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Freebee Friday: When in Rome

Feature_21st_century Ever been stymied by not having the right software to create a complicated classroom project? You’re not alone, many have been hampered by the software needed for teachers and students to create truly interactive projects. Adobe is close to providing a toolbox of apps that will help satisfy this need with its Project Rome. The suite of programs can create media-heavy presentations and reports with a common interface so that you don’t have to relearn each program separately. At the moment, it would be hard to, say, create a map that shows key Civil War battles that then linked to Mathew Brady photos from these areas along with images of soldier diary entries and audio. Rome can do this and much more. It works with both PCs and Macs, and its download is a freebee for a limited time.

Freebee Friday: Science Fair on Steroids

Science fair Just about every school runs a science fair so that kids can teach each other what they’ve learned with innovative presentations, but so many of the projects look alike that it can be a bit tedious. Discovery is helping with a Web site that can breathe new life into the old science fair. On top of a three step process to go from idea to completed project, the site has resources for parents, help for coordinators and a slew of tips and tricks for creating a lively presentation. It’s sponsored by Bordens, so Elsie the cow and the company’s line of markers show up everywhere, but it’s a great resource for ideas.

Your Own Yearbook

Jostens Preparing, passing around and signing yearbooks are as much a part of a student’s senior year as final exams and beach days, but the old book has been updated by Jostens to add a personal touch. Students can create their own custom four-page insert into the traditional yearbook. Images can be uploaded from a computer, Flickr or FaceBook account. It costs $15 and includes room for color photos, type and all sorts of layout options. 

Making Gear Disappear

GB-AVSTOR4 Schools looking to clean up their act when it comes to messy cables, speakers and projectors can make them all disappear with Premier Mounts’GearBox. The boxes come in two sizes, replace standard acoustic ceiling tiles and can be locked at night. There’s room for a classroom’s worth of A-V equipment and comes with the hardware to mount it to any school’s structure. The boxes cost $450 for 1- by 2- foot and $650 for 2- by 2-foot sizes.

Grant vs. Lee on the Small Screen

Civil war top One thing about the Civil War that’s clear for teachers and students is that there’s no shortage of good textbooks that treat every aspect of the war between the states. Any good library will have dozens, if not hundreds, of volumes from histories of battles and photographic tours of sites to personal memoirs and biographies. Add an iPad app that takes this scholarship to a new level with details of its causes, major battles and the conflict’s aftermath.

MultiEducator’s Civil War: America’s Epic Struggle shows what’s possible by turning an iPad into a curriculum delivery device, but also shows how to take it to the next level. At $4.99, the program is reasonably priced and available at Apple’s App Store. With 250MB of content, it is one of the largest iPad apps available and took nearly 10 minutes to download and install over a WiFi connection.

It’s worth the wait because Civil War has a lot to offer for a middle- or high-school history class. The main screen is the first stop on the trail from Fort Sumpter to Appomattox Court House. There are 17 categories of Civil War details on the left side of the screen, from the Causes of the War and Biographies to Medical Care and the goings on in Washington. Each section has anywhere from 3 to dozens of individual citations within them. All told, the app has the raw material for hundreds of actual lessons.

Civil war c There’s a good video overview and every social studies teacher will love the Major Battles, Maps, Statistics and Economics sections, which can help make sense of the progress of the war. At any time, you can search the entire app for a topic, place or person.

The documents, photos and ephemera of the period are generally well chosen and work well with the written and audio material. One excellent section deals with a look at Americans of different ethnicities, from Chinese to Native Americans. On the other hand, it is textual material without any images or videos.

The maps are generally excellent with little Union and Confederate flags or photos of the commanders indicating troop movements. It really gives a great overview of complicated battles to view them from this 20,000 foot perspective. There’s a nice timeline, but, unfortunately, the teacher can’t write on top of the maps to add comments or point out items of interest and there’s no single map that shows all the battles, which would have helped form the big picture.

Civil war b The videos, on the other hand, aren’t as well done. While some are excellent, others are sloppily put together. They can be run full screen but the material has several rough transitions and extraneous sounds, like the actor reading Grant’s comments on the war clearing his throat in the middle of his speech. One of the videos stops abruptly at the same place every time it’s played for no reason.

Overall, I was disappointed by the carelessness with which it was put together. For instance, the app has Presendation instead of Presentation in one section, but maybe it’s a subtle way to get students to proofread their homework. One of my biggest frustrations is that the software contains five period songs with the lyrics, but you can’t listen to the music while going over the lyrics. Plus, the music marked as “All Quiet on the Potomac” is actually “We are Coming Father Abra’am.”

Civil war a The biggest problems of Civil War: America’s Epic Struggle is not of MultiEducator’s doing but limitations of the iPad itself. Without support for showing material with a projector, the material is limited to viewing by only a handful of students at a time, unless the entire class gets the software. Plus, as is the case with most apps, the Civil War material can’t be directly printed, which is a shame, considering the wealth of material it has. At any time, the teacher can email any item to students or to themselves to print it.

The fifth app from MultiEducator’s History on the Go series, the company plans several more over the coming year, including a look at John F. Kennedy. Warts and all, the Civil War: America’s Epic Struggle is a tentative first step towards turning curriculum into an all-encompassing absorbing experience that history lessons should be. I can’t wait to see what their next app looks like.


Civil War: America’s Epic Struggle

+ Lots of compelling material
+ Can send material via email to students
+ Multimedia elements
+ Good maps

- Can’t print or show material with projector
- Long download
- Can’t print
- Sloppy videos


Getting the Word Out

DS128_prod(300)[1] Tired of boring announcements that nobody listens to or ecologically destructive printed hand-outs? StarTech has a better idea with its Digital Sign Broadcaster and Receiver, which can put all sorts of announcements onto screens in hallways, cafeterias and other open spaces. The DS128 sells for $600 and can send high quality video and stereo audio from a standard Ethernet cable to as many as 9 separate screens. It requires the $400 DSRXL receiver and the system comes with Java-based software that lets an administrator monitor each screen.


A Whole New Office for Macs

Excel_Sparklines If you’ve been disappointed that Office for the Mac is always a generation to two behind the PC version, the newest edition of Office: Mac 2011 catches up. With it comes new versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook as well as a bunch of utilities and small programs meant to make collaborating and creating sophisticated documents easier. On top of being able to share files that use the latest PC version, all the Office apps let students or teachers edit documents as others are working on them, although you’ll need to have a server that uses Microsoft’s SharePoint Foundation.

Scan, Print and Fax For Less

Mc361 Why deal with a separate scanner for digitizing documents when you can have a high quality scanner built into a printer. At $550, OKI’s MC361 is one of the biggest bargains when it comes to multi-function printers. The MC361 combines a 1,200 by 600 dot per inch (dpi) color laser printer with a 600 by 600 dpi scanner that can pump out 23 pages per minute. In other words, it’s just as good at putting a worksheet on paper as scanning a photo or faxing a recommendation of a student.
While it doesn’t have WiFi wireless built-in, it can be connected either through its wired networking or USB plug.

Freebee Friday: Instant Database

School survival kit When it comes to making quick databases, nothing matches Apple’s FileMaker’s ability to organize and display data without the need to have a degree in programming. It’s even easier to get started with the company’s Bento Template Exchange where professional and talented amateurs share their databases. There are 700 templates available for Macs, iPhones and iPads, including ones for lesson plans, contacts and even a student survival kit for organizing a school-year’s worth of notes, homework and projects. In fact, more than half a million templates have been downloaded since it was started in June, 2009. If you’re ambitious, you can even offer your own template for others to use.

Freebee Friday: (Pod)Casting a Wide Net

Vistaoffice2007ribbon Podcasts can help students summarize material to share with classmates and bring a school together with periodic reports on the goings on at school. Everybody has their favorites as to which software to use, but my favorite is SmartFTP because it is not only free for personal and school use, but it does everything it needs to do. While it doesn’t have a sound editor, Windows’ Sound Recorder works well. There are 32- and 64-bit versions of SmartFTP 4.0, and the program not only will upload your finished podcast but it verifies that the audio file has been transferred properly. In other words, it gets the word out.

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