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Listen Up for Reading Help

LA-AudioApp3Dyslexia not only is frustrating for students, but for teachers who lack the resources to guide these students to fluent reading. Listening is a great technique. Listening to books being read on an iPhone, iPod or iPad, that is. Nonprofit organization Learning Ally can help with a new version of its Audio reading program.  Learning Ally now allows direct downloading of content and the software has bookmarking (both for memorable and hard to follow passages), the ability to return to the last-read place. My favorite is that the software can speed up and slow down the reading so that the student can get the most out of it. The organization has a library of 70,000 volumes and teaching resources. Learning Ally is free for those with version 1.0 and 1.1 of the app and it costs $20 for others. The service costs $99 a year.

Speak Out and Up

EPA40_P0430_Reflective_webIf you’re having trouble being heard in the gym, auditorium or playground, Behringer’s Eurosound EPA40 can help with a small device that gives even the most petite principal a big voice. Equipped with a 5-inch speaker, the EPA40 comes with a plug-in microphone and can work with a CD player or iPod. It sells for $109, has controls for volume and a battery that can last a whole school day of use.


Freebee Friday: Passwords – Here, There, Everywhere

Identity safeGet rid of that little yellow sticky note with all your school passwords on it because Norton Identity Safe can hold them all and recall them at a moment’s notice as needed as well as basic contact data that can streamline the filling out of online forms. It’s a freebee until the fall. All the information held in a secure online repository and it works with PCs as well as iPads and Android tablets. The software can even make up super secure passwords to your exact specification and keep them secret.


Freebee Friday: History, Year by Year

Gilder lehrmanIf the whole of American history is too overwhelming for you and your students, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History has divided the county’s past into 10 easy-to-swallow chunks, from pre-history to just about a year ago. Once in the sections, you see a timeline that shows the major events. A convenient slider lets you go through the years quickly and there’s an 11th category that explains themes that crossover the 10 eras. There are links to key art work of the time, interactive features and multimedia resources as well as a slew of primary sources and teaching resources that can turn a dry lesson into a thrilling classroom experience, like letters from soldiers in the War of 1812.


All in One Management

Skool time tableTired of navigating through a dozen programs to keep attendance, record grades and all the other things that a school does? Skool Manager is a school management suite that’s written in India and puts it all – from admissions to payroll – into one package. The software has modules for attendance, scheduling, library, exams and more. The Lite edition (for one user) costs $800, while the Enterprise version (for up to 10 users with customized reports) costs $2,500.


Talk, Talk, Talk

Airhead_3_4While its name might sound like something a ditzy middle-schooler might say, the Airhead 1000 is actually a high-quality headset that can work with most classroom computers. It can make classroom audio – both listening and talking – more personal, quieting the entire room.

 At 5.4 ounces, the black Airhead headset is light yet comes with everything needed to integrate audio (both speaking and listening) into school without a classroom cacophony. It comes with several cables, a USB transceiver and a black velour bag that the headset can be folded up and stored in.

 Airhead is not only comfortable, but adjustable enough to accommodate a variety of different size heads from 10-year olds through high-school seniors. The entire device has an inviting soft rubberized coating and the ear cups are padded so kids can wear them for hours if needed. Unlike other headsets, Airhead’s stubby microphone doesn’t get in the way.

There are audio controls on the outside of the cups that makes using these headphones a snap to integrate into a lesson. It can take a little while to get used to how they work, though. In addition to raising and lowering the volume, I was able to control the media being played by stopping, playing and moving tracks back and forth.

Cup_controlsThe big breakthrough, however, is that it can be used wirelessly with the included 2.4GHz USB transceiver. There’s no software to load to get the Airhead to work. Just plug the USB transmitter into a computer and it’s ready to get to work. The device works just as well with PCs and with Mac computers. All told, it takes about two minutes to get the Airhead set up.

Inside there are 40mm speakers that can reproduce sound between 20- and 50,000-hertz with less than 0.1 percent total harmonic distortion. Using the wireless link, I was able to use the Airhead for Skype calls, recording personalized learning material and for language lab work. It works particularly well for a teacher roaming around the room while staying connected to a classroom public address system.

For listening, the audio of the Airhead is surprisingly strong, with solid midrange and bright high-end tones. On the downside, there’s a slight background hum that you can hear during silent periods and the audio sometimes breaks up when you’re near the limit of its range; roughly 30-feet.

Airhead_underThe headset has its own rechargeable battery, but doesn’t come with an AC adapter. There is a cable for charging it with a computer’s USB slot, but the charging port on the headphones is too close and similar to the jack that’s used for a wired connection that it’s too easy to make a mistake and plug it into the wrong port. No harm done, but it’s unlikely to charge.

Also, I found that some notebooks don’t put out enough power to charge the headset. It ran for a little more than 6 hours of nonstop use, making it perfect for use during a school day in the classroom.


 Teknmotion Airhead 1000

Price: $100

+ Comfortable and adjustable

+ 30-foot range

+ Surprisingly good audio

+ PC and Mac use


- No AC adapter 

- Slight background hum





Head Case

Complete neuroThere’s a hidden concussion epidemic in school sports that needs to be recognized, addressed and controlled. Complete NeuroSport has the resources and tools to make sure every child’s head is cared for. On top of school-level resources on concussions and sports, the company offers cognitive testing before the sports season starts and after an injury occurs. There are educational videos for kids, their coaches and their parents as well as a smartphone app for diagnosing and recording potential injuries. 


Rosetta Stone Takes to the Web

Rosetta stone aRosetta Stone has a new product for schools that can help every kid learn a foreign language. It’s called Totale Pro K-12, which rather than traditional software has its dynamic immersion lessons delivered as needed over the Web. It works with PCs, Android and iPhones or iPads. Available first in French, Italian, Mandarin, Spanish and German, the system includes all the content of the traditional Rosetta Stone products, but also has games and Studio, which offers live feedback online with a coach and other students. There’s also an administrative tool to track student progress and aid in assembling grades.



The Cloud Gets Creative

Creative Cloud logoWhat if you could get all the apps in Adobe’s Creative Suite as downloads as needed on a subscription basis? Well, that’s exactly what Adobe’s Creative Cloud is all about with the latest versions of all the Creative Suite 6.0’s contents along with 20GB of storage space online for everything from digital art and Web sites to class assignments. Adobe’s cloud adds two new online apps that are hosted online: the Edge HTML 5 editor and the Muse Web design tool. The creative Cloud is available only to individuals at the moment for $50 a month, but Adobe is looking at creating district-wide licenses for this product.


Freebee Friday: Dictionaries without the Bulk

We’re all used to seeing the classroom bookshelf of Merriam-Webster or American Heritage dictionaries sag under their collected weight, but there’s a better way to get the right word. With the right software, an Android device, whether it’s a tablet or a phone, can be an excellent classroom dictionary.

These three wordsmith apps work well in portrait or landscape orientation and get kids off to a good start by predicting the word they’re looking for based on the first letters typed. It’s excellent help for flustered early writers to find the exact word they’re looking for.

With money to replace printed dictionaries hard to find, these digital reference works are free and just a download away. The downside is that they display small and easy-to-ignore ads to pay for their operations. For a few dollars, the ads can disappear.


Dictionary.comGoing from a printed dictionary to Dictionary.com is less jarring than you might think because the pages have the look of a traditional dictionary with numbered definitions that are organized by word form. On top of a vocabulary-increasing daily word, Disctionary.com has a separate thesaurus for finding the right synonym for when words fail; the two are linked for quick look-ups. In addition to audio pronunciation help, kids can speak words of interest into the tablet to get to the word’s meaning, spelling and definition. Dictionary.com has detailed and often surprising information about the word’s origin and you can eliminate the ads for $3.


Merriam websterFor many, Merriam-Webster is the definition of dictionary. The company’s Android app comes in a smaller and more portable package, yet mirrors the content of the company’s flagship Collegiate Dictionary. There’re several digital goodies included, like the ability of kids to speak the word to get a definition. The dictionary promises to update itself with the latest in cyber-speak and it highlights related words in the definition that are linked to their entries. In addition to its origin and when the word was first used, Merriam-Webster has audio pronunciation examples. A big plus is that rather than a separate thesaurus, synonyms and antonyms are displayed with the definitions. The ad-free version costs $3.


Urban dictionaryTom Clark’s Android Urban Dictionary is hipper and edgier than the others (e.g., mouse potato: the computer or gaming equivalent of a couch potato), but may not be appropriate for all classes. Unfortunately, the app lacks audio pronunciation help and all-too-often the definitions cross the line into slang, irreverent language and scatological terms. Still, it has access to more than 6 million entries, so it’s complete as well. It has a cool feature that will become a classroom favorite with students: shake the slate to get a random word with definition and example. It may seem haphazard, but it’s an excellent way to increase a class’s vocabulary. You can dump the ads for a reasonable $2.



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