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Freebee Friday: Next Year’s Tech Winners

Nsta-vernier logosEvery year Vernier honors those tech teachers who not only know their stuff but know how to teach it to students. Along with the National Science Teachers’ Association, they give out the Vernier/NSTA Technology Awards and are now gearing up for the 2013 awards. Seven enterprising teachers will win $1,000 plus $3,000 in Vernier gear as well as expenses to get them to the award ceremony at the next NSTA conference in San Antonio. This year’s winners did everything from building a wind turbine to creating a walking robot. The deadline for entries is November 30.




FREEBEE FRIDAY: Free Computers, Really

Ae 1900 a I knew I’d get your attention, but MSI is giving away 20 laptops and 20 all-in-one systems to schools between now and the end of the year. Through its approved educational resellers, MSI offers 30-day demo units to K-through-12 schools of its AE1900 or AE 2010 all-in-one systems or U130 or U135 netbooks. You might just get to keep one.


Iloveschools With tax revenues down, schools in rich and poor districts have had to cut back, but the iloveschools nonprofit organization can fill in the gaps. The group donates classroom instructional equipment and resources to schools by getting them things on their Wish List. All you do isregister the district or school. Donors can register as well, and iloveschools introduces donor to recipient. Some of the things are used, but still working while others are new or unique educational services. Everything, from the site to the actual donations, is free for the asking. Founded by Jerry Hall in 2003, the group has put lots of gear and services in the hands of teachers and students.


Free Play Time

PS 81X CAD If you school’s budget is stressed to the breaking point but your playground is dangerous and a disgrace, there are several non-profit organizations, like Out2Play, that can help by renovating it with new equipment. Out2Play only works with New York City public schools, and has built or renovated 40 playgrounds since 2005 at a cost of $7.2 million, along the way turning nearly a million square feet of vacant lots and run-down property into safe and wholesome territory for play. PS 81X in the Bronx (seen at right) is the group’s latest effort, with ball fields, play equipment and a running track. I only wish it were a national organization.

Got a beat-up playground or the perfect spot for one? Out2Play is taking applications.

Teaching in Zero Gravity

Vomit comet

We’ve all seen astronauts floating around on the space shuttle doing zero-G flips, tricks and stunts, but recently 30 teachers got a taste of what life is like with little or no gravity by taking a ride on the “vomit comet.” It’s actually called G-Force One, and is a large plane that’s padded on the inside that flies in a large parabolic vertical flight plan. Just as the plane hits its peak, those onboard experience roughly the gravity experienced on the moon or Mars for about half a minute. First-time participants often lose their lunch, thus the plane’s nickname. 

The Northrop Grumman Foundation paid for the educators from east-coast schools to ride the vomit comet over the Atlantic Ocean and experience weightlessness in the hope that they will encourage a new generation of scientists, mathematicians and engineers. While flying, bouncing around and generally floating, they confirmed Newton’s laws of motion and performed some interesting experiments. In fact, just going back to the classroom and telling of their experience is more than enough to inspire students. The foundation plans four more regional weightless events, and is accepting applications. 

Check out this video of the teachers playing in zero-G.

Weightless video frame

More Time to Be Heard

Calypso logo Wanted to apply for a Calypso Systems Be Heard School Grant, but were afraid that finals and the end of the school year would get in the way of the June 5-th deadline. The good news is that the grant application period has been extended to June 17th. Winners of the three grants will get a free renovation of up to 35 classrooms for the best sound. Each classroom gets a wireless microphone, amplifier and a pair of ceiling speakers so that every word can be heard by every student. The application is online and the lucky winners will be announced at the NECC conference later this month.


The 12-Step E-Rate Plan

UsacThere are multi-step plans for losing weight, quitting smoking or becoming a better person, but courtesy of Trillion, there’s now a 12-step program for getting E-Rate money for your school to help pay for computers, networking and communications gear. The Federal E-Rate program has paid out more than $30 billion to subsidize the digitization of thousands of schools, libraries and facilities, but nobody who’s ever wrestled with the infamous Forms 470, 471 472 or 486 needed to participate would say it’s easy. The program is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company, and the paperwork is so complicated that it can make most feel like deer paralyzed in the headlights of an oncoming car.

The program is so complex that it’s a good idea to dedicate E-Rate tasks to one person at the school or district. Here’re the top things to think about when requesting E-Rate money. Remember, any one of them can cause your request to be rejected or to sit on someone’s desk for an eternity:

• Form 470 must refer to the district’s technology plan. Don’t have one? Time to start working on a plan and make sure its goals mesh with your E-Rate requests.
• If your state, county or locality requires competitive bidding and public announcement for the project, that’s the way it has to be. Don’t try and shortcut it by announcing a vendor.
• Be sure to notify bidders if they’ve been disqualified from the competition with the reason why or the E-Rate money might be held up.
• Requests for proposals on Form 470 need to be available for 28 days.
• Be patient and wait the full 28-days before signing a contract for the project.
• Be specific and include all the relevant documentation when trying to get E-Rate funds. Plus, keep an archive of the documentation and forms for at least five years in case your district’s request is audited.
• Make sure that your Form 470 refers to the correct service category. If not, it will likely confuse the reviewers.
• Be sure to correctly refer to the right Form 470 when listing the vendor, payment amounts on the Block 5 section of the Form 471.
• I know it sounds odd, but make sure that administrative, sports and maintenance facilities cited on Block 4 of Form 471 detail district data on students as well as the percentage of students who get free or subsidized lunches at school.
• Include budget documentation because reviewers are looking to see if the district can pay for its portion of the project’s cost. 
• If projects that can be squeezed into a single year aren’t complicated enough, for multi-year contracts, you’ll need to fill out a Form 470 for the first year and an additional Form 471 for the remaining years. Make sure it references the original Form 470 or the request will languish. 
• Send in the forms on time or you’ll miss the E-Rate boat. The current window closes on February 2.

TrillionAustin, TX based Trillion specializes in creating networks and voice over IP phone systems for schools that are paid for with E-Rate money. The full report requires that you register.

A to Z on E-Rate

Ffl_logoIf trying to actually get some money out of the E-Rate subsidies is too-much hit or miss or you’re spending too much time trying to decode the dreaded Forms 468, 470 and 471, Funds for Learning’s E-rate Manager can help get your school the money it deserves. The program resides online and handles all the paper work and can put together multiple submissions at once. At present there are more than 650 E-Rate Manager users and they get denied funding 50 percent fewer times compared to districts that don’t use the program. The best part is that E-Rate Managter even sends emails to warn you when deadlines for submission are approaching and archives all forms and back up documentation in accord with the rules. There’s a free demo available.  For schools with less than 5,000 students, the program costs $250, which rises to $1,000 for institutions with more than 15,000 students. This amount can easily be paid for with one successful submission.



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