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Doc Cam with a Difference


High resolution and the features that schools need don’t have to cost a couple of thousand dollars each because the latest document camera from AverMedia is a high tech bargain. The CP355 cam’s FlexArm design allows the teacher or a student to aim the camera head exactly where it needs to be while protecting the delicate electronics when it’s being stored. Capable of 720p resolution, the CP355 has a 3.2 megapixel imaging target and can zoom in 80-fold to get exactly the right shot. It costs $700.


Flu Having barely recovered from a nasty late-summer flu, I wish DiscoveryEducation had run their Webinar about influenza about a month earlier. Along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Ad Council, the Web lesson will go over how to avoid the flu this fall and winter with science about the virus and precautions that everyone should take at school. The Webinar will occur on Tuesday at 1:30 (eastern time), you should register beforehand and there are classroom activities included. After all, this is emergency preparedness month.

FREEBEE FRIDAY: The Planet Calls Home

Image3 What’s the cheapest way to see the earth from space and teach about lighter than air craft, gravity and the limits of space? How does $150 sound because that’s what three MIT students spent to outfit a digital camera and GPS cell phone with a pair of helium weather balloons to rise to the reaches of space. Called Project Icarus, the students got a detailed look at the earth from the stratosphere earlier this month and give you instructions and FAA precautions so that your class can do it as well. If you don’t want to try it yourself, they’ve posted some beautiful pictures and video of the flight of Icarus.

Curriculum Takes Flight

Birds Birds may not seem like something you need to spend much time on at school, but the Zoom Birds programs from Enchanted Learning can transform them into a multitude of lessons. There are avian lessons on evolution, migration, bird watching and even a page of bird jokes. A big bonus is a series of handout sheets for matching birds to pictures, their names in a series of foreign languages and drawings of a chick embryo developing. Birds are not the only thing that Enchanted covers. The company’s 20,000 Web pages are chock full of lesson, there’s online curriculum in areas that range from Essay Writing to Volcanoes. The service costs $20 per month or $125 per year for a school.

Save it All

StorCenter_ix4_200d_hi_328x188 With digital grade books, online curriculum and all manner of multimedia assignments, it’s no wonder that just about every school notebook hard drive is bulging with data. Small schools and departments can install external USB hard drives for teachers to stash items and back up their computers, but a centralized storage system can be more efficient and less expensive. Iomega and EMC have teamed up to produce the StorCenter ix4-200d, a network-based system capable of holding up to 8terrabytes (TB) of data. On top of dropping off and picking up files, the StorCenter can perform complete or incremental back-ups, and can even store all those video surveillance recordings that pile up. Inside the system is a Pentium processor and room for four e-SATA hard drives that can be set up to a variety of RAID levels to protect the contents from any single drive failing. A 2TB version costs $700, while 8TB of storage runs $1,900.

Key to More Desk Space

AKB-440 Sometimes even the smallest all-in-one computer doesn’t leave enough room on a school desk for a mouse, much less a spiral notebook and pencil. What about combining the keyboard with a sensitive touchpad so that there’s more space for other educational materials? That’s exactly what Adesso has done with its Slim Touch Desktop Keyboard, which at $50 is a hard sell for schools but can free up extra space in every computer-equipped classroom.

At 18- by 6.3 by 1-inch, the Slim Touch is only slightly longer than a conventional keyboard, but in addition to its standard array of 104 alphabetic, numeric and function keys, it has a handy 2.3- by 1.5-inch touch pad. The black keyboard has chrome accents and there are feet in the back that raise it by half an inch to a more comfortable typing angle. 

Even under intense typing, the keys feel good on the fingers and the spacing is just about perfect. On the downside, Adesso skimped on the 3.1-inch space bar, which is 25 percent smaller than on traditional keyboards. Despite the incorporation of silicone rubber membranes inside the keys, they are loud, which is a big factor when buying keyboards for a room full of computers. 

Akb 440UB The touchpad itself has a nice texture to it and is very responsive. I particularly like the scroll zone on the right side for zipping through a long Acrobat file or Web page. On the downside, it will feel a little cramped for teachers and those with big fingers.

As opposed to budget keyboards, the Slim Touch keyboard is well made and has a solid feel to it. It has LED lights for the traditional numeric, scroll and caps lock. The keyboard connects via a single USB cable, which is a big bonus for use with older PCs that only have three or four USB connectors. It worked fine with a USB hub and a variety of computers, old and new.

The keyboard’s basic functions work with any recent Windows PC, Mac or Linux computer. Along the top is the expected set of function keys that double as multimedia and Internet controls. There are keys for controlling volume (including a convenient mute), Play and Pause as well as email. A small download from Adesso adds extra abilities, like horizontal scrolling and zooming, but is only available for PCs. 

In a world where you can get keyboards for $15 each, why splurge on a $50 device. On top of cutting out another $15 for a budget mouse, the Slim Touch keyboard can squeeze every square inch of usable desktop space out of existing furniture, opening up room for kids and teachers to use for learning.  


     + Well-made keyboard
     + Contains touchpad with scroll zone
     + Multimedia controls

     - Small space bar
     - Expensive
     - Noisy

Data Central

HP MediaSmart Server_Image 2 I’ve seen a lot of schools trying to cope with an explosion in data with files that seem to be stashed everywhere, from notebooks and desktops to external drives and USB memory keys. HP’s EX490 and EX495 storage centers can put data in its place: on the network where it’s instantly available. Each of the connected storage centers has room for four SATA drives and has gigabit wired networking built in. Based on Microsoft’s Home Media Server software, the system can not only store and retrieve all sorts of data but can convert and serve up audio and video in the most efficient format for the way it will be used. The data can be mirrored so nothing will ever be lost and there’s a USB connector up front for using a memory key. A big bonus is that the system supports PCs as well as Macs for as close to a bottomless pit for data as I’ve come across. The $549 EX490 comes with a 1TB drive, but can hold up to about 5.5GB, while the $699 EX495 comes with a 1.5TB drive, but can hold about 6GB of data.

One Size Finally Fits All

HP MS200 All-in-One PC - front view If notebooks are too small and desktop PCs are too big, HP’s all-in-one MS214 just might be right for your school. It’s compact and the 18.5-inch wide screen’s aluminum stand can be adjusted. Inside is a 1.5GHz AMD Athlon X2 processor, 2GB of system memory, a 320GB hard drive and a Super Multi optical drive. It includes wired and wireless networking built in as well as a keyboard and mouse. 

Two That Touch Me

If you’re interested in tablets for school, the upcoming Windows 7 release will be like a breath of fresh air because the software for supporting touch-screens isw built in. Meanwhile, two recent touch-screen displays point the way for a new generation of touch-notebook but rather than wait until October 22-nd for the introduction of Microsoft’s new operating system, these can be had now with Vista or Windows XP.

LifeBook_T5010_multitouch Fujitsu’s LifeBook 5010 convertible tablet is appealing for its bright screen and ability to transform itself from a traditional keyboard-based notebook to a pen-based computer, but the addition of a dual-digitizer screen option will make it even more exciting for classrooms. The $100 option is a 13.3-inch WXGA resolution display that teachers or students can write with either an active pen or their fingertip. The cost of the 4.5-pound system with the new screen is $1,859.

FINAL-TabletTiles Meanwhile, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X200 mini-tablet has a new screen and software called SimpleTap. Like the LifeBook, it uses a dual digitizer system so that it’s just as accurate to write on the screen with a pen or a finger, but the X200 weighs just 3.5 pounds and uses a 12.1-inch screen. The X200 starts at $1,654   

Third Time’s the Charm

Linutop3-hand-frontll Hard to believe but the third generation of the Linutop Linux micro desktop PC is out and it looks like a winner to me. Priced at about $470, it is still a tiny, inexpensive desktop PC that can be screwed under a desk or attached to the back of a monitor with Velcro. The big difference is that it now has a more powerful Via C7 processor, 2GB of internal flash memory and graphics that can support up to 1,920 by 1080 resolution. It has 6 USB ports as well as a generous mix of included software and applications. The best part is that it uses only 8 watts of power, so it doesn’t need a fan and can cut a schools power bills. 

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