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Freebee Friday: Word-O-Matic

CobuildYou might only occasionally have trouble finding the right word in English but what if your native language was Portuguese or Chinese? Reverso.net’s free translation Web site can put the right word in the right place with a quick and thorough online word translator. It also works with French, Spanish, German, Italian and Russian. Just type in the word or short phrase you need translated and the site returns a series of choices in order of popularity along with a good quickie definition. The site is paid for with advertising, works just as well with a PC as an iPad and the ads are unobtrusive.

All Kinds of Numbers

Fx-55_plus_xlargeMost calculators for early learners are like a lot of us because they aren’t particularly good at handling fractions, but Casio’s fx-55 has the company’s Natural Textbook Display, which allows it to show a variety of math functions. On top of working with a variety of functions, kids can punch in and manipulate mixed fractions. It can also handle division with remainders as well as come up with random numbers. The fx-55 is brightly colored, has big buttons and can run on solar power. It costs just $13.

Money in Minutes

Mary_Our_Queen_(MOQ)_Robotics_TeamWhether it’s a bake sale or a car wash, every school raises money for extracurricular activities and to fill in budget shortfalls. Few, however, depart from the established methods, but Rally.org has a new money-making idea. Supporters can be notified for the fundraising drive via email and a variety of social media networks. The organization sets up a fundraising Web page for consolidating donations in a matter of minutes. It not only shows what’s been collected but the drive’s goal and what it will be used for.


Instant Internet

HP-Passport-1912nm-Internet-Monitor_rightImagine a monitor that could double as a Web machine, able to do everything from online searches to email. HP’s Passport 1912nm can do all that and at $260 it is one of the best bargains today for schools.

The Passport is modestly sized at 10.8- by 17.5 by 2.1-inches but comes with a stand that raises the screen by about 7-inches. The whole thing weighs 8 pounds and the stand lets you tilt the display forward by 15- or backwards by 5-degrees. On the downside the screen can’t be adjusted up and down to accommodate different sized students and teachers, but it has the mounting screws for attaching it to a wall bracket.

From the bezel to the stand, everything about Passport is black, with the exception of a lone LED light that shows its asleep (amber) or operating (blue). At the center of attention is the 18.5-inch display that can show 1,366 by 768 resolution, but uses older fluorescent backlighting, not the latest LED illumination. In other words, as a monitor it doesn’t distinguish itself.

Passport, however, comes into its own as an Internet kiosk. Inside is a 1GHz Texas Instruments dual-core OMAP 4430 processor that uses ARM’s capable Cortex A-9 technology. There’s 2GB of flash storage, 1GB of memory chips and it connects with the outside world via 5 USB ports and a flash card reader that can work with SD, MMC, MS and xD cards. While it has built-in wired networking, it lacks WiFi wireless networking, which can limit where it is deployed to areas that have LAN support.

HP-Passport-1912nm-Internet-Monitor_bottomThe Web screen comes with a basic keyboard and mouse as well as integrated 2-watt stereo speakers that sound remarkably rich and bright. Unfortunately, the volume adjustment buttons are awkwardly under an annoying lip under the screen, making them tough to use; there’s no mute button.

Setting up Passport is like a dream come true. All you need to do is connect it to an Ethernet port and plug in its power cord. Finally, turn it on and fill in the language, time zone and password you want to use. That’s it, you’re set. From sealed box to operating Web machine, it took all of three minutes and doesn’t require any special skills.

Based on a customized version of Ubuntu’s Linux software, Passport is a self-contained system with nothing to attach and no software to load. It is minimalist to say the least with large icons for music, video Web browsing and photos on its home page. There’s no file browser, multi-tasking and you can’t add software to it, which will likely elicit a huge sigh of relief among IT administrators tasked with keeping public-access computers working.

Passport homeThere’s also a password-protected Settings section for doing basic maintenance, including setting the time and whether you want to set up the system’s networking manually or automatically. On the downside, it can’t grab anything from a network drive.

It worked well with CNN, BBC and NASA Web sites, played YouTube videos and could handle creating documents with Google Docs and Office 365. While it worked with most everything we threw at it, the included FireFox 4.0 browser was slow to load sites, taking 2.1 seconds longer than a Windows 7 notebook to load the same site using Chrome’s browser.

The system automatically updates its software as needed and HP engineers think it is impervious to virus attack because its storage is protected. Only time will tell. It, however, draws the line when it comes to loading specialized software. For example, it balked at working with the University of Colorado’s PHET science and math simulations, which requires the loading of Java apps. 

It also can only do one thing at a time, which limits its usefulness. Things like listening to a podcast while looking over a Web site, something that even the cheapest netbook can do, is off limits.

Passport can fit right into a school’s library, computer lab and faculty lounge, but is a winner as a public online kiosk in common spaces. It excels as a public terminal for kids and adults to catch up on email, grab assignments and watch an online video or two. The system can also print using HP’s ePrint protocol, but only with HP printers and lacks a Web cam and a video conferencing app.  

HP-Passport-1912nm-Internet-Monitor_profileAll told, it uses just 21 watts when it’s on and 4.3-watts while in standby, which adds up to an annual power bill of just $7.50 if it’s used for 8 hours a day during the school year and electricity costs the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s a lot less than recycling an old PC and CRT monitor for this task and there will be fewer set up and maintenance hassles. It comes with a 3-year warranty. 

 While it’s not perfect, Passport 1912nm is the ideal computer for such a wide variety of school uses it’s a wonder that nobody thought of this sooner.


HP Passport 1912nm

Price: $260

+ Inexpensive

+ Low operating costs

+ Simple, quick set up

+ Self contained

+ Adjustable stand


- Can’t add software

- Screen can’t move up or down

- No WiFi



Putting the White back into a Whiteboard

White board resurfaceOne thing about whiteboards is that they rarely stay white, what with scratches and areas that are worn through. In addition to selling a variety of full boards, EverWhite also sells the panels on their own for installation right over the existing board. They’re available in sizes up to 48- by 144-inches and the material comes with an adhesive on the back for a quick installation.



Report Cards, the Next Generation

Docufide by parchment platformThe report card may be an endangered species because Parchment’s Docufide can be quickly and efficiently sent to parents and colleges. It’s currently used in 30 percent of high schools in the U.S. and more than 1.6-million transcripts were sent out last year.


Kid Friendly Gaming

LeapsterGSLeapFrog has done it again by redefining the established handheld gaming console for small children and adding an educational bent to it. The LeapsterGS is more than a 1.7-pound rugged handheld, because it has a built-in camera, 2GB of storage and an accelerometer motion sensor. It can use existing Leapfrog Explorer game cartridges that run the gamut from ebooks, math and science to adventure and problem-solving. The device costs $70 and uses 4 AA batteries.

Freebee Friday: Vote Early and Often

Mimio voteIt’s unlikely that there will be more than a few dozen kids that can vote in this fall’s presidential election at your high school, but it is an import history and civics lesson for everyone. Mimio has a great election lesson plan to help get is to election day and beyond with a K-8 social studies curriculum that includes a citizens rights and responsibilities, what a democracy is and how we need to participate in our government. Just register and it’s free.

Freebee Friday: Classics on the Cheap

Mzl.hfiebzrs.320x480-75Chances are that if you’ve set up classrooms with iPads that you can cut out the cost of buying some of the reading material traditionally done with books. Lexcycle’s Stanza works with pads, iPhones and many iPods to deliver a variety of free classics from tis library of 50,000 books. It provides access to catalogue of Project Guttenberg and Feedbooks as well as other sources. 

Mighty Android Tablet

STYLISTIC M532 front_backWith so many Android tablets with single- and dual-core processors, Fujitsu goes against the grain with a high performance tablet. Powered by Nvidia’s 1.4GHz quad-core chip, the Stylistic M532 uses the latest Android 4.0 software and comes with 1GB of RAM and 32GB of storage space. Its 10.1-inch screen can show 1,280 by 800 resolution images and the slate can run for more than 8 hours of continuous use, making it great for a full school day of use. The tablet weighs 1.2 pounds and sells for $550.

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