Face it, every school runs on paper, but those districts daring enough to try to replace paperwork with online forms have had to jump among several different programs to make it work. Designing a form, building a database behind it, figuring out how to get it online and making it secure enough for the real world all require separate and often contradictory programs and services. With FormStack, schools can set up everything from job applications and class registration to parental surveys and setting up extracurricular activities with a single online service.
With the power to create a variety of forms from the simple to the complicated, FormSpring can change how a school or district works, and do it with less paper wasted, saving money and a few trees along the way. Take the City of Dublin, Ohio Schools as an example. The district uses FormSpring for its 19 schools, including setting up job training for teachers and registering students for a summer job fair. According to Doug Baker, the district’s Coordinator of Public Information, FormSpring has saved the district a lot of money and allowed it to work quicker. “It takes about 2-days to create a paper form, print it and distribute,” he says. “With FormSpring I can do it in about 15 minutes.”
In addition to pre-built forms for typical activities, like for parent contact info, you can start with a blank page and custom design your own. The key is that you don’t need to be a programmer to do it. Just drop in fields for things like name, email address and so on. Then, you save it and copy a link to send it out as an email or embed it onto the schools Web site. At any time, you can log on to see individual responses or a summary of the data.
The service has recently added the ability to build charts and graphs of results internally, so you don’t have to drop the data into Excel to see it visually. Plus, FormSpring now allows users to save items as .pdf Acrobat files. The service can be tried out for free but schools will probably want to get the Business version, which provides the ability to create 100 different forms with unlimited fields and 2GB of online storage costs $60 a month. An unlimited version of FormSpring costs $160 a month. The only thing left is what to do with all those old file cabinets that aren’t needed anymore.
Editor's note: FormSpring has been renamed FormStack.
Music today goes beyond the piano, saxophone and glee club, and Radica’s Ucreate Music machine can turn loops and samples into beautiful music. The small device sells for $35 and lets kids (and music teachers) mix and match various pieces of digital music, distort it, mix it and add a voice track. It can create final works that are up to 85 seconds long that can be saved to a PC via a USB cable, and the company offers a good assortment of samples online.
I’ve found that the music classes that veer off from traditional orchestral and band pieces are the most successful these days. Beat Kangz Electronics Beat Thang Virtual can help provide a steady background to a variety of music projects. The system comes with 3,000 professionally recorded samples, the ability to add your own and high-end electronics for editing and customizing the sound. For example, a project can start with a snare drum that you add reverb and delay to, followed by changing the pitch and adding the scratchy sound of an old record. Anything created can be saved as a .wav file for playing for the class or later use. The software works on either a PC or Mac and costs $149.
Teaching young learners or those with disabilities to write without stopping to correct everything can be the difference between frustration and a completed essay. Ginger Software follows along with kids, watching what they’ve typed and behind the scenes making changes in grammar, word choice and spelling. On top of Word, the program now works in Internet Explorer so it’s the perfect add-on for online blogs and forums. Without the student ever knowing he or she’s being watched, teachers can keep track of their progress with reports that look at the frequency of errors. The software sells for $145 for three systems or as little as $1 per computer with a district-wide license. There’s a free trial available.
Any teacher who’s wrestled with getting a DVD player and projector to play nice with each other will appreciate Epson’s PowerLite Presenter. Priced at $808 through Epson’s Brighter Futures educational buying program, the device combines a powerful projector with a DVD drive and other technological goodies, but is bulky and the remote control lacks a pointer.
Compared to the latest round of classroom projectors, the Presenter is huge and heavy at 5.4- by 13.2 by 9.4-inches and 9.5 pounds. It’s a good thing it has a fold-out handle and comes with a soft cloth bag for carrying between classrooms. On the other hand, the handle on the unit I looked at had an annoying squeak.
With a three-LCD imaging engine inside and 200 watt bulb, the Presenter can put 1,280 by 800 resolution images on a screen, 24 percent more pixels than the current classroom-standard XGA projector. It can create images from 33-inches to 26.5-feet and project everything from the traditional 4:3 aspect ratio of a computer screen to 16:10 for movies. It’s by no means a short-throw projector, but it can fill a 90-inch screen from five-feet away.
The DVD player works with both off-the-shelf discs and those created on a PC, but can’t play Blu-ray content, which is a shame considering the projector’s high-definition hardware and pretensions. All you do is put the disc into the slot and let the projector grab it. The content is then played.
On top of playing DVDs directly, the Presenter has the expected jacks for connecting to a computer, Composite- and Component-Video sources. It has the bonus of being able to play a high definition video and audio source with an HDMI cable. There’s also a USB slot for use with a memory key, but it only plays images, video and music, and not Acrobat .pdf files.
It’s one of the first projectors that has an ambient light sensor and can adjust its brightness to suit the room’s lighting. It takes a few seconds to adjust and works only in Automatic mode. The projector also has settings for Dynamic, Presentation, Theatre and Blackboard.
With a pair of adjustable front feet up front for aiming the projector, it has automatic keystone correction so that it always delivers a rectangular image. It, however, lacks hardware underneath for mounting the projector on the ceiling. This is fine because if it were set up out of reach, the teacher would be able to use the DVD player.
The controls are easy to figure out and changing the air filter or lamp is easy, taking only a minute or two. In a world where the first thing that occurs in a projector’s school career is that the lens cap is lost, I love the slide open and close lens cover that the Presenter has. Be careful, though, if the lens-cover lever isn’t all the way open, the projector will not start. Behind it are well designed levers for the 1.2X zoom and focus.
A big step forward for soft-spoken teachers in large rooms is that the Presenter has a pair of speakers, a pair of 10-watt amplifiers, virtual surround sound and the ability to turn it into a public address system by plugging in a microphone. It can’t compete with a bullhorn, but is great for doing a voice-over with a slide show or video in a classroom, auditorium or cafeteria.
Those tired of fumbling with remote controls for a DVD player and projector can rest easily because the Presenter consolidates them into one mid-sized device. Its buttons are neither backlit nor does the device have a laser pointer or the ability to highlight an area of the screen, as the Sanyo PLC-X305 can do
In two weeks of daily use, the Presenter acquitted itself well, was easy to transport and set up quickly. The projector was up and running 32 seconds after turning it on and it takes about 5 minutes to get to full brightness. It’s rated at 2,500 lumens, but I was only able to get 2,349 lumens from it, although for most rooms, this should be more than enough. Its colors are rich and well saturated and its focus is exceptionally consistent across the screen, although the left side of my test unit had a slight blue tinge to it.
The Presenter uses 262 watts of power when fully warmed up and has a $160 replacement lamp that is rated for 4,000 hours of use. This translates into a reasonable operating cost of about 7 cents per hour of use or just under $100 a year if it’s used for six hours a day during the school year.
All told, the Presenter is a one-of-a-kind teaching aid that combines everything a digital classroom needs: an inexpensive, innovative projector that can simplify the integration of digital content into the classroom.
Epson PowerLite Presenter
+ Built-in DVD player and PA system
+ Plays USB material
+ High resolution
+ Fold-out handle and bag
- Bulky and heavy
- No Blu-ray drive
- No laser pointer
Have you ever set yourself up to do some work in a nice quiet nook only to realize that there isn’t enough light to see the keyboard? Some notebooks have built-in lights and I expect that soon many will have illuminated keyboards, but until then, HUG Light can shed some light on the subject. The $15 snake has LED lights at both ends so that if you hang it on your neck you get two lights to shine on the keyboard. It runs on a pair of AAA batteries and produces 50 lumens of light.