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New Age Textbooks

VBooks 1Forget about using static paper texts because Adaptive Curriculum’s VBooks are much more and can cost a district a lot less. Based on visuals and an interactive plan that puts the emphasis on curiosity and exploration, VBooks teach by doing and have a good variety of reviews and assessments built in. The books on individual topics cost as little as $1.50 and there’s a free trial on one that teaches circumference and arc lengths.

Freebee Friday: Gutenberg, Ho

Mzl.wkyislaw.480x480-75With 42,000 historical volumes on tap, Project Gutenberg has more books available than the typical school library, and they’re all free. Stanza lets you download and read any of them along with a variety of more recent works with an iPhone, iPad or recent iPod Touch model.


Audio on the Cheap

8200-hpThere’s nothing worse than not being able to afford enough headphones for the whole class to use at once because the alternative is a cacophony of sounds from the variety of educational devices. Califone’s 8200-HP headphones cost just $10 each or $180 for 20 of them. Still, they have an adjustable polypropylene headband, a pair of 30mm mylar speakers that can create sounds from 20 to 20,000 hertz and connect via a 3.5mm audio jack. The headphones weigh 3-ounces and have comfy foam ear cushions.

Test, Scan, Grade

MB780_ARIt was just a matter of time before more printer companies would create the software for making and automatically grading scannable test forms like Lexmark’s Hosted Testing and Grading system. OKI Data has done just that with its Docu Tool software. Just pick from a series of test formats, print them on an OKI MB700 multi-function printer and distribute it to the class. After the test, run the completed tests along with the answer sheet through the printer’s scanner and OKI’s software does the rest, grading the tests and compiling results for each student.

The Monitor Hangs Out

Classrooms and projectors go together like peanut butter and jelly, right? Well, a new generation of inexpensive flat-screen monitors and TVs could make that adage obsolete. The problem is how to set up a 60-pound display for the whole class to see. The answer is purpose-built mounting hardware that can stand up to the stresses involved and allow the screen to be moved around. 

It’s a well-kept secret that most big monitors and TVs (plus a good deal of smaller ones) have mounting screws on them that, thanks to standardization by VESA, mate with the mounting hardware. The only question that remains is how big do you want to go?

Am501-hiresFor really big screens, Premier Mounts’ AM501 comes through with the ability to securely hold up to a 500-pound display. It can accommodate a screen size of between 80- and 90-inches and the monitor can be set up in portrait or landscape orientation. It sturdily holds the display in place yet can tilt up and down 4-degrees and swivel 90-degrees to provide a variety of viewing angles. It costs $1,600.

60-618-adapters_lgBy contrast, Ergotron’s Neo-Flex mounting kit has a cantilever arm that allows the screen to pivot out from the wall to divide the room into two separate teaching areas. It can also fold right up against the wall providing a good view for all in the room. It’s “X” mount allows the Neo-Flex to work with monitors and TVs from 23- to 42-inches and tops out at 80-pounds. The kit costs $179.

Visidec VFS-DH-1Visicec’s VFS-DH desktop stand doubles up on monitors by accommodating a pair of 24-inch screens, creating a roughly 42-inch composite display that can show one large image or two independent items. It may have a black line down the middle where the monitors meet but it is a unique way to display how a science experiment works or show the video of a political speech on one screen and the text on the other. Made of extruded aluminum, the mount can be adjusted so that the screens can move up to 20-degrees in any direction, handle up to total of 26.5-pounds and work with touch-screens. It occupies a modest 16.6- by 12-inches of desktop space and sells for $239.

WLB243-unitThe WLB243 may not be able to support the big screens, but it is the cheapskate’s choice because at $7, it’s less than the sales tax on some of the others. Small and light, it is made of powder coasted aluminum and is able to securely hold up to a 35-pound 24-inch monitor or TV the kit has a universal “X” mount. The screen can be swiveled, tilted and panned so everyone gets a good view. In addition to all the hardware you’ll ever need, it has a secret weapon: a bubble level to make sure it sits straight.

MCS2What if you don’t have any walls big enough to mount a monitor? Chief’s MCSV mounting hardware can let it hang from the ceiling. The mounting kit allows the display to be rotated between portrait and landscape orientations. At the touch of the fingertips, it can tilt 5-degrees forward or up to 20-degrees back and tops out at a 55-inch screen that weighs 125 pounds. It costs $140. 

The Keyboard is the Computer

Diablotec keybaord computer aLook carefully at DiabloTek’s U310 keyboard because it has a full PC inside with a 1.8GHz Atom processor, 2GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive. This makes it perfect for use in a small computer lab, library or kiosk in a school's public areas. It has wired networking as well as WiFi, a pair of speakers and comes with Linux software installed. The whole thing is remarkably quiet and uses less than 20 watts of power. All you'll need is a monitor.


The Big Board

Samsung_650ts_p1_xlTired of annoying shadows interrupting your projector-based lesson? Samsung’s E-board Touch 650TS-2 can help with a classroom-sized touch monitor. With a 65-inch display, the E-Board Touch is large enough for the whole class to see and can rival classroom projectors with brighter, sharper images. It uses tiny cameras mounted at each corner to interpret finger movements so you don’t even have to touch the screen to get a response. Because it has an estimated lifespan of 50,000 hours – more than 30 years of typical classroom use – you’ll never have to buy or change a projector lamp ever again. On the downside, it costs $7,952.

Follow-Me Cam

SwivlLooking for a video camera that has the bonus of following the subject where he or she might go in the classroom? Satarii’s Swivl holds an iPhone so that its camera can record a lesson. The key is Swivl’s electronic handheld marker, which controls the camera and can pivot 360-degrees horizontally as well as up 10-degrees and down 20-degrees automatically keeps its holder on camera at up to 33-feet away. The $180 device can turn a lesson into a downloadable video for a sick child and works with most iPhones and recent iPod Touch models, but not with an iPad.

Freebee Friday: Space Station Tour

Space stationSunita Williams, former Commander of the International Space Station, is back on terra firma, but before she rode on a returning Russian rocket she recorded this video tour of the space station. You can see where the astronauts live, eat, sleep, work and even go to the orbital bathroom, although this is likely to elicit its share of chuckles and giggles in the back of the class. At times it has the feel of a real estate video of an anxious homeowner, but the 25-minute clip has a spectacular view of the earth and is the closest that most of us will ever come to floating weightless in space. 

Stage Set

Belkin TabletStageWith Belkin’s Tablet Stage stand, you can turn just about any tablet into a sophisticated document camera. Unlike most tablet stands, Stage can work with the iPad, iPad Mini as well as a variety of Android slates in either portrait or landscape orientation. The key is that it lets the slate sit exactly where it can best take in the document or science experiment and project it for the whole class to see. It has an adjustable LED light, will cost $200 when it becomes available next month.

Mzl.nvhqgnex.480x480-75There’s also an iPad Stage app that Belkin has created to allow teachers to do everything from sketch an item to annotate what’s on the screen. The free version that’s available now works with still images and videos for a one-two classroom punch. Version 1.1 is coming at the end of the month and will cost $1.99. It adds the ability to record videos and upload them to an online repository.

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