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Freebee Friday: Cruel and Unusual Punishment

DPICiBook2It may sound gruesome, but studying how the death penalty works and doesn’t work shows a lot about what is right and wrong with the United States, and "The Death Penalty" iBook that can help teach it with sensitivity and depth. The digital book can be loaded onto an iPad and can grab additional resources in WiFi connected classrooms. The package includes lesson plans and teacher notes.


Freebee Friday: More than Crayons

Crayola bThink Crayola and you think crayons, but the company’s Champion Creatively Alive Children program is chock full of professional development resources to help make art a part of everyday education. There are sections for creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication and infusing the curriculum with art. Each area has a guide, videos, handouts, worksheets, flyers for parents and more.



Ultra Protection

MAT_Mgmt_consoleThe latest Anti-Theft program from McAfee can protect an Ultrabook if it’s been lost or stolen. Based on hardware in the Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 processor the software can lock a system to protect the data on its hard drive, encrypt all of its data and track where the computer ended up. These features remain operational even if the hard drive has been wiped clean for an effective guard. You can even set it up to display a lost message when it is started up that can help get the system returned. The program costs $25.

Next-Gen Document Camera

DC20_LT_ANG_BEAKERSEpson’s DC-20 picks up where the DC-11 document camera left off with a 12X zoom lens that’s backed up with a 10X digital zoom as well as a variety of video connections.  It can capture 1,920 by 1,080 resolution images, has a built-in microphone, a microscope adapter and comes with software for editing images and creating time-lapse videos of lab experiments. With the ability to hold up to 1GB of image data, the DC-20 can be used to play back stills and videos. The doc cam should be available in November for $500 with Epson’s Brighter Futures educational discount.

Welcome to the USB 3.0 Era

Thinkpad dock cThe USB 3.0 spec burst on the scene in 2008, and is now a precocious four-year old. In other words, USB 3.0 is just about ready to go to school. With high-speed hard drives, memory keys and a variety of video peripherals, USB 3.0 offers an order of magnitude speed increase over USB 2.0. Enter Lenovo’s ThinkPad USB 3.0 Dock, a $180 must-have device for putting all this power to work.

The beauty of the ThinkPad USB 3.0 Dock is that it does so much by bringing all of a computer’s connections onto one cable and looks good doing it. The black stubby device has a rubberized finish and soft feet that keep its many cable connections from pulling it off of the desk. Plus, the dot over the ThinkPad logo’s “i” lights up red when it’s turned on.

It takes about 5 minutes to install the dock’s software. Unlike HP’s 3005pr dock, which has all the needed software on-board, I needed to install the ThinkPad USB 3.0 Dock’s CD. It loads everything from the latest USB drivers to all the needed video software, but like other universal docks, it requires its own AC adapter.

Thinkpad Dock aThe USB 3.0 dock is connection central with 5 USB 3.0 ports, which should be more than enough for even the most connected PC. If it isn’t, the device can work with a variety of hubs. There are two ports in the front for things like memory keys and three in the back for more permanently connections for things like an external hard drive or a video input device. It’s a little disconcerting that the USB 3.0 Dock doesn’t have any USB 2.0 connections, but the dock worked fine with a variety of older equipment.

Inside is DisplayLink’s DL-3900 Dual Head Graphics chip. That means that its pair of DVI video ports can each drive a separate monitor or projector to mirror or extend the host computer’s screen. The package includes a DVI-to-VGA converter for using older monitors and projectors, but I would have preferred that at least one of the outputs used the HDMI standard that combines audio and video.

Although the dock’s video resolution tops out at 2,048 by 1,152, it’s plenty for viewing or projecting HD programming. I used the dock’s video abilities to connect it to two 24-inch monitors to create an ultrawide screen that was perfect for editing images and video or working through a math problem on one screen while graphing it on the second.

Thinkpad dock dThe ThinkPad Dock has gigabit wired Ethernet but does without WiFi. Still, it can work with an off-the-shelf USB WiFi receiver. It has a single audio jack that consolidates a microphone and headphones, making it perfect for use with a headset during a Skype video conference.

It worked with a variety of Windows 7 systems, although the dock heats up quite a bit when it is used. It doesn’t degrade the host system’s performance, though. With HD Tune’s Pro 5.0 disk benchmark monitoring the data flow, the USB 3.0 Dock was on a par with using the memory key plugged directly into the computer. It was able to work with video, audio files and large images.

The $180 Lenovo dock comes with a 1-year warranty, but as good as it is, the dock isn’t perfect. It is a victim of its design that’s aimed at working with a variety of notebooks. Unlike a dock that’s made for a specific model of computer, it won’t charge the notebook’s battery. That means you’ll need to plug in at least one more cable.


Lenovo ThinkPad USB 3.0 Dock

Price: $180

+ Inexpensive

+ 5 USB 3.0 ports

+ Dual monitor support

+ HD-plus resolution

+ Good performance

+ Works with old and new equipment



- Can’t charge notebook


Lights, Camera, Edit

Wevideo bThe days of having to use an expensive video editing program are over with WeVideo, an online way to make everything from short clips to a graduation DVD.  The software is quick to learn and it has the power of high-end programs. Instead of hundreds of dollars a system, WeVideo is free and comes with 1GB of cloud storage space but is limited to producing 360p resolution video. Upping the storage space to 10GB costs $7 a month and upgrading to the Ultra service costs $30. 

The Spark of Science

SparkvueWith access to more than 70 sensors – for everything from pH and temperature to carbon dioxide concentration – Pasco’s iPad-based SPARKvue HD application can be the basis for building a STEM curriculum. The software can not only show the current level of the sensor but analyze the data and display it as a graph. The $10 app is available at the app store and comes with 60 built-in labs and a place for students to record their measurements, ideas and lab details. 

Charge n’ Go

Insync aNeed storage for 16 iPads and a way to charge them when they’re not being used? Parat’s InSync travel case has room for 16 iPads along with an external power supply and charging connectors for the pads as well as room for a 13-inch notebook. The water-proof case has foam lining so that the pads are protected if you need to be moved between schools.

Freebee Friday: Sensing Value

Vernier white paperIs building a science lab around electronic sensors a good value or just playing around with technology? Vernier, a leader in digital probes and software, has released a white paper that concludes that using probeware is an effective way to teach science in middle- and high-schools by emphasizing collection, analysis and visualization of data. “What the Research Says About the Value of Probeware for Science Instruction” is available as a download as long as you register at the site.

Freebee Friday: Sign Up for No More Sign-Up Sheets

Volunteerspot aWhat school is complete without a slew of sing-up sheets for all sorts of sctivities? Kiss it all goodbye with Volunteer Spot, an online sign-up sheet that not only uses no paper but keeps a record of everyone who signs up. It’s free, but you’ll need to register.

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