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It All Adds Up

DSC_0034 It may be the gold standard and the best seller among school science and math classrooms, but Texas Instruments’ TI-84 Plus calculator has some competition. The Casio fx-9860G Slim is smaller, lighter and protects its screen with a notebook-like clamshell design. Best of all, at $90, it’s a lot cheaper than the TI-84 Plus.

At 7.2 ounces and measuring 1.0 by 3.5 by 4.9 inches, the fx-9860G Slim is 50 percent lighter and one third smaller than the TI-84. It runs on a pair of AAA batteries rather than the TI-84’s four cells. A big bonus is that the fx-9860G Slim folds shut when it’s not in use, protecting its screen and keeping it clean. By contrast, the TI-84 makes do with an easy-to-lose snap-on cover.

I really like that the fx-9860G Slim can be used upright, like a micro notebook, folded flat on a desk or in the hand for two-thumb key entry. On the downside, the fx-9860G Slim doesn’t lock open, making it a little awkward to use at times.

Capable of covering the gamut of high school – and college – math, from fractions and graphing complex equations to working with physics lab spreadsheet data to sections for AP calculus and statistics classes. You can input fractions, formulas and calculus equations and then graph them, but that’s just the start.

Fx9860G slim menu The Main Menu has links to all that the system can do, from basic math and financial calculations to conical sections and programming. It can even replay the last set of calculations so the teacher can see what the student has been up to. My favorite function is the fx-9860G Slim’s ability to link two calculators together with an included cable for group work.

Unlike the TI-84, the fx-9860G Slim has numeric keys that are twice the size of the others and a cool color coding that can help with their identification. It’s OK for use on the PSAT, SAT, ACT and a variety of Advanced Placement tests. On the downside, it lacks an SD card slot for saving programs, data and results. Other Casio calculators have SD slots.

Fx9860G keypad The fx-9860G Slim’s 3.6-inch screen is bigger than the TI-84’s display, can render 64 by 128 pixels – 50 percent greater detail than the TI-84’s 64 by 96 pixel screen. More to the point, it’s longer and narrower so it can show more complex calculations. Characters are well formed, but graphing lines are not well defined, particularly when you zoom in.

One big advantage that the fx-9860G Slim has is that it comes with a backlight for late night study sessions or for use during lights-off projector presentations. On the other hand, the TI-84 can show 3-D images, while the fx-9860G Slim is limited to 2-D representations.

Inside is a Renesas SH-3 processor with 63KB of RAM and 1.5MB of flash memory for storage of programs and data. That’s a little better than the T-84 in each category. The fx-9860G Slim can do something the others can’t. It can connect with an XJ series Casio projector directly with only the included USB cable.

Another approach is to use Casio’s Manager Plus software where a teacher (or student) can emulate the look and action of the calculator on a PC and show the entire class how to do it. Too bad, the software only works with PCs and with neither Macs nor Linux computers.

Fx-9860gslim_press Both the TI-84 and fx-9860G Slim come with an assortment of software, apps and things like a periodic table of the elements. There’s a thorough software development kit for ambitious districts to write their own calculator programs as well as online instructional resources for solving quadratics, working with conical functions and even some basic business math.

Like all calculators, the more you use it, the more possibilities open up, and the fx-9860G Slim is good for more than simple figures. It’s a platform for calculations and education. It may not be perfect, but Casio goes to the head of the class in graphing calculators.


Casio fx-9860G Slim

+ Small and light
+ Fold open lid
+ Excellent assortment of math abilities
+ Lighted screen
+ Larger numeric keys
+ USB connection to PC and add-ons

- No SD card slot
- Transfers and emulation software only for PCs

Day and Night

Daylights One of the hardest thing for kids to figure out is how daylight and nighttime work, but with Xump’s City Light Earth Globe, it’ll be as clear as night and day. Forget about fooling around with a globe and flashlight because the City Light Earth Globe shows where it’s day and where it’s night throughout the world. It costs $50 and should be part of every elementary school’s science equipment.

Make Yourself Heard

Pa25r Regardless of whether it’s organizing a bus line, evacuating a building or calling everyone inside after recess, a megaphone is a must-have item at schools with small children. Califone’s 25-watt PA25R megaphone can make anyone’s voice carry as far as 1,250 feet. It can record and playback a 10 second message, a great feature during a fire drill. It has a handheld microphone, a siren and costs $140

Netbooks in the Cloud

SimmbookwithICSWfront[1] Since it sold off its PC division in 2005, IBM has been quiet when it comes to mobility and schools. Until now, with an offer that third world schools may not be able to refuse. At $190, the Simmbook from Simmtronics undercuts the price of most notebooks. Like other netbooks, the system has an Atom processor, 1GB of memory and a 10-inch screen that weighs in at about 2 pounds.

IBM-LOTUSLIVE-INOTE[1] But this set up is different from your everyday netbook. Software is its strength with Ubuntu Linux, theIBM Lotus Symphony suite of programs and a slew of collaborative software that can bring the classroom together. The Simmbook will have a 160GB hard drive, but its advantage lies in its connection to IBM’s Cloud Computing system. According to IBM, it can cut the costs per system by half compared to Windows netbooks. It will first be available in South Africa, but availability will spread throughout the developing world.

Big Screen, Small Price

E195bv-hd_fv[1] At $200 for a 19-inch TV, Sceptre’s E195BV-HD TV gets my vote for the bargain of the year, although it is only March. The E195BV-HD TV can do double duty as a desktop computer monitor capable of showing 1,366 by 768 resolution or as a television that can get the latest digital channels. It has inputs for HDMI and USB devices, and there are speakers. The base can be removed for wall mounting. Plus, at 7.3 pounds, it can go from room to room as needed.

FREEBEE FRIDAY: Esperanto Online

K12 translate Teaching children in a multilingual setting is one of the hardest things a district or individual teacher can do. That’s why I’m glad that K12Translate is hosting a webinar that can help districts come to grips with this by showing the mistakes that others have made.“Avoiding the Top 8 Language Traps:  Planning Multilingual Communication for Your District” will be available online on April 6, starting at 11:30, pacific time. Moderated by Leslie Iburg of viaLanguage, the speakers will include Lillian Tsai (President of TsaiComm), Dieter Waiblinger (Founder and Director of K12Translate) and Prakalpa Bastianpillai (Director Client Services, viaLanguage). All you have to do is register.

FREEBEE FRIDAY: How Fast is Fast?

FCC broadband You can easily test your classroom or backroom Internet connection withSpeedTest’s broadband meter or use the new FCC’s Broadband page. Both measure up-and download speeds as well as a ping for data latency. The government’s test adds a jitter test that measures how the speed varies during the test. Turn it into a classroom lesson on data throughput with the site’s quickie explanations of what each test’s results mean.


Growing Young Minds

Root view 2 With the possible exception of a class pet, there’s nothing that can better teach biology and growth to young minds than growing flowers or vegetables. With its clear plastic window, Root Vue Farm lets kids grow plants and watch the roots push downward as they grow up. The underground garden costs about $25 and comes with soil, three seed packs, labels and a growth chart.

Welcome to the 3-D Classroom

Get ready to start hearing about monitors, TVs and projectors that can show 3-D images and video. While most think that it’s all about watching “Avatar” in 3-D when its Blu-ray DVD comes out, this new technology can help in the classroom. Think about watching a 3-D representation of a molecule or the globe showing how an eclipse occurs and you get an idea of the possibilities. One big downside is that the class will have to wear those silly glasses.

Here's a preview of what to expect.

NP216_front[1] The NEC NP216 projector has Texas Instruments’ digital light processing imagining engine with XGA resolution, 2,500 lumens and an estimated 5-year lamp life. It also uses less power than other projectors and comes with a Carbon meter that shows how much carbon dioxide is not being emitted into the atmosphere by using the NP216. It’ll cost $799 when it goes on sale next month.

LCD750_R45 Samsung sets the pace by integrating 3-D into TVs with its LN46C750 display. At 46-inches, it’s big enough for most classrooms and can be mounted on a wall or on its elegant stand. The screen has a multitude of connectors, can show full HD programming and has a high-speed 24-hertz imaging engine. It should be out in May and cost about $1,700.

Computers on the Go

Few schools have the money to get computers for each and every room used for instruction, so having several multi-purpose systems on carts is a great way to cover the territory. Regardless of whether it’s a classroom’s worth of notebooks or a single desktop PC, a cart can not only put the systems where they’re needed but often power them as well.

Av cart Global Industrial’s Audio Visual Workstation is great for a single notebook or desktop PC. It has a 18- by 24-inch work surface, two shelves as well as a pull-out keyboard drawer with a mouse pad. The $149 carts are available in black, blue, green, red or yellow, and can be adjusted in 4-inch increments between 24- and 42-inches tall. It comes with a five-year warranty and there’s an optional computer holder for $30.

Bretford cart A Bretford Antimicrobial Laptop Cart can help calm fears among parents and children about spreading germs by sharing notebooks. All the surfaces are coated with a finish that inhibits the growth of mold, mildew and fungus so they don’t become a school reservoir for disease. There are versions with room for 15-, 18-, 24-, 30-, or 32-notebooks with power to charge them all when not being used. Pricing ranges from $1,800 to $3,366.

Comfort_2096_239824730 Teachers have to teach where they can these days, including the cafeteria, library and even repurposed closets. Comfort House’s CartDesk lets you take it all with you and doubles as a fold-open desk on the go. It can be wheeled from room to room and can support up to a 17-inch notebook along with 20-pounds of papers and coffee. CartDesk costs $130.

Portofino By contrast, The Portifina Computer Cart is a bargain at $40. It can be a movable home for a desktop PC with minimalist styling. Made of steel with a brushed champagne finish, the cart has a 26.5 by 19 inch glass tabletop as well as a shelf for a keyboard and mouse and a base that can hold the computer. It’s available at Target stores or online, but requires assembly.

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