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ESL on the Cheap

Castles and things One of the first things that get the axe during tight budget years is teaching English as a second language, but there are free ESL resources that can help non-native speakers to learn English. Daisy and George Stocker’s “Castles and Things” is a good start. It has lessons that incorporate fill ins, coloring and pointing practice. At the end of the 10-page book is a rhyming review. On top of lessons for kids to work through, there are notes and tips for teachers. This book is free but others sell for $15 each.


Touch Me

MSI_Wind_Top_AE2220_All_in_One_PC[1] Any teacher who’s used a touch-screen computer to teach with never wants to go back to a mouse.MSI Computer makes it economical and easy to let your fingers do the teaching with its Wind Top AE2200 computer, which has a touch-sensitive 21.5-inch display. Even with an Intel Core 2 Duo or Pentium Dual Core processor and NVidia Ion graphics, the AE2200 comes with Windows 7 and sells for $750. If your finger gets tired, the AE200 comes with a mouse.

FREEBEE FRIDAY: Instant Videos

Watchknow One of the big disappointments of today’s digital technology has nothing to do with what the equipment is capable of but what teachers and students can do with them. This is particularly the case when it comes to classroom videos with a dearth of quality mini-movies that can help teach a lesson or illustrate a concept.Watchknow.org is a great resource for teachers with 11,000 videos in 2,000 categories available; its goal is 50,000 videos by next year. Developed by Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, Watchknow is for pre-schoolers to high-schoolers with tons of vids from National Geographic, YouTube and Google. 

FREEBEE FRIDAY: Right Way to Write

Penmanship Penmanship is not something that’s emphasized these days in schools, but thre’s an easy and inexpensive way to help kids write better. About.com’s teacher font page has 9 different fonts that can help kids write the right way. There are cursive fonts as well as those for straight or slanted letters. Some of the fonts are for tracing over and others have horizontal guidelines to help correctly form the letter.


Right Display, Right Price

TruLED_VF551XVT_front_5inch (1) If the projector in your class gets washed out by sunlight or the room’s overhead lights, think about using a big – make that a really big – TV. Vizio’s latest effort, the VF551XVT is about as perfect a classroom monitor and TV as I’ve seen. Despite having every technological advance, at $2,000 it is one of the least expensive for its size.

At 51.5- by 33.9- by 5-inches, the black and silver VF551XVT is about as big as a TV gets these days. Plan on having a few people around to unpack and install it so it doesn’t get accidentally dropped and make sure the wall mounting hardware you’re using can handle its 86-pound heft.

With 54.5-inches of viewing space available, it can’t compete with any budget classroom projector on image size or price, but it is the brightest display I’ve ever seen. It has 80 blocks of 12 backlight LEDs behind the LCD panel that pump out the lumens and keeps it from being overwhelmed by overhead lights or sunlight. These LEDs can be automatically dimmed in groups of 12 to suit the programming so that the display’s black and grayscale levels are nothing short of excellent.

The screen displays everything from the traditional interlaced 640-by-480 resolution programming through standard PC and Mac resolutions all the way to 1,920 by 1,080 resolution and full high-definition programming. Regardless of whether it’s showing an online game, a Discovery channel show about NASA or a Blu-ray nature movie disc, the VF551XVT looks great with incredible sharpness and excellent color balance.

Its 240-hertz imaging engine delivers smooth motion but, there are several lighted icons in the lower left corner that tout its tech credentials. Happily, they can be turned off.

Vur8m_1_2(1) As good as it is, the VF551XVT can be difficult to adjust. It’s partly the result of the fact that there’s so much to adjust, but it’s also because the small bar of items on the left of the screen that are controlled by the remote control make it a tad awkward. Even worse, while I like that the remote control is backlit, it is as complex as a new cell phone and takes some getting used to and studying.

Sound is high tech as well with SRS Surround Sound and Tru Volume, which keeps the audio level at roughly the same level. The TV has stereo speakers built into the silver bar below the screen that get loud enough for most classroom uses. If that’s not enough, Vizio has two different stand-alone speaker sets that sell for $200 and $350.

With a combined digital and analog TV tuner, the set can tune in local programming via an antenna or cable box, although it lacks a slot for a Cable card. Its tuning was sharp and reliable, but be warned that it takes 7 seconds to start the set up and 6 seconds to change channels, more than enough time for the class to get fidgety in the digital age.

The VF551XVT is connection city with more than enough audio visual jacks to satisfy even the most demanding teacher or IT coordinator. The back panel has 4 HDMI, Component, S- and Composite video as well as an antenna connector as well as digital and analog audio. The side panel adds another HDMI connector along with a Component and Composite Video jack and a USB slot for playing MPEGs, MP3s or JPEGs.

TruLED_VF551XVT_angled_5inch (1) Not only is the VF551XVT an exceptional performer but it can save on power as well. It consumes 142-watts when it’s in use, less than what the typical 42-inch set consumes, and will cost an estimated $10.53 for 4 hours of use a day during the school year, a 50-percent savings compared to a 47-inch display.

At a time when most districts are scrapping for funds to pay for the basics, it’s hard to believe that they can afford a high-end TV-monitor for classrooms, but the Vizio VF551XVT is priced $800 less than a comparable LG set and over $1,000 less than a similar Samsung set. This makes it as close to a high tech bargain as it gets today.

Vizio VF551XVT

+ Huge screen
+ Very bright with excellent color
+ Low power use
+ Variety of connections
+ Excellent price

- Physically large and heavy
- Complicated remote control
- Less viewable space than typical projector

Smarts Without the Board

LiteBoard_Projector_00 When I saw InFocus’s IN3900 family of projectors at this summer’s NECC education technology show, I thought it was a winner that could simplify the classroom while saving a few bucks. Well, it’s ready for the classroom and is now on sale. It’s the first of an expected family of projectors that have the capabilities of the company’s LiteBoard interactive board built-in. With its special wand, students or teachers can mark-up sentences, circle items and even draw onLiteBoard_Wand_00 the screen – all without a special board. Just write on a screen or even a wall with the wand and it is projected. The IN3902 and IN3904 produce an XGA and WXGA image, puts 3,000 lumens of light on screen, has WiFi built in and can project items that are on a memory key. The projectors come with a five year warranty. Look for a full review in the coming weeks.

Which Computers Will Break First?

Square trade 3 year malfunction graph I really don’t know, but SquareTrade does offer a few hints. The company provides extended warranties on PCs and has released an analysis of 30,000 computers. It can make for depressing reading but nearly one in three notebooks suffer a failure in the first three years of use and the most common cause was not accident (11 percent) but hardware failures (20 percent). SquareTrade’s data shows that netbooks and budget notebooks fail more often than more expensive premium systems – no surprise, but the big eye-opener was that Asus did best while HP did worst. It's available as a free download


Short Throw Preview

Epson_450w-460_image Small classrooms are hard to outfit with traditional projectors that need to be 15- or 20-feet from the screen to make an image large enough for the whole class to see. That’s where short-throw projectors, like Epson’s new PowerLite 450W and 460 come in. They have 2,500- and 3,000 lumens of light at their disposal and can be mounted only 18-inches away from the screen to get a 5-foot image. The PowerLite 450W and 460 sell for $1,500 and $1,700 and should be on sale by roughly February, 2010. 

FREEBEE FRIDAY: Kindle for the Classroom

Kindle leonardo book Don’t have major-league bucks to get a Kindle ebook reader for every student? How about the next best thing? Amazon now has a PC application that does the same thing on a desktop or notebook computer. It’s still a developmental beta and takes a few minutes to load the program, but the software faithfully renders the book on the screen, images and all.
It does everything the Kindle ebook read does, including going forward and backwards, adding bookmarks, adjusting the font size as well as highlighting and annotating the text. It also does something the Kindle can’t: show the book in full color. Unfortunately, the software is restricted to PCs only at the moment, but Amazon is working on a Mac version as well. And – you guessed it – it’ll be free.

FREEBEE FRIDAY: A Whole New Office

Office 2010 Still using Office 97 or 2001? A lot of schools sat out the last upgrade cycle and are using older software with Windows XP. Microsoft is working on Office 2010, and you can use the Beta version for free until the software is released sometime next year. The single download includes everything from Access to Word and there are separate downloads for Visio 2010 and Project 2010. On top of new photo editing tools, Office 2010 includes ways to collaborate as well as a way to send and view a PowerPoint presentation over the Internet in a Web browser.


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