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Next-Gen Shop Class

A7516721_2Class, put down your saws and hammers, the shop class is about to change. With the advent of 3-D printers, kids can now design what they want to make in software and then watch it get made. Dell now sells the Maker Bot 3-D printer complete with all the software you’ll need along with the filament that is the printer’s raw material. The best part is that rather than wobbly spice racks and lamps, kids get items they designed and made themselves.

From One to Many

1210tWhat do you do when you have six kids and one digital music player or computer? Get an audio distribution box, like Califone’s 1210T. The device has one plug for connecting with a source and can accommodate up to ten listeners. Each outlet has an individual volume control and, unlike other jack boxes, this one not only allows kids to listen but with the right headsets, they can speak as well for video conferences with Skype or FaceTime. It costs $48.50.


To the Bat Cave, Class

Em-touch-module-silo-1The mystery behind bats can have a hold on students akin to them learning about dinosaurs, but with the impact of a species that is available to see and hear today. The Wildlife Acoustics Echo Meter Touch has the power to turn this curiosity into an imaginative science curriculum with the needed hardware, software and classroom activities.

An add-on to an iPhone or iPad, the system listens for the distinctive echolocation sounds that only bats make. The kit comes with a plug-in ultrasonic microphone that is sensitive to sounds between 8- and 125-kilohertz, most of which is beyond the range of human hearing. The best part is that because the bat’s echolocation mechanism uses such high frequency sound waves, you can talk and teach while still getting a good recording.

The microphone’s aluminum case adds about an ounce and 1.8-inches to the profile of the device and is moisture resistant. Inside is a sophisticated microphone and a custom digital signal processor that is able to convert the bat’s high-frequency echolocation pi sounds into something the iPad can use and playback for kids to hear. The set-up is able to capture 256,000 samples per second and is effective as far away as 300-feet.

It works with recent iPads and iPhones, including the 5 series phones and the Mini iPad Retina model; unfortunately, it uses Apple’s new Lightning connector so early iPads and phones are out of reach. Plus, because the microphone requires the system’s Lightning port, you can’t charge the pad and use the echo microphone at the same time. As a result you need to run the pad or phone on battery power while stalking bats.

Iphone-1I used the Echo Meter two ways that are equally educational. I started by leaving a microphone-equipped iPad Mini on a window sill overnight with the window open to listen for the nocturnal creatures. It was able to pick up three or four bats on a good night and showed the results in a very interesting screen that displays a frequency distribution spectrogram of the soundings at the bottom with color indicating intensity and an amplitude graph at the top to show loudness.

Later I set out with several bat specialists into New York’s Central Park at dusk and captured the sounds of dozens of bats with the gear. Without the equipment I would only have been vaguely aware that things were flying back and forth overhead.

The app and hardware work together like hand in glove and the recording software is free. The Echo Meter’s Auto-ID software takes the device to a new level by recognizing the species based on its calls. At $150, it is money well spent, but the hardware and software roughly equals the price of a good iPad; teachers get a $75 gift certificate to Apple’s app store to help pay for the software. There’s no Android version available.

The combo of the two apps lets a teacher combine the visual spectrogram information and sounds with which bat it actually is. Overall, the data presentation is excellent and can help in not only teaching about bats, but it could be the basis of a great general science lessons on everything from habitat and population biology to data and graphing techniques.

Echo meter aThe device is so sensitive that in addition to the base sound sequence, you can sometimes see subtle harmonics of the bat calls. You can playback the sequence, but with a twist that makes it incredibly useful. Rather than high-frequency sounds that nobody will be able to hear, the software slows it down to the human hearing range.  At any time the app lets you add text or voice notes.

In fact, a cool game might be to play the sounds of a few types of bats and then have the class guess which ones they are. The system was able to recognize about one in three bats recorded and identified three different creatures: Eastern Red Bats, Hoary Bats and Small Footed Bats.

The Auto-ID app has a database of 25 North American and 13 European bats and the company plans to update it as time goes on. It’s like having a bat expert on hand, with each entry providing the common and scientific names as well as a nice species profile, its geographic region and what it likes to eat. In other words, it can turn any curious science teacher into a bat expert.

While you’re using the system, the iPad’s GPS receiver can be marking where you are, but only if you’re using an iPad that has a cell network data card. Later, back at the classroom, you can see where each bat was identified.

Screen-recordings-1This meshes well with the kit’s curriculum. Called “Discover Bats,” the 225-page book was put together by Bat Conservation International and can be used as a self-contained course or in bits and pieces based on need and the student age group. In addition to a one-week quick study course, the kit as an excellent general introduction to bats, there are sections about habitats, species identification, echolocation and caves.

Each section has a good reading along with printed references for further study, although no Web site links. On the other hand, the iPad-based species information section has lots of links to BCI and other areas. At the end of each section, there’s a series of classroom activities and assignments along with teacher answers in the back. Finally, the kit includes a DVD that has four bat-based movies. Unfortunately, it doesn’t contain the book’s material so you’ll need to copy the worksheets rather than print them directly.

While the combined cost of the microphone and programs might seem excessive, Wildlife Associates has bulk deals for the microphone alone that brings the cost down to $450 in lots of 100. On the other hand, the curriculum can be used and reused for many years and the microphone can be passed from class to class when it’s time to study bats.

In other words, the Echo Meter Touch ends up being an economical way to teach about one of the marvels of nature.



Wildlife Acoustics Echo Meter Touch

$499; $523, with curriculum


+ Great ecology curriculum

+ High frequency microphone and software

+ Record and identify species

+ Listen to recordings

+ Spectrogram presentation

+ GPS location


- CD doesn’t contain classroom materials

- Can’t use microphone and AC power at the same time


The Big Printer

Epson large printerHaving a large carriage inkjet printer like Epson’s new SureColor T7270 may seem like a luxury that most districts can’t afford, but it can save on printing expenses and be the centerpiece of fund raising campaigns. Whether it’s to sell parents posters of student athletes, make classroom banners that help with teaching or put digital artwork on paper, the T7270 can pump out printed sheets that are up to 44-inches wide with 2,880 by 1,440 resolution.

It works with a variety of media, from photo paper to hard poster-board and the system uses Epson’s PrecisionCore inkjet technology. The printer has its own imaging chip as well as an optional print server, Postscript engine and a 36-inch wide scanner that can create 600dpi images. With a single media roll, the T7270 sells for $4,995 while the two-roll version costs $6,995 and the scanner adds $4,500.


Make Every Outlet Count

8CE824F8-7461-4EAC-8C94-EBD17C993F8BIf there’s anything that the typical school room lacks, it is AC outlets and it is never more apparent when you have to choose between charging your iPad for class or your phone. You don’t need to choose anymore because Kensington’s KeyFolio X3 has a USB port for charging a phone or other device. Its keyboard wirelessly connects with the pad and puts out a steady 1 amp of current, which should work for most phones, but might take longer for than using the phone's included adapter. Unfortunately, it only works with iPad Air models.

Freebee Friday: Early Warning Radar for Drop-Outs

Mind shine white paperThe ultimate expression of failure for a school and its staff is a kid who drops out, but it doesn’t have to happen. MindShine Technologies has a white paper on identifying those at risk and keeping them in school until graduation day. “From Early Warning to Professional Development: Streamlining the Process and Expanding the Scope of Dropout Prevention” looks at all the risk factors and the warning signs so teachers and staff can concentrate their attention where it will have the biggest effect.



Indestructible Headphones

Blue-headfoams-front-withpad-1000Ask any teacher or school staffer about what gets broken first and they’ll tell you that headphones are just too fragile for kids. Not any more, with Marblue’s Headfoam headsets. Made of molded EVA foam, they bend but usually don’t break and are right-sized for kids from pre-K to high school. Available in three colors, HeadFoam headphones have an audio limiter that doesn’t let the sound get any louder than 85 decibels, which can save a child’s delicate hearing. They cost $40.


Summertime, and the Learning is Easy

The months of July and August don’t have to be a dead zone for learning because there’s a multitude of online educational activities that can keep kids from forgetting their math facts or backsliding on grammar. Most subjects are included and many of the items are structured like games, so they’re not painful to play with.


Free world uTo start, Free World U has a basic curriculum that’s free, although the online school has packages that cost up to $90 a month that add things like exams and accreditation. The basic package is flashcard based and is delivered over the Internet to just about any recent computer. The program can take a child from colors and numbers to algebra, and along the way the program has progress chart, tutorials and classical music selections.

Pbs learningmediaPBS LearningMedia has a summer full of learning potential with its Got Game library of 35,000 online educational activities. From Hip Hop (musical theory) and Fizzy’s Lunch Lab (farming) to the Mission US (marine studies), there’s sure to be something for every age and area of interest.

Smithsonian questsMeanwhile, the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access has several online summer Quests that can enrich a student’s the time away from the classroom. There will be more than 100 programs available that range from exploring the implications of climate change to a look at the Civil Rights movement. Along the way, kids can earn badges ranging from Arthropod Agent to Tree Hugger.

Knowledge adventureIf you’re looking for a little bit of everything for summer enrichment, KnowledgeAdventure.com has an excellent assortment of educational games for grade 1 through high-schoolers. There’re games for English, math, social studies, spelling and science that’s categorized by age, subject and grade. My favorite is Drum Beats that gets kids to think about patterns by repeating a drumming sequence.   

Common sense mediaFinally, Common Sense Media has put together a guide to summer education. The items work on a variety of hardware platforms and cover the gamut of educational subjects, from geography to math. Each item is rated with stars based on its educational content and the apps are arranged by age group.

One-Stop Shopping for School Materials

Amazon schoolIt used to be that teachers sent out lists and parents would spend a day tracking down all the stuff that a student needs for the first day of school. From tissues and crayons to printer paper and pencils, Amazon's School List can consolidate it all, organized by school, grade and class. Teachers just put their list online and then parents pick the right class and you either print a shopping list or just buy it on Amazon.


Mac All-in-One Bargain

HeroAt $1,099 the latest Apple iMac represents a price drop of $200 from the previous budget model. The 21.5-inch screen can show full HD resolution and comes with Intel’s HD Graphics 5000; the 27-inch iMac still costs $1,800.  It has a dual-core Core i5 processor that can run as fast as 2.7GHz, 8GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. It may be more expensive than comparable PC all-in-one computers and not include a touch-screen, but it a good way for Mac-centric schools to fill up a classroom or computer lab with computers.





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