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Freebee Friday: Find x on Shmoop

Shmoop mathShmoop has beefed up its pre-Algebra resource site, and it can help any struggling student or teacher with a slew of math-oriented content. In addition to topics like basic operations, fractions and ratios, the site has a large geometry section as well as one on statistics and probability.



Library ChromeBooks

Palo altoAs iPads are starting to filter into libraries for loans, Samsung ChromeBooks will also be available. Visitors to three branches of the Palo Alto library can check out ChromeBooks for up to 2 hours at a time to perform research, watch videos and nose around the Web on the library’s WiFi network.





Small Wonders

The latest in educational projectors is a generation of LED powered devices that are not only smaller and lighter, but can simplify classroom set up and save on expenses. That’s because on top of using much less electricity, their lamps have been designed to last at least ten years of typical school use so you’ll probably never have to replace an expensive lamp again.

On the downside, they can’t compare on brightness with traditional classroom projectors, but still have their place in the classroom or small group learning. Here’re five of my favorites,

BenQ-Joybee-GP2-1Need to put something on your iPhone or iPod onto the classroom’s big screen but can’t figure out how to do it? In addition to connecting with a computer or DVD player, BenQ’s Joybee GP2 can put what’s on an iPhone or iPod onto a screen with up to 720p high definition resolution. The $700 micro-projector uses a tiny DLP imaging engine and LEDs, but puts out only 100 lumens of light, the lowest output of the five. It can be battery powered for doing things like projecting a movie on a field trip bus. It weighs 1.2 pounds.

ML500_Right_300dpiBy contrast, Optoma’s ML500 projector is much larger and weighs in at 2.5 pound, but is tiny compared to traditional projectors. It leads its class by being able to put 500 lumens of light on the screen, which should be more than enough for a small group lesson or a classroom with the blinds down. With 1,280 by 800 resolution, the ML500 can show HD programming from a computer or play all sorts of files directly from an SD card. The ML500 costs about $700.

LG-HX350T_2Of these five mini-projectors, LG’s HX350T is the most unique projector by being able to do things the others can’t. In addition to connecting with a computer or DVD player, it has a digital TV tuner built-in so that it can project episodes of Sesame Street or Discovery Channel documentaries. The TV signal can come from a cable connection or broadcast TV via an antenna, it doesn’t matter. At 300 lumens, the projector’s 1,024 by 768 resolution output is midway between the others in terms of brightness; it can show 1,024 by 768 resolution and costs $650.

1-acer_k11_2Despite its micro size and 1.3-pound weight, Acer’s K11 projector offers a lot for a little. It puts out 200 lumens in SVGA resolution so that it can fill a 6.7-foot screen with all sorts of lessons to small groups of students. The K11has a simple control panel as well as a built-in 1 watt speaker and can be connected to HDMI or VGA sources. It has automatic keystone correction for a quick classroom set up, but the best part about Acer’s K11 is its price tag, which can be as low as $300.

Qumi-Vivitek-highres (7)Unlike the others, Vivtek pushes microprojectors into the third dimension with its Qumi Q2, which supports the use of 3-D movies and programs. It supports 720p high definition resolution, pumps out 300 lumens of brightness and can play content directly from a USB memory key or SD card; it also has mini HDMI and composite video jacks for connecting with a computer. The projector comes with most of the cables you’ll need, a remote control and travel bag. All told, it’s the lightweight of the bunch with a weight of just over a pound and sells for $500.



Ice Cream Sandwich Party

Ics-kyrosCoby Electronics showed off its upcoming family of tablets that will use Android 4.0 (aka Ice Cream Sandwich) software. They will be officially shown at the upcoming CES show in Las Vegas and includes five models. All have multi-touch screens, 1GHz ARM Cortex processors, WiFi and up to 1GB of RAM. Expect to see models with 7-, 8-, 9-, 9.7- and 10-inch displays.



Fast Data

E4200_persp_2cCisco has speeded up its Linksys E4200 wireless router to make it the fastest around. The E4200 is a dual-band router that uses 802.11n to its utmost and has been upgraded with 3 by 3 data streams for peak transfer in the 450Mbps range and a new 1.2GHz processor means that it can access data on an attached hard drive. It sells for $200.



Freebee Friday: College at High School

EconomicsThere are hundreds and hundreds of online college courses available on a variety of outlets for free that range from artificial Intelligence to archaeology. So, whether its iTunes lectures on the history of philosophy from Oxford University or YouTube videos on journalistic ethics.

Meanwhile, MIT has increased the number of online college courses to 2,000, ranging from aeronautics to writing.  There are three dozen disciplines to choose from, many of which have hundreds of course to choose from. For instance, the Chemistry department has the old standbys, like Organic Chemistry, as well as course on how to best teach the science. Many have lecture notes, assignments and projects.




Freebee Friday: How do you Say that, from Afrikaans to Zulu

Freelang cherokeeThe first step in setting up a program to teach a language is a complete translation dictionary and FreeLang can find the right word in 264 languages. While the Abaza dictionary has just a few hundred words, the one for German has more than 100,000 entries. Just pick a language pair to download and start studying. Words can be added and the software can create practice sessions and produce study materials. That way it won’t be lost in translation.



A Revolution in Computer Furniture

Versatables compositeNow you see it, now you don’t. The latest computer desk from Versatables has a pair of flip-open panels for notebooks that can be folded flat for other work. The Revolution furniture has a steel frame, laminate surfaces and measures 72-inches; there’s also a 48-inch version for one student. It’s available in gray or black legs and four surface colors, sells for $939 or $750 (depending on size) and has a lifetime warranty.


Power Hungry

Vaio s with battery4There’s a great deal on Sony’s VAIO S Series notebooks that provides an add on battery that doubles its battery life for free. The rest of the S notebook is no slouch, either with either an Intel Core i5 or i7 CPU and a 1,920 by 1,080 resolution 15.5-inch screen with high-performance AMD Radeon graphics. It comes with high-speed USB 3.0, a back lit keyboard and a Blu-ray optical. Pricing starts at $999.



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.


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