities, each system comes with a range of age-appropriate titles and themes that replace the standard Microsoft ones. It does lack Microsoft’s OneNote program, which is included on more expensive tablets.

The Pivot comes with a 1-year warranty, but rather than being a delicate device, it more rugged and has been designed to stand up to the daily abuse that school-children mete out. In other words, the Pivot should fit right into any classroom.

PeeWee PC Pivot

     + Small and light tablet
     + Responsive pen
     + Good performance and excellent battery life
     + Software
     + Handle with name tag

     - No screen latch
     - Screen is below surface of case

Sound Off

Speaker_System_Z520_front_hi Thanks to ingenious design computer speakers don’t have to take up a lot of space to sound good. Today, Logitech is introducing its Z520 speaker set that at 6.5- by 4.8- by 9.1-inches is small and can fit on a desk, yet radiates accurate audio all around. The $130 system has a 26-watt amplifier to deliver the full range of sound, has a headphone jack and includes a 2-year warranty.


Power Projector

PL_Pro_Z8000WU_Right[1] When 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 or even 5,000 lumens of light isn’t enough, Epson’s PowerLite Pro Z8000WUNL can do the trick by blasting an image onto the screen. Capable of delivering 6,000 lumens, it is one of the brightest projectors available and is just as good for an auditorium, cafeteria or a lecture hall. Using three tiny LCD panels, it creates a 1,920 by 1,200 image at an astounding 5,000:1 contrast ratio. In other words, it can deliver a presentation that doesn’t get washed out, no matter how bright a day it is. For those who have to install the Z8000WUNL in odd places, it can be set up to 30-degrees off center and still create a rectangular image.

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