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Freebee Friday: That’s Cold

Arctic waters With the temperatures rising as final exams start, its perfect time for … a trip to the Arctic. Philippe Cousteau and Eduard Sarukhanian host a Web journey under the frigid Arctic waters at Siemens’ STEM Academy. It starts on June 2-nd at 1PM (eastern time) and is aimed at middle school science classrooms. It will address climate change, melting glaciers and the role that the region plays in the world’s climate. There will be a Q&A section at the end. It’s free, just register.


The Sights and Sounds of School

LS20M With the demise of the Flip video recorder, Olympus looks ready to step right in with a sophisticated device whose audio is as good as its video. The LS-20M weighs just 5.4 ounces, yet fits nicely in the hand and can capture up to 1,920 by 1,080 HD video at up to 30 frames per second. On top of the 2-inch preview screen, the video recorder has a smaller info screen that shows how much recording time and battery power are left. A big step forward is that the LS-20M has a pair of microphones for stereo sound, making it the easiest way to record a school concert or a debate. Everything is recorded on a SD card, and the LS-20M comes with a 2GB card.




Pen Power

Wacom-Bamboo-Pen-Touch-01 Those schools wanting to tap into tablets and pen input, but can’t afford hundreds of new devices, Wacom’s Bamboo Pen & Touch can retrofit desktops and notebooks for pens. The kit includes the Bamboo 4.9- by 3.4-inch touch pad, which can interpret 1,024 levels of pressure and has an accuracy of .02 inches. It works with PCs and Macs, connects via a USB cable and includes a full version of Adobe’s Photoshop Elements. Not bad for $100.



Go-Anywhere Keyboard

BT 637 b The worst aspect of the digital classroom is being handcuffed to a computer with a wired keyboard, but it doesn’t have to be so. With a Bluetooth keyboard, a teacher can roam about the room, while still controlling the classroom computer. AVS Gear’s Zippy BT-637 does a good job of putting a teacher in her place: everywhere.

At 1.7 pounds, the keyboard is a little on the heavy side compared to the 1.3 pound Adesso WKB 4000BB keyboard, although I like the BT-637’s two-tone silver and black design. It has pull out legs to tilt the keyboard.

The keyboard uses a pair of AA batteries, which – happily – are included. There are 19.3mm keys with scalloped tops that feel good on the finger and have a generous 3.2mm stroke.

BT 637 a On top of 82 standard keys, the BT-637 has a 2.2-inch touchpad that is a little too small for my fingers. On top of multimedia controls and Function keys that take you to videos or pictures, the keyboard has a pressure-sensitive zone on the right. Touch any of the 8 spots to do things like turning off the touchpad and muting the volume.  

Unlike other wireless keyboards, the BT-637 doesn’t include a USB Bluetooth transmitter for a computer, but just about every PC comes with Bluetooth these days. It can establish connections with up to 7 different computers, but it can be tedious to use to software that sets up the different profiles. I was able to use it with a RIM PlayBook, all-in-one PC and a HP notebook, and was able to quickly move between configurations, but needed the instructions in front of me to correctly make the connection.

When it comes to keyboards, the time has come to cut the cord and free yourself to teach where you can teach best.


AVS Gear Zippy BT-637



+ Can pair with 7 computers

+ Attractive design

+ Excellent controls

+ Special purpose buttons


- Tiny touch pad

- Heavy




Tiny Data Drive

TNT 4 Instead of handing out assignment calendars on the first day of the school year, principals should consider just giving out memory keys for kids to hold their homework, tasks and to-do lists. Verbatim’s Tuff-N-Tiny USB drive is about as small, unobtrusive and inexpensive as memory keys get, yet can hold a semester’s worth of assignments.

 Barely the size of a fingernail and less than a tenth of an inch thick, the Tuff-N-Tiny drive weighs just 1.2 grams and comes with a lanyard for turning it into a keychain. For any student or teacher it will disappear into a pocket or purse, yet act as a bottomless pit for assignments, research and lesson plans.

Available in capacities from 2- to 32GB, the Tuff-N-Tiny drives are color coded depending on how much they hold. They work with all recent PCs, Macs and Linux computers and are pretty much indestructible. They can survive low and high temperatures, up to 55-gs of shock as well as getting wet; just dry it off and plug it in. All Tuff-N-Tiny drives come with a lifetime warranty against damage.

TNT 8 The orange 2GB drive I looked at can actually hold 1.86GB of data and comes formatted for FAT use. It is fast enough to be used to help older PCs run better by using Microsoft’s ReadyBoost technology.

On top of a Quick Start Guide, the drive comes with Verbatim’s V-Safe 100 software for setting up a password to protect the drive’s contents. To use it, you’ll need to reformat the drive and the security program only works with PCs.

TNT 32 While not stellar, its performance was more than adequate for use in schools. It worked fine with a USB hub and using HD Tune Pro 4.6, the Tuff-N-Tiny drive averaged 14.8 Mbps of throughput and had an access time of .599 milliseconds. That’s off the pace set by SanDisk’s Cruzer Pattern drive, which was 40 percent faster, but the Tuff’N’Tiny drive played videos without a fault.

Unfortunately, there’s no light to show that data is flowing into or out of the Tuff-N-Tiny drive. As it is being used, the SanDisk drive used 25.1 percent of available processor resources, compared to the Tuff-N-Tiny’s 19.0 percent. This means that it’s not a resource hog and using the drive won’t slow or bog the computer down as it reads and writes data.

Verbatim prices the drives from $22 (2GB) to $158 (32GB), but if you shop carefully, you can get them for between one-half and one-third of that price. For instance, the 2GB drive I looked at can be had for about $8.

Tuff-N-Tiny drives more than live up to their name. Its only problem is that it’s so small and light that it’s just a little too easy to lose. 



Verbatim Tuff-N-Tiny USB Drive

2GB to 32GB/$8 to $72


+ Tiny and very light

+ Durable

+ Lifetime warranty

+ Inexpensive


- Easy to lose

- No activity light


Wide Load

Epson_Stylus_Photo_R2000_Front_Output-prv When teaching kids the intricacies of digital art and photography, why restrict them to a standard print that can only cover 8.5 by 11-inch paper. Epson’s Stylus R2000 can put stunning prints on sheets of paper as large as 13- by 19-inches. The R2000 connects via USB, wired networking or WiFi, uses the company’s new UltraChrome Hi-Gloss 2 inks to create frame-ready prints at up to 5,760 by 1,440 dot per inch resolution; it can work with up to 8 inks and a variety of specialty papers. It costs $500.


Talking Math

978-1-935099-12-3_HRes Keeping math teachers up to date on the latest in teaching techniques is getting a lot easier with MathSolutions’ “Classroom Discussions: Seeing Math Discourse in Action” professional development class. The program includes access to two DVDs that show teachers positively interacting with students as well as a guide to help teachers get kids talking and has sample dialogues between teacher and student. It includes a slew of reproducible worksheets to try out what you’ve learned, costs $40 and could open up a new way of teaching math.


Towers You Don’t Want to Hide

HP Pavilion Elite HPE, wired keyboard and mouse, right facing Most desktop and tower PCs are so ugly that you want to hide them. Not so with HP’s Pavilion Elite series of systems. Clothed in basic black with a horizontal ribbon of red, there’s plenty of ventilation as well as hidden panels that hide the optical drives, front video connections and slots for USB and flash cards. The case can hold a variety of Intel or AMD processors, up to a six-core chip, as well as ATI or Nvidia graphics cards. The system will be available in a couple of days and pricing starts at $600.



Friday Freebee: Making Learning Fun

Prongo Need a bunch of online games for elementary- and middle-school students that can help teach lessons and test skills? Prongo has dozens of games that range from puzzles to code breaking. Organized in three different age groups, the games are good up to 8-th graders. One of my favorites is Lemonade Larry, where kids run a virtual lemonade stand, teaching math along the way. Most of the games require Macromedia Flash 4.0, and they’re all free.





Language Options

LA12Examp1 There’s nothing more gratifying for an elementary school teacher than to see students grasp the power of language, and EdOptions can make it easier to make that leap into language. The company’s Language Concepts series can help first and second graders with learning the letters, keyboarding and forming new words with vowel and consonant sounds. There’s even a starter class on rhyming couplets for those budding Shakespeares.




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