The days of the bound calendar planner with scribbles everywhere are long gone, but nothing good enough has replaced it. That is, until now with PlanBook. The browser-based system can streamline planning a week, a month or the entire school year. It can handle everything from classes and meetings to sports and school activities. The free version works with just about any computer or phone and can rotate classes weekly or on a variety of other popular schedule formats and the software even integrates into Google’s Education apps. Upgrading to the Premium product adds the ability to attach files and put your planner online for others. It costs $25 a year, although that drops to $16 per user a year for schools with 250 teachers.
There’s no better way to understand how computers really work than to build one, and that’s the idea behind Kano. The kit includes all the hardware and software you’ll need to build a fully functioning computer. It starts with a Raspberry Pi2 computer board with a 900MHz, ARM Cortex A7 processor and 1GB of RAM. It has slots for plugging in a screen or projector as well as mini-USB for power and includes a small USB keyboard with a touch pad.
The Kano computer is so small that it fits in the palm of your hand and there are visually oriented building instructions. Once the system is working it can be used with a variety of open-source (and free) software, including Python and Scratch. There’s even an online place for classes and kids to share their best work or ask questions. It even comes with a couple of sheets of stickers for personalizing the computer. It costs $150, but schools can get a 30 percent discount, making it the best bargain in tech today.
Rather than desktops or even notebooks, students are more often than not reaching for tablets when it’s time to work on reading, vocabulary and comprehension. After all, using a full windows or Mac computer for this task might seem like a waste of precious resources. Enter the latest reading aids, which have the power to turn a slate into a learning machine.
Pearson’s second edition of its Developmental Reading Assessment is now available for iPads, making it easier to get into the hands of students; sorry, Android schools are out in the cold. The app comes with a variety of reading passages, including fiction and nonfiction ones. The software is comprehensive, covering everything from observation and recording reading performance to evaluating any changes. It’s good for students from Kindergarten to 8th grade and is a free download, but you need to subscribe to Pearson’s content.
Meanwhile, the recently updated PlanetRead! combines reading instruction with help in mastering the often impenetrable rules of spelling. It places the focus firmly on fun with interactive games, stories and images so the kids will hardly know they’re learning. Based on the notion that phonics should be used in every aspect of language arts and not memorized, the app is aimed at early learners with 54 stories that kids can go through. It tracks progress and rewards those who can master the material. Available for the iPhone and iPad, there’s no Android software available here as well. If you like, PlanetRead! Can be used over the summer break to help those lagging and so that students keep their skills sharp.
Schools that use Android slates don’t despair because Pocket Verbal Ability is for you. The Android and Chromebook app can not only improve the vocabulary that kids have but the app has been built around more than 3,000 practice questions that frequently show up in the most used standardized exams. The program covers everything from idioms to antonyms and its questions have been categorized and based on level of difficulty, allowing teachers to tailor the software for an individual, class or group of students.
What if you have a mix of Androids and iPads and don’t care to get involved in the war between platforms? Think about Vocabulary.com, a browser-based system that can help kids learn the right words. Just point a connected slate at vocabulary.com and the words, meanings and sentences start flowing. You can either paste-in words of interest or up to 100-pages of text from an ebook or text. The site then puts together a class-wide activity to learn the key words through a series of quizzes. There’s a fill-in dictionary box at the top and you can even set the site up to deliver a weekly word quiz to students’ email inboxes.
Why decide if you want to get Windows or Android tablets when you can get both at once. American MegaTrends has come out with a great Android software emulator that lets any recent Windows system run Android apps. Called AMIDuOS, the software can run on just about any Windows 7 or 8 system and works with Android 4.4 or earlier programs. It not only includes touch support for those systems with a touch-screen, but you can even move files from Android to Windows apps and back again. The program can be had directly from AMI on a 30-day trial or pay $10 for full use of this unique app.
All classroom desks are alike, right? Well, actually some, like Smith Systems’s ADA Arc do more. Available in a wide variety of color combinations, the Arc not only allows students to work on their own, but you can create a variety of collborative workspaces by putting them together. My favorite is the open-centered octagonal circle created out of eight individual desks. Because of Smith’s unique “Y” shaped legs, you can move the Arc up and down by 8-inches with only two adjustments. It costs about $250.
Your school’s next assembly or fall musical can sound as good as if it were at a professional theater with Harman’s Si Impact digital mixing console. With 40-inputs and built-in digital signal processing, the Si Impact has motorized faders. You’d think that with all that power at your fingertips, it would be too hard for kids and drama teachers to use this audio mixer. But, the Si Impact is as simple to use as an old school analog mixer. It sells for $2,800.
If your school’s computers use Office, then you need to look at and try out the Office 2016 preview. It’s still beta level software, but it has most of the components in place and it’s reasonably stable. The Office rpreview page is now up and ready to download the software in 32- or 64-bit format. The preview will work until the final software is released, likely later this year. There’s a preview tour, but you’ll have to get rid of your present version of Office. Be sure to write down or copy and paste the product key on the page or you won’t be able to get started.
Being a good principal involves a lot more than being a good teacher, although it helps. WNET and the Wallace Foundation have teamed up with videos that show what it takes to be a good principal. Called “School Leadership in Action: Principal Profiles,” the clips cover everything from creating the right learning environment to cultivating the leadership skills in others. These mini-movies are about 12-minutes long, show real world situations and can be invaluable to every principal.
What does it take to collaborate in the classroom? Marilyn Swartz and Margaret Searle know and have put together “Teacher Teamwork: How do we make it work?” The 48-page book is deceptively small but is overflowing with real-world ideas and activities to bring teachers closer and create educational teams. It boils down to four ideas, from setting up guidelines and procotols and working through conflicts to fostering decision-making skills and building a teamwork state of mind. Published by ASCD, the print edition costs $10, but the ebook is only $6.
The idea behind the newest interactive whiteboard from Smart Technologies is mix and match, depending on what you need. The M600 family of boards is available in 77- and 87-inch sizes and can accommodate two touch inputs using the company's optical DViT technology. It starts with the M680, which has a 77-inch screen and can be purchased with Smart’s V30 projector. The board includes a pair of pens and an eraser. The larger M685 board is 87-inches and can be had with the company’s U100w projector. Either way, the boards work with Smart’s Notebook software and Exchange online repository of educational materials, so they can jump right into class on the first day of school.