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AP Exams Made Easier

AP US history With more students taking Advanced Placement courses in high schools for college credit, inevitably more kids are not passing the AP exams at the end of the school year. The latest count is that 41.5 percent of AP students get a disappointing 1 or 2 on the test, up from 36.5 percent a decade ago. Clearly, a little extra class work and exam prep is in order to bring their grades up a notch or two.

On top of Cerebellum’s hundreds of curriculum videos, its Light Speed series of DVDs can get kids ready for the exam with a quickie program that condenses the AP curriculum into two discs. While there are 37 AP exams in 22 disciplines, so far, the company has put together only four AP exam prep courses for English Language and Composition, History of the U.S., Chemistry and U.S. Government and Politics.

If the U.S. History prep discs are any indication, I hope they put together others in a hurry. It’s not perfect, but the program is a big help for students studying for the AP exams.

Each package is a two disc set that has videos, a digital workbook and a multitude of test taking tips and tricks. The U.S. History set has a light and airy feel to it with young actors talking about test taking, what will be on the test and how to be comfortable taking the test. There’s valuable information about the test in general and some nice specific ideas on how to do well on it.

AP us history vid My favorite part is the 30 in 30 video, a fast-forward look at the curriculum that promises to squeeze 30 major topics into 30 minutes, but like any good lecturer runs over its allotted time. It has a lot of general historical trends from why the colonists came to America to the effect of the Tariff of 1832 to a look at the Constitutional amendments.

It is actually a good quickie look at the major topics taught during the year and I think can help kids organize their thoughts for the all-important essays on the exam. On the other hand, I would have liked to have seen more depth and detail.

As a result it totally ignores important events, like the Spanish American War. But, the biggest problem is that the exam prep material goes through the end of the Cold War. That, however, isn’t enough because the test can cover more up-to-date material, leaving a 20-year gap.

AP US history sheet The Workbook disc complements this material with a 22-page Acrobat file with a slew of handouts that digest the year’s learning into charts, bullets and major themes. There’re also hundreds of multiple choice, matching and fill in questions.

Unfortunately, the prep program misses a huge opportunity by not linking any of this material to the videos or supplementary online material. Plus, you can’t type onto the digital sheets so printing them out is the only option

With the exam itself costing $86, the $11.24 price of the Light Speed AP prep courses are a genuine bargain. On the other hand, there’s no way that 74 minutes of video a 22 pages of review can get a student ready for a college-level exam on its own. It’s an excellent adjunct to a well-taught AP course, but the History of the U.S. AP Exam Prep course is no substitute for 9-months of hard work.

In the final analysis, it will work best for those who have put in the time to understand and absorb the classroom material so that the Light Speed discs will serve to reinforce it.


Light Speed History of the U.S. AP Exam Prep

+ Inexpensive
+ Videos and workbook
+ Nice overview
+ Engaging content

- Only covers 4 AP subject areas
- Need to print worksheets
- Material is not up to date
- Lacks detail and depth


High Resolution Brightness

20100308_hiRes_sx7_mkii_3q There are high resolution projectors and those that are bright, but Canon’s  REALiS SX7 Mark II is the rare projector that does both. Based on Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCOS) technology, the REALiS SX7 Mark II combines 1,400 by 1,050 resolution with 4,000 lumens of brightness and includes adjustments to match the projector’s output to the room’s lighting. The system comes with a 1.7X powered zoom lens and will retail for $7,000 with a 3-year warranty when it goes on sale next month.

Sound Off (and On)

Calypso cb2000 Any teacher who’s had to juggle remote controls for a projector, DVD player and a sound system will appreciate Calypso Systems’s CBZ-2000 control panel. No bigger than a light switch cover plate, the CB-2000 includes backlighted buttons for volume, a projector, DVD player and a microphone. It connects to the school’s network and has a pair of infrared emitters that mimic the signal sent out by a devices remote control. The device sells for $311.00 with school discounts available.

Three-Sided Desks

Smith composite Once you see Smith System’sInterchange Wing Desk, rectangular desks will seem so 20-th century. The Interchange Wing Desk has an open front, a 30- by 30-inch desktop and can be adjusted from 21.5- to 31.5-inches tall. Because its workspace is shaped like an equilateral triangle, a classroom of them can produce dozens of combinations – from neat rows all pointed forward to groups of four. Made with a high-pressure laminate work surface, the desk is available in 18 colors. The desk costs $154 on its own or $161 with a built-in book box.

Next Gen AntiVirus Protection

Norton b Every year brings new threats to school PCs and 2010 is no different. With everything from scareware to rogue search engine results, it’s a dangerous world out there. A sneak peek at the next generation of protection is available from Symantec with the public beta of Norton’s Internet Security 2011. On top of traditional virus signatures as well as Norton’s trusted file approach, Norton Security 2011 adds a Power Eraser to protect against fake antivirus messages that are becoming so common these days as well as more browser support, scanning of instant messages and the ability to set up (and update) a memory key for reviving computers that are so infected that they won’t start. It’s available right now as a free beta for you to try out.

Freebee Friday: Inventors Ahoy

Inventors Teaching about inventions and changes in how people live and work is a great entry point to lessons about faraway cultures and history. The Inventions Concentration game is available for Macs or PCs and kids can play against each other or against the computer with 9 questions about which culture invented which breakthrough idea. While it won’t run full-screen on high resolution displays, the game – along with others on the Presidents, math and other subjects – are free for the download.

Freebee Friday: Learn About AV Online

AVerMedia new logo Even if you’re an absolute beginner who feels like a fish out of water when it comes to using a projector, document camera and all the programs needed to bring life to a digital classroom, AVerMedia can help with Webinars. The biweekly presentations use GoToMeeting technology and cover AVerVision Document Cameras, AVerPen Solutions and AVer+ Software. The seminars start on April 19.

Projectors on the Cheap

Ex200_45angle A pair of projectors from Mitsubishi may not have been designed expressly for classroom use, but the EX200u family can light up a lesson with a presentation. Both use the latest digital light processing technology from Texas Instruments and can produce XGA images. The EX200U weighs 5.3-pounds and produces 2,300 lumens while the EX240U weighs 5.7-pounds and puts 2,500 lumens on screen. On top of traditional VGA and composite video inputs, they can be connected to a computer via HDMI connectors with Crestron’s RoomView technology. While the EX200U is on sale now for $700, the EX240U won’t be available until May.

All in the MacBook Pro Family

10mbpfam_hero Fresh off its astounding success with the iPad, Apple has shown off the next generation of MacBook Pro. With 13-, 15- and 17-inch screens there’s a notebook for every size and need. All have the latest Intel processors and NVidia graphics, but vary dramatically in terms of size, weight and price tag.

• At 4.5-pounds, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the baby of the bunch and can be had with either a 2.4- or 2.66-GHz Core 2 Duo processor along with either a 25- or 32-GB hard drive. The system comes with a dual layer DVD burner and 802.11n wireless networking. Both have a 13.3-inch screen and NVidia GeForce 320M graphics that can show 1,280 by 800 resolution.

• The 15-inch models aren’t just bigger but they’re more powerful with 2.4- or 2.66-GHz Core i5 processors, 320- or 500-GB hard drives. The 15.4-inch display can show 1,440 by 900 resolution and uses an NVidia GT 330M imaging engine. Each system comes with 802.11n wireless networking and a dual layer DVD drive. The systems will cost between $1,999 and $2,199 and weigh in at 5.6 pounds.

• Finally, the big boy of the MacBook Pro lineup is a pound heavier. The 17-inch model has a screen that can display 1,920 by 1,200 resolution and has an NVidia GeForce GT 330M with 512MB of its own memory. There’s a 500GB hard drive and 802.11n networking. It starts at $2,300.

iPad Goes to the Head of the Class

1004ipad_hero With the iPad being the most successful launch of any new computer platform, the obvious question becomes what can I use it for in the classroom. The answer is just coming into focus: a lot.

Unfortunately, the iPad is based on the operating system of the iPhone and iPod Touch so that it can’t run full Mac OSX applications. On top of its eBook abilities, the pad can play videos, although not Flash clips at this point. It can work with a lot of interactive software that makes good use of the pad’s touch screen and video abilities. In the long run, look for textbook powerhouses, like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt K-12 and Pearson Education to convert their products to iPad ebooks.

For now, here’re my favorites for the first iPad apps that are ready for the classroom.

Ipad pasco Pasco’s SPARKvue software now runs on the iPad so that science classrooms can use the inexpensive pad instead of more expensive desktop or notebook PCs. On top of connecting directly with the iPad’s built-in acceleraometer, the software lets the pad work with a variety of Pasco’s Pasport probes, including temperature, pH and force. You’ll need to have the Pasport AirLink Bluetooth interface to get it to work. The best part is that it’s a free-bee download from the iTunes site.

On-Track_TimeMoneyFractions_iPad_A[1] Meanwhile, School Zone Publishing has an early-learning classroom math app that makes the most of the interactivity inherent in the iPad. The On-Track Time, Money & Fractions program sells for $10 and is aimed at 1st and 2nd graders. Kids can move coins into and out of a digital bank with their fingers and manipulate the hands of a clock to help with time-telling. Look for two other classroom iPad apps as well.

Elements ipad If your science class is exploring the intricacies of the periodic table, I can think of no better way to do it than with Theodore Gray’s Elements app. It costs $14, is available for download and sums up the properties and history of the elements from Argon to Zirconium. There’s even a cool opening animation sequence with a silly periodic table song. 

Mzl_tdermirb_320x480-75 Need calculators but there’s no room in the budget or on the kids’ desks for one more gadget. The iPad and the PCalc Lite app lets you use its touch surface as a calculator interface for doing everything from simple operations to square roots and trig functions. It works just as well horizontally as vertically, and it’s free.

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