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Freebee Friday: Sensing an Opportunity

Labquest kid Interested in incorporating Vernier’s sensor technology and its software into a classroom curriculum, but don’t know where to start? This September, Vernier will start a round of free seminars on how to use its LabQuest products in the classroom. Each is a four hour, comprehensive workshop that will not only show how to use the equipment but get you to actually do it yourself. 

The first round will be in the Southwest at these locations:
• September 12, 13: Dallas, TX

• September 13: Tulsa, OK

• September 14: Austin, TX

• September 14: Oklahoma City, OK

• September 15: Wichita, KS

• September 15, 17: San Antonio, TX

• September 19, 20: Houston, TX 

• September 29: Minneapolis, MN

More are coming later this year. 


iPhone Cam Extender

Iphone-slr-mount-e14c.0000001309999541 Ever wanted to use the convenience of an iPhone’s camera for a digital photography art project or to take portraits but you needed more precise lenses to pull it off? Photojojo has an iPhone case that attached to a SLR lens for surprisingly vivid results. There are mounts for the iPhone 3 ($190) and iPhone 4 ($250) and you have the choice of using Nikon or Canon EOS lenses. Can an iPad lens extender be far behind?




Math By the Colors

TI-Nspire CX handheld Just as we wouldn’t think of watching a black and white TV, using just one color marker or teaching with a monochrome computer, graphing calculators are best when they have color screens to tell the story of numbers. It started last year with Casio’s FX-CG10 Prizm and now Texas Instruments introduces its Nspire CX, a calculator that best mixes hardware with software.

Based on TI’s Nspire line of monochrome calculators, the CX is surprisingly small and thin at 7.5 by 3.4 by 0.6 inches thick. In fact, it’s significantly smaller and lighter than the monochrome Nspire Handheld and slightly narrower and taller than Casio’s Prizm color calculator. There’s also a CAS version of the Nspire calculator with a color screen.

At 10 ounces, though, the CX is 2-ounces heavier than the Prizm.. The extra heft is noticeable, particularly when holding it in your hand to do tedious calculations. Like the TI-80 family, the CX includes a snap on cover to protect the screen and keys.

Both the CX and Prizm have startlingly bright 3.2-inch screens that show 65,000 colors and make monochrome displays seem murky and hard to read by comparison. The CX’s 320 by 240 resolution is second best compared to the Prizim’s more detailed 216 by 384 resolution display, but its squarer shape works better for graphing.

Students Using TI-Nspire CX in Classroom Neither calculator, however, has a touch-sensitive display, like the ones popping up on tablet computers all over the school. I guess this will be the next innovation that will happen in this field.

Inside the CX is a powerful ARM processor along with 64MB of memory and 100MB of storage space. Like so many other calculators, there’s no provision for using an SD card to add more storage space or import items. You can transfer data between calculators and a computer with the CX’s USB connector and included cable.

Key to its success is TI’s OS 3.0 software. The CX relies on hierarchical drop down menus that make it seem more like a handheld computer and less like a calculator. My experience with a 13 year old is that students will immediately get it and learn its nooks and crannies as if it were the newest cell phone.

The center of attention is the ScratchPad, where there’s the choice between calculating and graphing. The former has a simple line by line approach while the latter requires either entering the points or a function to plot. The screen can accommodate many different graphs in a variety of colors but at about five plots the small screen gets crowded.

TI-Nspire CX  Multiple Views of a Problem It can work with simple Cartesian plots as well as polar and parametrics, and you’d be hard pressed to find a portion of today’s math curriculum that it can’t help teach. 

The CX’s input keys will be familiar to users of TI’s earlier Nspire and TI-80 series graphing calculators, although there are several significant differences. On top of a few new keys, there’s a wonderfully useful touchpad for moving an arrowhead around on the screen. While the CX has its touchpad front row center, just below the screen, the Prizm’s touchpad is over on the side, much smaller and more awkward to use.

There are dedicated keys for everything from the basic arithmetic operators and calling up trigonometry functions to pi and e. Many keys do double duty and there’s an alphanumeric keyboard below with the critical x, y, and z variables highlighted in white. Everything is easily handled with one hand, but it favors those adept at finger typing on their smart-phones. In fact, an add-on mini keyboard might those struggling to use the calculator’s keypad.

It picks up where the 80 series leaves off and can use many of the accessories that schools have invested in. It can connect with TI’s WiFi adapters as well as a variety of Vernier electronic sensors for performing physics labs.

TI-Nspire CX Lab Cradle with Co2 Sensor The system stands out from the crowd in its ability to create and work with a variety of documents. In fact, with a little prep work, nearly an entire lab can be put together on the CX calculator. That’s because it has a built-in spreadsheet program for recording data and can work with documents that are then transferred to a computer for final work and submission. Alternatively, a variety of in-class and homework can be set up on the calculators for the kids to work with, fill out and digitally turn in.

A big step forward in making math more visual was the Prizm’s ingenious ability to overlay graphs over photos so that the pitch of a roof might illustrate an equilateral triangle or the suspension cables on a bridge might be used to show a hyperbolic function. The CX can do this as well, but because its screen is squarer, you can often use more of the picture and there’s less wasted screen space.

The CX can take a student from Pre-Algebra through Trigonometry, Geometry, Pre-calculus and Statistics all the way to AP Calculus. It’s been approved for most high-school tests, including SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, ACT, AP, IB and Praxis. I love the Press-to-Test feature that in a second gets the calculator ready for an exam.

Import Pix to Find Slope of Roof As is the case with earlier TI devices, the calculator is just the part of the iceberg that’s visible. Under the surface, each CX comes with a copy of the TI-Nspire Student Software, which puts the keypad layout and screen onto a PC or Mac computer. It’s perfect for demonstrating a procedure on a projector or having kids do calculator homework without an actual calculator.

On top of that, TI has a huge downloadable library of lesson plans, assignments, videos and teaching suggestions for using the Nspire calculator. In addition to guides for teaching biology, chemistry and physics, there are ones for math. In fact, TI has just released a slew of chemistry, physics and biology-themed material for its calculators available on the company’s FaceBook page.

A big bonus for schools wanting to do away with throw-away batteries is the CX’s rechargeable battery pack. It takes a couple hours to charge and will power the calculator for about two weeks of intensive use.

After using the calculator for several weeks and exploring its intricacies, I’m here to say that this is one powerful device. If I’d had it when I was a high schooler, I might have been a better student.



TI-Nspire CX Handheld


+ Thin and Small

+ Great color screen

+ Works with documents and images

+ Can use all accessories

+ Software


- Heavy

- Expensive






Dock Me


Docks for Apple’s iconic iPads are a dime a dozen but Crestron outdoes them all for school use with its IDOC-Pad. When the pad is placed in the Crestron dock, it is the equivalent of one of Crestron’s touch screens for controlling audio visual items during a class. It uses Mobile Pro G software to integrate with other Crestron gear and can be had in black or white as well as ones for tabletop or wall mounted use. At $370, it’s nearly the cost of an iPad, but worth it.




A Lion of an OS

Whatsnew_autosave_screen The latest version of Apple’s Mac OS X is out and ready for a school’s worth of upgrades before the kids show up for the first day of school. OS X 10.7 costs $30 per system and at the moment is only available as a download, all 3.5GB of it. Later in the year, Apple will make it available on a memory key, but you can say good-bye to the upgrade DVD.

It’s got everything you love and hate from the current version, but adds a slew of new features:

  • There’s now a 20,000 foot view of a Mac with Mission Control software. It shows what each open app is up to and can disappear with a swipe.
  • There’s better integration with Apple’s Mac store for downloading new programs, but that’s because many of the company’s previously boxed software will soon only be available online.
  • When you reopen apps, they start up where you left off.
  • Lion can handle multi-touch gestures on touch screen systems for things like zooming in and out and go between open apps.
  • Everything is now saved incrementally, and some apps may get rid of the save button. Along with that is Versions software, which shows the history of any document or file.
  • Finally, a feature that teachers will love: AirDrop lets Macs that are within Bluetooth range to share files. It’s perfect for distributing an assignment or even a quiz.


8th Generation Mimio Tools

Line_tools Mimio’s 8th generation classroom tools are now ready, and they’re the best yet. It fits into Mimio’s Classroom Suite, works with PCs, Macs and Linux computers, and is available in 31 languages. On top of offering the ability to use an image as a potential answer to a pop quiz, the new software has a slew of new drawing tools and supports a brush pen for calligraphy or non Western characters as well as a custom color palette. Look for it the next couple of weeks.



Freebee Friday: An A in Grading

Thinkwave gradebook The last thing you want is to digitize the grading function at a district only to find that it costs fortune to license the software. ThinkWave’s GradeBook is totally free and is a good way for teachers to record and distribute grades. Just register for it and you’re ready to grade.

To ease getting started with GradeBook, ThinkWave emails you links to start-up suggestions as well as useful video tutorials. It’s an easy program to learn on your own, but these things help.

You’ll need to enter the school’s name, its school year, grades covered and how the year is divided. There’s even a place to add the school’s motto that will show up on the child’s final report card.

The software covers homework, projects, quizzes and tests and they can be scored on any standard you like. There’s a field to add comments, like lateness or areas that the child needs to work on. All the action takes place in a Web browser and at the end of the semester, ThinkWave does the heavy lifting needed to prepare a class’s worth of report cards.



Freebee Friday: Summer Reading

Give books There’s a great place online to get some free early reader books at the we give books site. There are a couple dozen books available, from Duck Pond Dip to Tinga Tinga Tales. It’s all sponsored by Pearson Foundation Initiative, and there’s a counter for the number of books downloaded.




Robots that Remember

Megatron_MIMOBOT If your kids are tired of plain Jane memory keys that are nothing more than rectangles filled with flash memory chips, think about Mimoco Mimobots. They are tiny robots that can hold between 2- and 16GB of assignments, math homework, videos and essays. On top of Hello Kitty memory keys, there are ones that looks like Transformers and comic book heroes, but my favorite is the Yoda memory key.




The Classroom Goes Global

Schoolwires_greenleaf_student_on_computer Class pen pal projects are a great way to mix cultures, and Schoolwires new International Classroom Exchange takes this to a new level. Students in two classrooms, separated by a world of geography can now collaborate and share ideas with the exchange. The program includes a two-year curriculum that has objectives and clearly defined assessment goals as well as. It was tried out with a classroom in China and the company is trying to pair a dozen classrooms with similar ones in China.





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