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Freebee Friday: Time for Lunch

School lunch choiceIf you’re a charter or private school with 300 or fewer students, School Lunch Choice can be used for free. It not only provides control over the cafeteria, but lets you accept online payments for meals, participate in reduced price lunch programs and has a breakfast option. Need more? There’s a paid option allows a custom design and multiple schools.


Adieu Vista

Vista XCreated a decade ago and old before its time, Microsoft announced that its support for Windows Vista is at an end. After April 11, there will no more patches or security updates to make using it safe and secure. While your Vista-based systems will continue to operate, they will be increasingly vulnerable and more and more new hardware devices won’t work due to the lack of enabling software. Next up on the No Support parade: Windows 7 in early 2020.

A Job Well Done and Much to Still Do

Obama ed speechPreseident Obama gave teachers and administrators the best news they could ever hope to hear: the graduation rate has risen significantly. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, for the 2014-15 school year (the latest that we have data for), the graduation rate rose to 83.2 percent, up from the previous year’s 82.3 percent. It’s up an astounding 10 percentage points from the 2005-6 year’s 73 percent graduation rate. This means that thousands more kids will have degrees, better jobs and the ability to go to college.

Grad rateIt may be the highest graduation rate on record, but there’s also bad news below the surface. Here it’s the segments of the population that while improving are still lagging the crowd. For instance, White kids had an 87.6 percent graduation rate versus Black and Hispanic students’ 74.6 and 77.8 percent.



Freebee Friday: Back to School Report Card

We give our students report cards of their progress, so why shouldn’t the people we buy our school computers from get graded as well on their products and services? That’s the idea behind Rescuecom’s annual survey of the most reliable brands and sellers. The company provides tech support for every major brand and derives its scores and grades based on the ratio between a manufacturer’s market share and the number of tech support calls for its gear.

At the head of the class were Amazon, Verizon and LG with A+ grades, followed by Apple, and Samsung with As. Microsoft and Samsung earned B grades, while Lenovo and Acer got C+ scores. Dell got a C- and HP and Toshiba got D grades, showing lots of room for improvement.



Cloud Sale

Adobe cloud saleAs school starts, Adobe’s Creative Cloud is on sale for $20 per month per student -– a 60-percent reduction -– but there are heavy discounts for school- or district-wide purchases. The Cloud is the right set of image, video and Web tools for both teaching about these subjects and actually retouching photos, editing clips and creating action-packed Web sites. In addition to the expected Photoshop, Premiere and Illustrator, the Cloud now includes several tablet apps, like Spark (storytelling), PremiereClip (video editing) as well Photoshop Sketch and Illustrator Draw, two apps for drawing and painting.



The New Gym Class

ChairSince physical education was introduced in public schools in the 19th century it has been loved and dreaded equally by students, but dodge ball, jumping jacks and rope climbing are falling by the wayside in an era of computerized learning and testing. That doesn’t have to be so because there are a tremendous number of digital resources to balance a healthy mind with a healthy body at school. These three services can get everyone out of their chairs and running around.


Focussed fitnessFocused Fitness’s Five for Life program is an all-inclusive way to get elementary, middle and high school students up out of their seats and be more active at school. It has everything from a full phys-ed curriculum that’s chock full of activities to nutrition lessons that can make students into more-thoughtful eaters. Five for Life has an extensive video library for teaching about health, fitness and proper exercise technique. There’s curriculum for elementary, middle and high schools that costs between $144 and $675.


Online gym for meIf all you want is online classes that get kids moving, Online Gym 4 Me does the trick. There are 120 different activities available that run for 15- to 30-minutes, perfect for squeezing into a 40-minute period. There’s everything from fat-burning to yoga and pilates and even a tutorial on how to do a handstand. The program will set up a personalized workout routine with a mix of live and recorded classes. The service can be played on just about any connected screen, either individually or ion the big screen for an entire class. Annual memberships cost $4.90 per month and there’s a free two-week trial to see if it gets the sweat up. At the moment schools don’t get a discount, but the company is working on it.


WalkaboutsActiveEd’s Walkabouts is an interactive app that puts the physical in education for Pre-K through second grade students. It runs online so the software works on just about any connected computer and can change the way you think of gym and lessons. It’s all controlled by the Walkabout dashboard where you can create new activities, reuse old ones, look for lessons, print worksheets and manage classes and students. New activities start with picking the age group, subject and standard you want to work with. After all, it’s easier and more fulfilling to play with numbers or vowels and consonants than fill a whiteboard with them.


Freebee Friday: Micro and Macrochips

Megaprocessor-panoramaNo High School physics class is complete without a rudimentary examination of electricity and electronics, but rarely does it go as far as the digital circuits that run our lives. Rather than microscopic circuits, James Newman’s Megaprocessor can be taught at human scale. That’s because it is 30- by 6-feet his macocomputer chip is composed of a variety of panels for its functional elements, like logic and arithmetic. While today’s typical processor runs at gigahertz speeds, can handle 64-bit programming and has gigabits of RAM available, Newman’s Megaprocessor runs at 8 kilohertz, has 256 bits of RAM and can process 16-bits at a time. Despite the size and technological differences, the Megaprocessor illustrates that the difference to today’s processors is merely a matter of scale. Newman provides a guided tour and its specs.

Best of ISTE: Google Free For All

New Cardboard 1There’s no doubt that Google’s Education Apps has changed the dynamic with free software that used to cost, well, real money. There are three extensions coming that push this paradigm to new heights that range from educational virtual reality to automatically-graded quizzes.

To start, Google’s Expeditions now has an app for taking the kids on virtual fieldtrips. It works with smartphones and the Cardboard carriers, but at the moment is only for Android; engineers are working on an iOS version for iPhones. In addition to the use of educational materials from Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Expeditions takes a big step forward with a version for use with tablets that might not be as visually stunning as the 3D Cardboard headsets, but is much more practical. 

CastMeanwhile, the ChromeCast hardware gets new software, just for the classroom that lets the teacher have any child show his or her screen to the class over WiFi. It integrates well with Google Classroom by providing a class list to choose from, but it can’t do split screen imaging.

Quizzes_06Finally, Forms Quizzes lets teachers quickly create and automatically grade assessments without ever taking out a red pencil. The quizzes can have images, photos and videos and if the student gets the wrong answer, you can embed hints, encouragement or links to resources.

Best of ISTE: School Tablet Lock-Down

Mbank274636_560_560Kensington is being much too modest in its appraisal of its latest charging cabinet, the AC12 Security Charging Cabinet for Chromebooks & Tablets. In addition to Chromebooks and tablets, it can fit most small portable computers that are 14-inches or shorter. The AC12 cabinet can securely hold up to a dozen systems in pull out drawers, but can be locked down and charged at once, so they’re ready for the next class. The cabinet has lockable wheels, plenty of ventilation and costs $700.  Booth 2848.

Communicate without Words

Swiftkey symbolsFor those hard to reach special students who can’t communicate through traditional means, SwiftKey Symbols presents an innovative visual language as a way to start talking. It works on Google phones and tablets, but not iPhones or iPads, and includes an array of representative stick figure drawings that create a new vocabulary and a means of communications. The array includes I, you, like, go and a slew of other works and concepts. Kids and teachers can add their own drawings and photos to the mix to personalize the vocabulary. Just drag a symbol at a time to the top of the interface, edit and rearrange the sequence and play it to create a visual sentence and start a new world of understanding. 

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