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Say and See

Multiple Match_Word 2003 The best selling speech recognition program, Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking, just got a lot better with a more integrated interface so that students and teachers can talk at their PCs. The 11-th version of NaturallySpeaking software can turn just about any speech, conversation or lecture into editable text. For children (and adults) who haven’t quite mastered the art of typing, Dragon can help them put together creative documents and projects. On top of dictating directly into applications like Office 2010, the program is a great way to navigate within Windows for the educationally challenged. A five-pack (with 5 USB headsets) of the software can be had for $750 program or for $2,500 for a school with 250 computers, along with including 20 USB headsets).
 

Sideways Projector

Epson powerlite 1775w We’re all familiar with vertical keystone correction in classroom projectors that create a rectangular image regardless of the angle it’s aimed up or down. But, horizontal keystone correct lets the projector be set up at an angle side-to-side to the screen and has been the province of expensive auditorium projectors. Not any more, Epson’s PowerLite 1775W incorporates horizontal keystoning in a 3,000 lumen projector can connect to a computer via HDMI, VGA or USB cables or via WiFi. It should be available in October.

Freebee Friday: Free for All

Cfl_flag_left What’s better than getting a great deal on computers for your school? How about not paying anything at all? Nothing, nada, zilch. That’s right, because every year the Federal government has thousands of surplus computers that it gives away to schools and non-profit organizations for all sorts of uses from classrooms and libraries to offices and maintenance. All you have to do is ask for them by registering at the Computers for Learning Web site. The school or district will have to pay for shipping, but the actual computers are free for the asking.

To “B” or Not to “B”

B53 The latest notebook from Asus is its B series, which looks like a bull’s eye for schools. Based on Intel’s Core i5 or i7 processor and the ATI Radeon 5470 video engine, the B features Boston Power’s Sonata long-life battery that last three-times longer than typical lithium ion power cells and carries a three-year warranty. The 14-inch B43 is complemented by the 15-inch B53.


More Balanced Acrobat

PDF_Converter_7_Looks_Like_Search_with_Highlights[1] No school can operate without Adobe’s Acrobat universal file format, but the software is still clunky and expensive. Nuance’s PDF Converter Professional 7 is a big step forward towards getting it on every teacher and student’s computer. The $100 software can not only make scanning documents in to .pdf documents quicker and easier as well as the ability to create fill in homework assignments and to mix and match portions from Microsoft Office’s programs.
 

Learning in the Key of Music

Casiolk230 I’ve often thought that the best way to teach kids about how to use a computer keyboard is to have keys that light up when students are supposed to hit them. This way a positive association can be made between the keys, the characters and what shows up on-screen. Casio does this idea one better with a keyboard that does just this, except that instead of teaching typing it’s a keyboard that teaches children (and adults) music and how to play the piano.

The breakthrough is that the keys on Casio’s LK-230 keys glow red when they need to be hit. It’s as simple as that, but it’s a big step forward for teaching the piano to kids. The electric piano comes into its own with the included songbook that includes sheet music for 110 songs that are contained in the piano’s electronic Song Bank.

Divided in four groups of increasing difficulty the songbook works well with the piano’s repertoire. While the arrangements can be a bit corny and they will likely get tedious after a while, the book includes everything from Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” to Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home.” In other words, more than enough music for an elementary- or middle-school music class.

Like many other digital keyboards, the LK-230 has 61 keys, rather than the piano’s standard 88-key layout, but has the ability to play 400 tones and 150 rhythms. It has a metronome built in and the keyboard can sample any sequence for the teacher to playback later or for incorporating in a group project. The piano’s USB MIDI files can be used on Windows or Mac computers.

It won’t replace a grand piano for concerts but the LK-230 is a gem of a digital device that sounds surprisingly good, particularly when plugged-in to external speakers. The plastic keys have a quiet subtle action and the LED key lights are bright. All are plastic for easy cleanup for the after-lunch music lesson.

Lk-230_xlarge For schools stretched tight by decreasing budgets, it can inexpensively integrate music instruction into any curriculum. Watching several 13-year olds try it out, the LK-230 mesmerized them and they couldn’t get enough time playing and practicing, which is a big change when it comes to music lessons.

The only downside is that it’s hard to get in sync with the piano. There’s an 8-beat lead-in but it takes a lot of practice to be able to smoothly join with the material and play the notes with the piano.

Casio’s StepUp lessons can help with keyboarding without the need to read music. The keys light up a musical phrase or one hand at a time and you can repeat any portion as many times as you like. It’s a great way to hone a piece a passage at a time.

On top of a wire music rack, the LK-230 has a pair of built-in speakers for playing for the class. There’s also a headphone jack so that a classroom of future Mozarts can play away without disturbing each other. A room full of the keyboards can help students independently learn the basics of piano playing while the teacher concentrates on those not getting it or excelling.

A big step forward for teaching is the LK-230’s Voice Pad. Just speak, sing or hum for up to 10 seconds and the sequences can be mapped to individual keys. Plus, the keyboard has a line-in jack for connecting a CD player or iPod to add background music.
 
As versatile as it is, the LK-230 lacks the ability to add new songs to its repertoire. The upcoming LK-270 will be able to download new songs either through a USB connection or an SD card.

The $130 keyboard requires 6 AA batteries or you can use the optional AC adapter, which costs $30. You can get a full classroom kit that includes the LK-230, foldable stand, AC adapter and headphones for $170.

It won’t replace a music teacher but with the Casio LK-230 a class can learn how to play the piano in a few months with surprisingly good results.

A

Casio LK-230
$130

+ Inexpensive
+ Keys light up when they need to be played
+ Surprisingly good sound
+ Includes 110-song Song Bank
+ Can connect to computer via USB
+ Metronome

- Hard to get in sync with the start of a song
- Corny arrangements

Small Things Made Large

USB_Microscope[1] Nothing lights up a science classroom like a digital microscope that can enlarge a spider or human hair on a classroom projector, but these devices have been hard to work and expensive. Califone’s USB Digital Microscope costs only $187, magnifies micro worlds 200-times and has automatic controls for brightness and color so whether you’re displaying video or still images, everything looks perfect. I really like the microscope’s filters that let the teacher choose among color, black and white, reverse image and three color filters. It’s small, comes with a stand and works with recent Windows releases as well as a variety of resolutions.

Interactivity in an Instant

IN3914_wand_on_top_CMYK_96dpi_jpg[1] Projectors that can perform the duties of a smart board are all the rage these days for inexpensively adding interactivity to classrooms. InFocus is the first with a second generation system with the LiteBoard interactive technology on its IN3910 family. The key breakthrough is the ability for the teacher (or student) to be up to 40-feet from the projector and still retain control over the pointer but just as easily use the pen on the screen to digitally write on the image.

On top of a slimmer wand that fits into small hands more comfortably, the IN3900 projectors have enhanced audio that can be used as a public address system in the classroom and it now comes with WizTeach interacti20100616.InFocus.305_CMYKb_jpg[1]ve software. The spec sheet reads like a dream come true for teachersa nd administrators. Both the IN3914 (XGA resolution) or the IN3916 (WXGA resolution) use the latest digital light processing engine and can be mounted as close as 3 feet away from the wall and still create a 60-inch image.

Both work with PCs, Macs and Linux computers, and come with a five-year warranty; the lamp is covered for six months. The IN3916 adds innovative networking software so that any connected computer in the room can be projected on the screen or even up to four at once. The projectors will cost $1,425 and $1,225 for the IN3916 and IN3914, respectively. 
 

An Open Book

Entourage One of the problems, as I see it, with early eBook readers is that they are single page tablets that are too removed from what a book looks and feels like. The $539 enTourage eDGE breaks new ground with a two page eBook that has a pair of 9.7-inch screens. The one on the left is a monochrome e-paper display while the one on the left is a color touchscreen. Available in five colors, the book can work with 200,000 downloadable volumes as well as more than 1,000 textbooks published by the University of Chicago.

Freebee Friday: Greening Up the Classroom

World of green Want to make your classroom a greener place to teach but there’s no cash to do it World of Green will give away $250 of eco gear to do it. Just submit anapplication before September 2, 2010. It’s too late for most schools to get the class involved but it’s a nice classroom activity. Tell the people at World of Green why recycling, reducing and reusing are important concepts. The winner will get $250 of earth-friendly products, from soy inks and sugar cane paper to tree-free pencils.


 

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