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The Mouse that Tilts

Whirl a A mouse is a mouse is a mouse is a mouse, right? Afraid not, because a high-quality mouse can be more comfortable to use and make every click count. The $50 Smartfish Whirl Mini Notebook Laser Mouse is the rare combination of precision and comfort.

Available in six colors, Whirl Mini works with both Macs and PCs, is made of sturdy plastic and has side grips. At 3.3-ounces and 1.6-inches thick, it’s roughly the weight but taller compared to the typical wireless mouse. Unfortunately, it might be too big for young children with small fingers.

Based on advice from orthopedists at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery, Whirl’s unique take is a design that tilts right to left and backwards and forwards. It only gets to an angle of about 10-degrees but it’s more than enough to customize the grip.

Smartfish calls it the anti-gravity comfort pivot so that the mouse adapts to the way you hold it rather than the other way around. It all sits on a wide platform and is sturdy to use.

Whirl b The result is that instead of having a sore wrist at the end of the day, you can go home and be ready for hours of grading, gaming, homework and Web surfing. On top of the expected right and left integrated click keys, the Whirl Mini is an ambidextrous design that has a convenient scroll wheel.

Inside is a precise 800-dot-per-inch laser mouse engine that is lightning fast and doesn’t lag even for quick movements. Underneath there are six Teflon spots rather than the three areas on traditional mice, making Whirl Mini feel solid and sturdy as it slides on a desk. It worked well on wood and metal tables, but like other laser mice, not on a glass tabletop; it refused to work with either of two USB hubs.

Setting it up takes less than a minute with a Windows 7 system and there’s no extra software to load. The mouse’s configuration can be adjusted using the Windows Mouse controls. While I like the tiny 2.4GHz wireless USB receiver, I don’t like that the mouse requires a pair of AA batteries that will need replacing every few months and would have preferred a rechargeable arrangement.

At $50, the Whirl Mini is priced on a par with other wireless mice that don’t have its innovative tilt action. Starfish also sells a larger tiltable mouse for the same price. While the Whirl Mini should fit right into just about any digital classroom or computer lab, I just wish that it were a little shorter.


Whirl Mini Notebook Laser Mouse


+ Unique four-way tilt design

+ No software to load

+ Precise movement

+ Wireless


- Requires two AAA batteries

- Tall


Turning Students into Mathletes

Mathletics overall Looking to go beyond chalk and the blackboard to explain everything from trigonometric proofs to solving quadratic equations? The new version of Mathletics is better than ever with as close to a complete online mathematics curriculum as exists. It covers the gamut from Kindergarten (numbers, shapes and measurement) to grade 12 (geometry, statistics, probability and advanced algebra) with more than 750 individual topics.

The best part is that it not only works on both PCs and Macs as long as they have a recent Web browser, but it is Web-based so that students and teachers can use the service at any time, day or night.

There’s no shortage of interactive elements and videos to explain a variety of math concepts, techniques and tricks for solving problems. Students can customize their on-screen avatar and learn at their own pace by doing problems that get progressively harder. Once they’ve mastered a skill, they can move on to the next section or keep working on the previous section until it feels right.

Mathletics The program’s Teacher Center lets one person keep any eye on an entire class’s progress, or lack of it. On top of printing a wide assortment of worksheets for students to practice on the teacher can divide the class into groups at the same level, view or print student reports and export any results to a spreadsheet for grading or school purposes.

It costs $59 per student or $1,700 for a school-wide site license for roughly 250 students, and the company offers a free trial. Along the way, kids earn credits that teachers can use to earn prizes or just set up a class- or school-wide competition. The program tracks individual student progress and teachers can spur kids on by having them compete for a place on the leader board on the program’s home page.


The Creative Classroom

I~O_Post_with_Smith_System_Tables[1] Need to outfit a digital classroom, but traditional school furniture doesn’t make the right connections? Smith System’s I~O Post is a standalone unit that can sit at the end of a work table or where several meet and provide access to 8 power outlets as well as 8 LAN or modem jacks. This way everyone will stay charged and online.


Math as easy as Zapping Aliens

208053_sk_lg Getting kids to use calculators isn’t especially hard, but X-Cool’s Gamer Calculator puts a basic calculator into something the size and shape of a gaming controller. It has an eight digit screen, a memory key and can do the basic operations as well as calculate percent and square roots. It costs $4 at Office Depot.

Freebee Friday: From the Great Wall to the Classroom

Great Wall Looking for a way to bring the marvel and culture of the outside world to the classroom? Try MimioConnect.com’s content that lets teachers digitally explore some of the world’s most interesting World Heritage sites. The best part is that the first two installments (the Great Wall in China and Imperial palaces of the Ming and Qing dynasties) are the start of several additions coming. Some of the other categories include flags of the world and a cool series of math quizzes. The material works with Macs, PCs and Linux computers, but you’ll need the latest MimioStudio viewer, which is available on a trial basis. Good news: it’s all free if you register.

Power on the Desk

M91Tower_Standalone[1]Tower PCs are not passé with the IdeaCentre M91 offers the highest performance potential of any PC. Inside the big black case is the most up to date computer with SATA III, USB 3.0, the ability to drive four monitors, the choice of Intel Core i5 or i7 processors and up to 16GB of memory.

Light Up the Classroom

5 If you’re tired of having to teach by the stray light of a projector or large screen monitor, think about getting the Mantis light. A task light composed of 11 LEDs, Mantis can either stand on its fold out legs or clip to where it’s needed. Great for illuminating notes, a keyboard or a book, Mantis runs on batteries. It’s available for preordering for $27; once 1,500 orders are received, production will start.

Question of the Month: Tight Budgets

Given the financial changes that are happening in state finances and school funding during this recession, how is your district preparing to deliver services with less money and less staff? What types of alternatives are being considered and what's being dropped or downgraded.

John Orbaugh (2) John Orbaugh

Director of Technology Services

Tyler Independent School District

With the State of Texas budget shortfall estimates ranging up to $27 billion, our legislature is preparing a budget that will trim about $9bBillion from school budgets. In order to prepare for what the future will hold we are looking at pretty much everything that isn't mandated by law.  Each and every area in our district is being examined to determine how we can operate more efficiently from class scheduling options to transportation, maintenance and extracurricular programs. 

Personnel consultants have been hired to help up prepare for a possible reduction in force, maintenance contracts have been eliminated, low use software subscriptions will be discontinued and new computing models like thin client are being evaluated as a way to provide the technology our students and staff need at a lower cost. Additionally, we are bidding a number of services such as local and long distance phone service and our leased fiber optic network in an effort to reduce costs.  Our district has also upgraded some of our large volume copying machines and when we did that we were able to reduce our lease cost at the same time.


John Laws - Copy John Laws

Executive Director for Technology

Lakota School District

West Chester, Ohio

 Here in Ohio we anticipate a 15 percent cut in state revenue on top of the 10 percent drop between 2010 and 2011. This has certainly forced us to look at where we can increase efficiency, replace people with automated systems, become a “greener” district and reuse hardware in creative ways.

 Given that we’ve had two years to work on the process here are things we’re already doing:

  • Automatic power down and restart of PC from 8:00 pm to 5:00 am. Savings of $75,000 per year.
  • Reducing the printer fleet by 20 percent and purging the fleet of old printers. Savings of $50,000 in the initial year and $25,000 annually.
  • Virtualized everything we can both on the desktop and in the Data Center.
  • Created a building by building list of hardware by processor age to develop a priority map for moving machines to the most important instructional locations in the building as machines die.
  • Freeze all purchases and limited purchases to the replacement of a primary system if we cannot use a system from the priority list.
  • Identified laptop carts with the lowest usage rates so we can take these out of service using the laptops as replacement machines on priority carts.
  • Use old PCs as thin clients to provide Internet and MS Office access in Media Centers or open labs.
  • Invest time in our management software systems to improve data quality and redesign processes (like emailing purchase orders rather than printing and mailing through the postal service).

I expect the processes to remain in place once the state clears the financial difficulties in 2014 to 2016. Probably the largest project is encouraging a move of our district’s curriculum entirely to Web-based content. If this can be accomplished it will allow the vast majority of our PCs to be converted to thin clients saving approximately 70 percent per device. At 6,000 machines this would be a nice chunk of change.

Meanwhile, We have frozen the refresh program for two years at a savings of $1,200,000. The downside is that we now have machines that are 6 to 7 years old in six buildings. On the plus side, it is forcing buildings to develop better strategies for computer use since they will likely receive 40 percent less funding for a refresh.

As a result of all these elderly machines, the repair budget has grown by 60 percent this year and will likely jump again next year. Not too much we can do about this one short of just not replacing the machines.

We renegotiated many contracts saving $5,000 to $25,000 annually and dropped a student storage vendor in favor of free web services. We are eliminating the Edline student/parent portal in favor of an application that comes with our SIS. It’s not as deep as Edline, but community presentations are OK with it.

All professional development and IT related conferences have been cancelled. We are implementing an ATM-like system for tardy students or students on early release. This saves several hours of staff time each day.

We’re moving in the direction of BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology). WiFi is available in all buildings and with a small build out in the secondary building we could add capacity for another 200 to 300 users. With what we have in place today we typically see 275to 300 non Lakota machines attached.

Unlike most other states, Ohio’s property taxes for schools do not increase at the rate of inflation. We have failed to pass two levies in the past nine months and will run another in November. If this one does not pass, I expect to lose several staff members and certainly an additional 15 percent of our budget.

Education is at a cross roads in most states because schools have grown into places that not only educate kids in the core areas, but engage them in hundreds of classes and activities to foster creativity and leadership. Everyone wants to point at K-through-12 schools, telling us we’re not doing enough to develop the whole student, but how are we going to do that when we’re being asked to cut budgets by 25 percent? It just doesn’t make sense!


Merk weedy Mark Weedy

Retired Superintendent

Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Schools

Groveport, Ohio

Dr. Mark Weedy

During my 32 years in education, I have seen many financial cycles in school districts.  Today’s financial challenges faced by school districts, while pretty tough, are really not that different from some of the others I have witnessed.  I firmly believe when it comes to the area of technology, school districts must place a priority on staying current. 

Once a district falls behind, it is difficult to catch up.  Students quickly realize when technology is not current in their school, and since multiple educational choices are available to students and parents today, they may opt for another school if opportunities are not available.  In many ways technology can reduce expenditures school districts typically have including the replacement of textbooks, media center/library purchases, and administrative duties such as attendance and other mandated record-keeping chores. 

School district personnel must look at all segments of the budget to determine where and how the use of technology can save time and money.  Unfortunately this is typically done when finances are tight, but I maintain that this should be the norm.  It is incumbent on school district personnel to use taxpayer dollars wisely at all times, not just when they find themselves in hard times.  The use of technology is one way to accomplish this goal.


BluRay Built in

30_toshiba-regza-rb2 I’ve seen plenty of flat screen TVs with DVD players, but Toshiba’s Regza RB2 is the first one that can play high definition BluRay discs. The sets are thin, have full 1,920 by 1,080 resolution and can be used as an external monitor for classroom lessons. They are available with 26-, 32- and 40-inch screens, but only in Japan at the moment but expect them to arrive here by Springtime. 

One-Button Classroom Control

Creston on cue It may not be able to control the class clown, but Crestron’s onCue BPC-8 Basic Presentation Controller has eight controls for the digital classroom. There are buttons for turning the system on and off, connecting with either of two computers or a DVD and making the volume louder or softer. It works with major projectors, each item has an icon and the device can be mounted on a lectern or wall.

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