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Tickling the Digital Ivories

Concertpiano_angle_lrg Pianos are pianos and tablets are tablets, right? Wrong. Ion Audio’s 88-key digital Concert Piano can hold an iPad on its music stand that can display the score or a music theory app. Though it’s small, the piano has a full rich sound with has weighted keys. The piano has high quality built-in speakers and includes downloadable music-teaching software.

Freebee Friday: The Sun Fights Back

Solar flare Over Valentine’s Day as your class was giving each other heart shaped cards, our son was getting a little hot under the collar by ejecting a major flare. After years of a quiet star next door, the sun is acting up with an X-class flare, the most powerful and potentially dangerous type. The reason we should care, and a nice physics and social studies lesson, is that when the remnants of this flare hit the earth later today and over the weekend, it can cause havoc with the power grid, sensitive electronics and communications networks. It’s already disrupting radio transmissions in China. For ideas, check out NASA solar flares page.

Freebee Friday Becomes Fractal Friday

Fractal It may be five years old, but Drexel Univeristy’s mathforum’s page on Madelbrodt fractals is an oldie by goodie. It is a must have on any math teacher’s Favorites list and has good information about what a fractal is, a biography of Benoit Mandelbrodt and incredibly beautiful images of a variety of fractals. The guts of the site let you customize these mathematical representations so everyone in the class can get a feel for the effect of the different parameters. It works best with Internet Explorer and the app is a great take-home or in-class assignment.

Stand Up or Lay Down

HP_TouchSmart_610_PC,_tilt_sequence,_full_range_of_motion,_left_profile_highres The latest TouchSmart all-in-one desktop PC is a big step forward for school computing. Not only is it a complete integrated computer that takes a minute or two to set up and has a sensitive touch-screen, but the TouchSmart Elite 9300’s unique stand can fold down so that the teacher or student can work over it vertically rather than pressing horizontally. The 23-inch HD display can sit straight up and fold to a 60-degree angle for incredible versatility; it cost $900.

Happy Trails

Playtrails sign If you think a playground is nothing more than a slide and some monkey bars, think again because GameTime’s PlayTrails equipment mixes fun with education. Composed of several Play Pockets, each has a theme that is inspired by birds, animals or plants. There are pockets for mushrooms dragonflies and turtles. The company can help with fundraising and finding grants to pay for your school’s new playground.

Online in an Instant

NX1000HD_9 The latest round of large-screen TVs that have built-in WiFi and online interactivity are a great way to get the classroom to connect without needing a separate computer, but they are still expensive and limited in the scope of what they can connect to. The Nixeus Fusion HD is a better way to connect a TV, monitor or projector to incorporate the world into a lesson plan.

At $200, the Fusion is an inexpensive and reliable way to connect with the world of the Web. No bigger than a textbook, it has a Sigma SMP 8655 processor, 512MB of memory and storage and a good variety of Linux software.

The unit sits horizontally, and is small enough to stash behind a monitor, but lacks the hardware to screw it into the back of a display. Fusion can connect to a WiFi or wired network and can use either DHCP automatic IP addressing or a static address.

It took a few minutes to set it up, connect to my network and start working the Web. Fusion can play on any display that has a composite or HDMI connection; it worked without a problem with a TV, monitor and projector.

NX1000HD_7 While it has a place inside to put a SATA drive to store media locally, Fusion doesn’t include one. It took an extra 5 minutes to install and format a 120GB drive that I lifted from a broken PC for holding all sorts of material; the device can accommodate up to a 2GB drive and has a USB slot for a memory key or external drive and an E-SATA connection for an external drive.

Once it’s online, the home page shows how it’s connected, its IP address and the resolution of the display it’s connected with. I was able to get a range of 97 feet on an 802.11g WiFi network and Fusion’s stub antenna can be aimed for the best reception. Fusion provides access to the school’s network for playing local video, images or audio content.

There’s also a wide variety of preset online content, including Google, Twitter, YouTube, Live365 and even a Bit Torrent client, although I’m doubtful it has a place in schools. Best of the bunch is Nixeus’s Fusion channel, which presents lots of news, weather, entertainment and educational choices in English and a variety of foreign languages. In fact, a middle school French student was mesmerized as he watched the evening news from Paris.

Its rudimentary browser is fine for getting around the Web. You need to type in the address with the remote control’s clunky alphanumeric keypad and move the cursor with the navigation ring, which can be rough going, particularly when you’re in a hurry. Alternatively, you can use the on-screen keyboard and it works fine with a plug-in keyboard. After using it for a month, I think it could really use an integrated wireless mini-keyboard.

NX1000HD_9 Capable of full 1080p high definition video, its quality is surprisingly good considering its size. There are the expected stutters and momentary stoppages that are inherent in using the Web. The video looks best when using the HDMI connection and there’s no need for additional audio cables.

It’s able to handle just about any of the major media formats from MPEG to AVI (for video), .jpg to .tif (for images) and .mp3 to .wma (for audio). In fact, the device has excellent sound with DTS, Dolby Digital audio and an SPDIF optical digital audio output. On the downside, Fusion can’t display Acrobat files or play Flash videos or interactive content.  

At any time, you can easily record whatever Fusion is displaying. This can turn a single classroom lesson into one that can be used all day or shared among other classes. Just press the Record button on the remote control and it’s saved on the hard drive.

All told, Fusion is a shortcut to the interactive classroom where lessons and additional material are just a click away. Too bad using the remote control’s awkward keypad is the only way to get there.


Nixeus Fusion HD


+ Inexpensive way to connect TV or monitor to the Web

+ Easy set up

+ WiFi or wired LAN

+ High definition video

+Able to record


- Need to supply own hard drive

- Can’t Play Flash material

- Awkward remote control keypad data entry



Reading, the Digital Way

Myon-screen The library is not an endangered species quite yet, but Capstone Digital’s MyOn Reader can augment a collection's physical volumes. The program is an all-digital clearinghouse with more than 1,000 digital texts that teachers can build custom curricula for students. It provides unlimited anytime access to interactive material with printed text, audio and an embedded dictionary. It’s all correlated to state educational standards with book-based quizzes as well as overall assessment tests.


Synchronized Studying

Studysync-blast-screen Having trouble integrating traditional books with Web sites and other digital resources? You’re not alone but StudySync can make sense of all the new ways to teach by offering instant access to over 300 classical and modern texts as well as television quality video. Aimed at middle- and high-school classes, it’s perfect for setting up group projects because StudySync can set up a network where students can collaborate and jointly produce a project.  The program works on a variety of platforms and costs $175 per teacher (for up to 90 students) or a site license costs from $2,500 (for less than 1,000 students) to $3,500 (for more than 3,500 students); there’s a two-month free trial.


Document Wireless Act

W30_img_lg_1 Tired of cables everywhere on your desk? AVerMedia has a new document camera that is wireless so that it can be set up anywhere in the class. It can either save its work on an SD card or beam it to a receiver that plugs into the computer. Capable of high-resolution still images as well as 30-frame per second video, the W30 works with either a Mac or PC and can go for a full 8 hours of teaching on a charge. The software that comes with the W30 can create split screens as well as picture in a picture for incredible instructional flexibility.


Freebee Friday: Up Close and in Person

Google art project One of my eternal frustrations with the Web is that it is too low-resolution a medium for properly displaying artworks. Pablo Picasso looks fuzzy and JMW Turner is pixilated. The Google Art Project seeks to put an end to online squinting at famous paintings with ultra high resolution images.

“The Web wasn’t invented for looking at art up close,” says Jason Brush, executive vice president at Schematic, the company that worked with Google to put the project together. “But, we’ve made it so that you can use it to show the world’s most beautiful works of art.”

 With access to 17 world-class art museums, including New York Frick collection, Moscow’s Tretyakov and London’s Tate, it’s a tour of Western painting with more than 1,000 high-res paintings on display. If that weren’t enough, there are also 17 ultra-high resolution images with a gigapixel view of the work of art.

Googleartclose up The viewer allows kids to see the whole painting and zoom in on any area of interest to see actual brush strokes on some of the world’s most beautiful paintings. It’s easy to move around at high resolution by just dragging the mouse around to explore the painting in depth. Look for the project to expand its repertoire as more paintings get scanned and added to the Google Art collection.

Think of it as a mega-museum that fits into the classroom. Not only can students create their own collections but teachers can share works of art they want to discuss in class. You can look the museum over and see its most famous works so close you can imagine being there – all without a field trip.

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