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Head of the Class, 2011

It’s mid-December and before we all scatter for a well-deserved holiday break, it’s a great time to reflect on the year that’s about to end and look ahead to the new one that’s right around the corner. As I did last year, it’s also a time to recognize those who contributed the most to advancing the state of the art for classroom technology.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that innovation was the watchword for 2011, with a variety of new classroom products that range from a slew of interactive projectors and white boards to a proliferation of Web-based services and a widening of the digital circle at schools with tablets and inexpensive notebooks. It was a year that brought us the second generation iPad, inexpensive projectors and no shortage of software. Of the hundreds of technologies and products featured in Tech Tools over the year, two stand out as exceptional and without parallel.

Head of the class TI CXFor its ability to make hard math concepts as plain as the graph on its screen, TI’s Nspire CX calculator with its exceptional color display is the winner for the most important hardware advance of the year. At 7.5 by 3.4 by 0.6 inches and weighing 10 ounces, it can be a handful. But, with a powerful ARM processor and bright 3.2-inch color screen the Nspire is more than a mere calculator.

It may not be the first color screen calculator, but the Nspire CX is the best. It can not only make calculations easier to see and manipulate but can help solve a variety of equations and draw beautiful graphs in several colors. Overall, it is a pleasure to teach with and use.

Hardware is worthless without good software and Texas Instruments delivers with excellent programs and online services. It makes all the right moves with add-on wireless modules as well as away to attach scientific sensors, turning it into a lean lab machine. Finally, the CX is not only for the classroom, but has been approved for use on all the major standardized exams, making it a clean sweep.

One day – hopefully soon – all calculators will be like the Nspire CX. 

Head of the class lexmarkBy contrast, Lexmark’s Hosted Testing and Grading system makes the most of hardware that is far away from the school, yet can streamline teaching by creating and automatically grading a variety of bubble test forms. In other words, it has the potential to make the most onerous, and often- procrastinated, task of grading tests and quizzes simple, quick and easy.

Because it works as a Web service, you can use just about any computer to interact with the Hosted Testing and Grading system, including an iPad or Android tablet. It does require a Lexmark multi-function laser printer to print and scan the tests, though.

It all works well together, with the system taking a minute to create a class’s test answer sheets. It takes another 2 minutes to turn the completed answer sheets into raw scores and letter grades for each student. For a teacher who has 7 classes of 25 students, automating test grading can free up several hours a week for extra instruction, individualized attention or class preparation.

While the hosted system can’t automatically put the grades into a school’s grade book software, the data can be moved into Excel or a database for analysis at the class, school or district level. Lexmark’s Testing and Grading service can save a large school a pile of cash versus using Scantron hardware and cards, but the real pay-off is much more valuable: giving teachers extra time to teach.

As you can see 2011 was a banner year for the digital classroom with no shortage of creative thinking and imaginative technology. The best is yet to come. In the coming weeks, look for some significant changes here at Tech Tools and some exciting new projects that mirror the changes you’ve seen in the classroom.

It’s all an effort to help you do your job better. We’ll be doing much more and can’t wait for 2012 to begin.



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