About this blog Subscribe to this blog

FREEBEE FRIDAY: Penguin, Typing Teacher

Tux typing For a kid, learning to type can be as hard as learning to form letters, but a well-meaning penguin can help with the TuxTyping program. There are 8 separate lessons on the basics of keyboarding but the fun really starts with the program’s games that help students identify and reinforce which keys go with which letters. It has Easy, Medium and Hard settings as well as a way to silence the audio. The 12.6MB download of the program is a freebee that works with Windows, Macs and Linux computers.

FREEBEE FRIDAY: From Beltway to Classroom

Cspan I have to admit that I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I do love to take a sneak peek at what’s going on in the corridors of power in Washington by turning on C-SPAN every now and again. The nonprofit organization's Classroom has excellent educational resources for teaching everything from how government really runs to Presidential history. My favorites are the sections on education news, the imaginative lesson plans and the slew of videos available from the group’s extensive library. Best of all, it’s (you guessed it) free, and a great way to spruce up a social studies class.

Private Space

Study nook a Those with learning difficulties are often the same kids who have trouble concentrating in an open classroom environment, but the Study Nook can help reduce those distractions with portable walls to surround the student.  The design of Aaron Kowald of the University of Canberra, the Study Nook is not commercially available, but recently won a James Dyson Australian Design Award for ingenuity and helping those with Autism or Down’s Syndrome to learn to the fullest. The beauty of it is that the Study Nook folds up when not in use, but can help a child wall off the world and focus on the work at hand. With a pair of clip boards, a white board and places for pencils and cards, it is a complete learning environment. I can’t wait until someone sells it.

Hi-Res on Screen

Mits_FD630U.WD620U_45angle[1] Small notebooks and netbooks that can put high resolution images and video are an excellent way to put them on the big screen in front of the class. The problem is that often the projector can’t keep up. That’s not the case with Mitsubishi’s FD630U projector, which combines full 1080p output with an astoundingly bright 4,000 lumens of light. Based on Texas Instruments’ latest digital light processing imaging engine, the FD630U has a 10 watt amplifier and the ability for the teacher to plug a microphone in, creating a classroom public address system. For those who worry about maintenance costs, the projectors don’t need an air filter and its lamp can run for as much as 5,000 hours without being changed. With a 3-year warranty (1 year on the lamp), the FD630U sells for $3,500.

Magic Wand for the Classroom

IN3900_Pers2 trans png It’s a given that the use of interactive digital boards has revolutionized education by putting digital content front and center for the entire class. Infocus’s IN3904 takes a big step forward by providing an inexpensive alternative to white boards by building the interactivity into the projector and not the board. It’s not perfect, but the IN3904 is revolutionary, innovative and can simplify outfitting a technologically up-to-date classroom while making it less expensive.

As cool as building a lesson around an interactive board and projector is, doing it on a plain wall or blackboard is even cooler. Just use the IN3904’s LiteBoard wand to write on the projected image, click on things or even draw a map. It’s like having an interactive board, but without the board.

It can be better in one regard. Unlike most interactive boards, I didn’t even have to touch the wall for the wand to work. I love that I was able to use the wand as a pointer, moving the cursor around on screen by aiming it at the wall.

The bottom line is that IN3904 is potentially as transformative for education as early interactive boards were – maybe more. The way it works is surprisingly simple. The IN3904 is a WXGA projector that uses the latest TI solid state 0.65-inch digital light processor imaging engine with BrilliantColor enhancements. Along with the image, the device projects a pattern of invisible light pulses that identify where the LiteBoard wand is to the projector.

IN3900_Pers trans png At 2.7 ounces and a little bigger than a magic marker, the wand fits comfortably in an adult’s hand, but might be too big for a small child to master. There’s a pressure sensitive tip as well as buttons for right and life clicks; a button changes its mode from drawing to writing. The best part is that the wand runs on a rechargeable battery that can be plugged into the projector for charging with an included mini USB cable.

Unlike most interactive boards, the IN3904 doesn’t require calibration. Regardless of how quickly you move the wand, the projector keeps up, quickly making interaction with what’s on-screen second nature. On the downside, because of the way the projector figures out where the wand is, anytime the tip is in shadow, it loses contact. Using the system, you quickly learn to work from the sides to minimize disruption.

The projector comes with all the cables needed and does the little things well with automatic keystone correction for a rectangular image every time. It not only can automatically display images from a memory key, but add transitions as well. On top of the traditional, external monitor port for connecting to a computer, the IN3904 has S-Video, composite and HDMI input jacks.

IN3900_Back trans png My favorite is using the USB-based DisplayLink because it sends audio as well as the video over one cable, simplifying a classroom set up. While the DisplayLink software worked well with a Vista notebook for dozens of lessons, from showing the shape of electric fields to an online spelling lesson, it was unable to work with Windows 7; InFocus says it will have new software soon for Windows 7 systems. Plus, the USB link sometimes balked at transferring full screen video to the projector.

A breakthrough that I expect others will quickly copy is the IN3904’s elegant control panel, which has no visible switches. Just press the surface near the on/off area and it starts up, lighting up the other functions. The projector comes with a competent remote control, but it lacks a laser pointer and key lighting.
It took 10.7 seconds for the projector to start up, but it didn’t get to its full brightness for roughly 3 minutes, which might slow down a teacher. One of the brightest classroom projectors on the market, the IN3904 is capable of putting 2,744 lumens of light on a screen. That’s 10 percent less than its spec, but more than enough for a lights-on lesson.

In904 field diagram The IN3904 can fill a screen as large as 18.3-feet but its lens has only a 1.1:1 optical zoom, which limits set up possibilities of the projector. At a peak temperature of 175 degrees Fahrenheit at its exhaust outlet, the IN3904 runs hotter than most projectors and its fan is quite loud.

Rated at 3,000 hours, the projector’s $500 replacement lamp costs about16 cents per hour of use. Its power use is on the high side with peak consumption of 293 watts when operating. This drops to 12 watts when off. By contrast, many recent projectors use close to no electricity when turned off.

All told, expect to spend $232 a year on operating costs for this projector. That’s a little on the high side, but is less than the $270 a year it costs to run Sanyo’s PLC-XU305 projector.

The IN3904’s $1,700 price tag not only includes a 5-year warranty (6-months on the lamp) but because it replaces a projector and interactive board can potentially cut $1,000 a room for a complete digital teaching outfit. In other words, it’s a genuine bargain for schools.

InFocus IN3904

+ Acts like an interactive white board on a wall
+ Accurate wireless wand
+ 5-year warranty
 + Excellent control panel

- Runs hot and loud
- Wand loses contact when in shadow
- Windows 7 software problems

Budget Notebook with All the Frills

HP_G62_angle When it comes to school notebooks, netbooks are increasingly being seen as too minimalist to be a full partner in education. HP’s G62T goes in the opposite direction with just about everything needed to teach K-12 students. The system can be powered by a variety of Intel processors, including Core i3, i5 and i7 processors, holds up to 4GB of RAM and has a 15.6 display. It’s got a SuperMulti DVD drive and both wired and wireless networking. Pricing starts at $600 with a 1-year warranty.

Instant Scans

PDS-ST410-VP_cookbook What better way to teach about how a sentence affects the reader than to pick one out of a favorite book and quickly put it on the big screen for all the class to see. VuPoint’s PDS-ST410-VP hand scanner is like a magic wand that can grab text and images from a book in 30 seconds. The whole thing weighs just 7.5 ounces and can turn any page – from newspaper and magazine to encyclopedia and novel – into digital text and images on a SD card. It works with PCs and Macs, scans are up to 600 dot per inch and it uses a pair of AA batteries.

Shout Out for Schools

Xp40i music Every school needs a public address system to make announcements, but what about where the PA doesn’t reach, like the playground, sports fields and the parking lot. Samson’s XP40iw is small enough to take where it’s needed and powerful enough to be heard without going hoarse. The XP40i combines a 40 watt amplifier with a 6-inch woofer and a 1-inch tweeter for full sound.  It can be used with an XLR, ¼- or 1/8-inch plug for a variety of inputs including a microphone or music player.


Witness When teaching about a historic event, there’s nothing like reading about someone who was there. How about listening to them? That’s what the BBC World Service latest program, Witness, does. By sifting through the radio channel archives and mixing in key memoirs and recollections, Witness brings history to life. They are available on the World Service’s Podcast page with recent episodes on the end of post-War rationing in England, the assassination of Gandhi and how Facebook was created. You can play them on demand or download the shows to be played when you like.

No More Mouse Traps

Grandtec Tired of having to replace mice after only a couple years of use because they are either broken or just too gross to touch? Grandtec USA has a line of what they call a virtually indestructible mouse that should last a lot longer. The black MOU-600 or brightly colored MOU-500 mice are made of rugged silicone that is impervious to common spills and can be cleaning with ammonia or bleach disinfectants. Either one costs $25.

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