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Time’s Up

Put that hour glass or kitchen timer into your desk drawer because there are much better ways to get a handle on how long classroom activities take. Whether it’s for timing a test, making sure that nap time doesn’t stretch into reading time or competitive fraction work, an accurate clock or timer is key classroom equipment.

The good news is that there are a bunch of free programs available that can turn your computer, regardless of which software it uses, into an Olympic-class time keeper. Some are just electronic stopwatches while others can also count down a preset amount of time, such as for recess or a play rehearsal. Each app is different and has its pros and cons, but the one thing they have in common is that they all can keep a class on time.

For the PC—PC Chrono

Pc chronoWhile it’s been around for ages, PC Chrono is still a great PC program to get a handle on time in the classroom. The program is free, is only a 1MB download and takes less than a minute to get and install. In addition to using it as a standalone clock that shows the time and date, the app can be a stop watch or a timer that’s accurate to one-hundredth of a second. You can even set it to play an audio file of your choosing when the timer has run down. On the downside, the app’s window is tiny and can’t be run full screen so that the whole class won’t be able to see it. 

For the Mac—Apimac Timer

Apimac-timerBy contrast, Apimac’s Timer can run full-screen on a computer, making it a great way to let kids see how much time remains in the current activity by aiming the computer’s screen at the class or using a projector. Unfortunately, it’s a data heavyweight that requires a 5.9MB download, but Timer works on recent Macs that use Intel processors and OSX 10.4. The software mirrors most of the features of PC Chrono: it can be a clock, stop watch or count-down timer that can play your choice of audio files when time’s up. The basic version is free, but the $20 Pro version adds the ability to set the timer to blank the screen or run a script when done.

For Android—UltraChron Stopwatch Lite

Ultrachron liteOf these four classroom clocks, UltraChron is the best looking, that is if you like neon green. It looks like the screen on a sports stop watch, complete with segmented numbers, The software runs full screen and you can add descriptive text to its operations. While UltraChron’s stop watch shows hundredths of a second, the timer displays only tenths of a second. Just press the green bar on the right to start and the red bar to stop. When the timer reaches zero, its alarm can sound, but you can’t use your own audio file. The app takes up only 666KB of storage space and is good to go for Android 2.1 systems or newer. To be able to change the default audio file you need to upgrade for 99 cents, a small price to pay for such a valuable app.

For iPad—Chronolite Timer

ChronoliteWhile the other timers are calibrated to fractions of a second, this one only shows whole seconds. For most uses like a spelling quiz or playground time, it should be fine, but it might cause a ruckus if you use it to time a sentence-completion competition on the board. The interface shows the date and time, and Chronolite can put up to four timers on its screen at once. These different timers can be named, which is a big help when sorting out the winner of a fill-in-the-blanks contest. The app keeps counting in red after the time has run out and there are several time-over alerts, but you can’t use your own. Like the Android-centric UltraChron, the free Chromolilte app can be used with an iPhone or iPad, but also an iPod Touch and eats up only 1.5MB of storage space.

For the Web—Online Clock

Online timer and stopwatchIf you’re looking for a basic count-down timer that will run on any connected computer, the Online Clock is for you. It’s great for making sure that every classroom computer has the same software or for Linux computers. You can pick a count-down length from 90 minutes to 30 seconds and display the clock in any of four sizes and five colors. Need a stop watch as well? You’ll need to go to the upper corner of the screen and hover over the stop watch icon; you’ll find Online Stop Watch and a slew of other timers and online clocks. It’s available in the same size and color combinations but records the elapsed time in thousandths of a second, precision that goes beyond any of the others. It has the bonus of being able to time an unlimited number of different items at the same by tapping the split icon.



App Stopper

Tabpilot managementIs there anything worse than trying to conduct a lesson with notebooks or tablets and have the class spending most of their time checking email, watching videos or updating their FaceBook status? TabPilot’s Control Tower management system software can restrict what apps or Web sites are allowed to be viewed on a class full of slates. The software is currently in beta but it should be ready by the end of the summer.

TabpilotTabPilot also sells its own classroom Android tablets. The ERP-V2 slate has a 9.7-inch touchscreen, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage space and is powered by a 1.2GHz processor. It uses the latest Android 4.0 software and can run for a full school day, with time to spare. Completing the classroom package, the company has tablet carts that can recharge up to 20 slates when not in use yet not take up a lot of space.



iPad and Paper

7396437098_cd9f6e61c8_oSometimes an iPad screen and a finger just aren’t enough. That’s where Kensington’s Folio Trio fits in. With room for a removable three-ring binder the case not only protects the pad but provides paper to write everything from class notes to homework assignments on. The $80 black vinyl case works with the latest two generations of the iPad and can hold the pad vertically or horizontally while protecting it from damage. There are also handy loops for tethering a stylus or pen.


Classroom Connections

Vdi-graphic-v2The idea of virtualization is simple and seductive for cash-strapped schools: use cheap, minimalist hardware to mimic a PC in the classroom. In other words, lessons, research and Web access don’t need expensive individual computers anymore. Dell’s recent acquisition of Wyse takes this idea to a new level with the Desktop Virtualization Solutions Simplified Appliance. Powered by Dell’s PowerEdge server and Citrix VDI software, the systems are easy to set up, give a variety of users access to school network and online resources, and – above all – are affordable. For example, the Typical set up starts with version 5 of Citrix’s VDI-in-a-Box software, its XenServer and a Dell PowerEdge R710 server

To help figure out the details and whether it’s a good deal for your school, Dell has six hours of online training courses in virtualization.



Freebee Friday: Instant Lesson Plans

WwTelescope lesson planWell thought-out lesson plans are hard to come by, but Microsoft has a slew of them, ranging from running a virtual lemonade stand to a literary scavenger hunt. It’s all on the company’s lesson plan page and it’s categorized by subject and age group as well as how long it takes. My favorite is a four-period class plan for exploring the cosmos with the online WorldWide Telescope, which includes links for viewing as well as student handouts.


Digital Lunch

Mcs logoWhat’s the last place in the school that isn’t digital? Chances are that it’s the cafeteria and it can be helped by using the latest program from MCS Software.  The M School Tools Cafeteria Management software can not only help create nutritious meals and track the kitchen’s inventory, but speed the check-out line with point-of-sale registers. For those schools that have students on subsidized meal plans, the software can figure out who is eligible and streamline the billing.

Myplayments plusMeanwhile, Horizon Software’s MyPayments Plus can make cash a thing of the past for the cafeteria check-out line. It let kids pay for their lunch as well as other school fees with their iPhone. The app is available at the iTunes App Store, works with most major online payments systems and gives parents a quick and efficient way to pay for school expenses while providing quick payment to schools.



Screen Gem

ES3000_Screen_16.9Too many of today’s classes are held in rooms that are ad hoc locations that were never intended for instruction. I’ve seen or heard of cafeterias, storage rooms, closets and even hallway dead-ends used for mini-classes, making portable screens must-have items for schools these days.

 While Epson’s Duet Ultra Portable Tripod Projector Screen may not be as small and light as its name implies, it is a mechanical marvel that can go anywhere in the school and turn any space into a digital classroom. The screen comes in a rugged case that can stand up to even the clumsiest math teacher and provide Duet with a secure home when it’s not being used.

The screen and case weigh 25 pounds and is awkwardly long and narrow, making it a bit awkward to carry, although its carry straps help its mobility. Fortunately, its case not only has handles but wheels that make getting from A to B easy.

ES3000_Screen_Man_CarryingSetting it up can be a little difficult and at times I wish I had three hands. After pulling it out of its box, I set the screen portion face down on the floor and pressed the latch to extend the pillar that holds it up. Then, after loosening the knob that locks the screen’s tripod legs, they fold out, allowing the whole thing can stand on its own three feet. Don’t forget to tighten the knob, though, or Duet could eventually collapse on itself, turning the classroom into a comedy club.

Nearly done, because the last task is to press the two buttons on the back and pull the two sides of the screen apart, revealing its projection screen. The best part of the Duet screen is that it can be set up for showing traditional 4:3 computer images or 16:9 wide screen ones of up to 65-inches, 80-inches or anything in-between.

Once you get the hang of it, the Duet takes two- or three-minutes to set up or put away. In fact, many will find getting it into and out of the box to be the hardest part of the procedure. When you’re done, the whole thing is remarkably stable and secure, and the screen on its own can be wall mounted if need be.

ES3000_Screen_Case_ClosedThe Duet’s screen is reflective and uniform, but without a hint of glare even with a very bright projector. In other words it will be a big step up from projecting onto a plain white wall. In fact, it works surprisingly well with the new class of small, low-output LED projectors that work well in small rooms.

After the projector part of the lesson is over, the screen can be slid shut to remove any distractions. One thing it can’t do, though, is work with interactive projectors that require a firm surface.

While not inexpensive, at $150 Duet is on a par with what a quality pull-down screen costs. It comes with a one year warranty. If repurposed classrooms are lacking the latest digital amenities, then Epson’s Duet screen can turn any place, anywhere into an instant classroom.


 Epson Duet Ultra Portable Tripod Projector Screen

Price: $150

+ Comes with rugged case

+ Adjustable aspect ratio

+ Wall mountable

+ Excellent reflectivity


- Awkward to set up

- Can’t use with interactive projector



Making the Big Screen Smarter

Ppl_wht_wprd_body_sbid8070_hi_wommansidecollabIn the beginning there were touchboards, then came interactive projectors and now Smart brings a 55-inch touch-screen monitor to the classroom. The Smart Board 8055i will be introduced later this year at $6,000 and has the power to change the way we look at interactive white boards. Based on a large LCD monitor, it can show 1,920 by 1,080 resolution and has a pair of speakers built-in. It can work with input from two students at a time and can work with gestures. It’s smart enough to wake itself up if someone comes near it.


Teaching with Games

VmathBy mixing challenging games with instruction, Voyager’s VMathLive can help get the most out of students in grades 2 through 8. The program not only paces kids with appropriate problems but gets a print-put origami animal to fold together at the end of a section.


All-in-one with More

C03380791All-in-one PCs are often sad affairs with underpowered processors, low-resolution screens and a lack of options. No more, with HP’s Compaq Elite 8300 system. It starts with an Intel Core processor with the latest vPro security and adds a 23-inch HD display. It has a 2megapixel camera, high-end audio and will be available roughly when school starts with a standard screen (for $879) or a touchscreen display (for $929).


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