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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. 

Freebee Friday: Google Doc Doctor

Google docs researchThe new school year has brought not just a pack of eager students, but big changes with Google Docs, which lots of schools not just because it’s free, but because it is an excellent way to get kids to collaborate and the online apps make it easy for kids to turn in digital assignments. The latest version has a research tool for helping to fill in the blanks on a project, like a paper or presentation. Just type Control + Alternate + Shift + I and click Research on the bar that appears. There you can type a query, like “where was George Washington born.” You can limit the search based on things like the expected images, but also only look for quotes, dictionary definitions or tables of information. When you see what you’re looking for, just drop it into your project.

Freebee Friday: Next Tech

You gov ieeeIt’s true that we all love and secretly loathe new technologies because they have the power to enrich the classroom but often leave behind other technologies we were just getting used to. According to a survey sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers of over two thousand adults conducted by YouGov, the most important STEM subjects in You govsecondary education are math, science and overall technology. Over the coming year, the poll respondents thought that the most influential technologies will be Smartphones (42 percent), tablets (37 percent) and 3-D printers (32 percent). 

What’s going to be left behind? Based on the responses, digital music players and cameras are on the outs as stand-alone devices. That’s mostly because their roles have been taken over by even the cheapest tablets and phones.

Best in Shows

Fetc bettAlong with the New Year and ever-present danger of writing 2014, we have a slew of education shows upon us. At them, we’ll see and try-out the latest teaching products –from tablets and projectors to administrative software and computer carts – are debuted. This year, though, we get the double whammy of BETT and FETC at the same time. Although they are still on different continents, it’s a lot to absorb. Here’re my favorites from the current Ed Tech shows.

6_to lumensNotebooks and tablets need to be as mobile as students and teachers are these days with the ability to go from room to room as needed. Capable of holding up to 48 systems, that’s exactly what Lumen’s Rhino CT-S50 cart does. It can hold and charge notebooks, tablets and Chromebooks so they’re always ready for class. The lockable cart is mounted on stable casters, is ventilated and uses a smart charging system that reduces power demand. The bonus is that the S50 cart provides a large work surface on top with an articulated arm to hold a slate or monitor. FETC no. 323.


What’s better than wheeling notebooks and tablets around on a cart? Individual lockers like the LapSafe Diplomat PIN can safely hold and charge the systems when they’re not in use. Rather than a keyed lock, though, each Diplomat PIN locker has its own combination that gets typed into the locker’s keypad. The combinations can be set up with the company’s TANmode software, frequently changed and sent to users via an email or text message. The sturdy steel lockers come in stacks that can hold a dozen systems. Bett no. F186.

Acer C740 Chromebook_rear left facing 2Acer’s new Chromebook C740 has the distinction of being just about indestructible at schools and should outlast its students. The system has an 11.6-inch screen that can show 1,366 by 768 resolution and a durable display hinge that can take being repeatedly twisted and turned. The screen cover is reinforced and the system can stand up to foot-and-a-half drop. Schools and districts buying more than one-hundred systems get Premier Care, which includes accident damage coverage. All told, it costs $260, weighs less than 3 pounds and should slide into and out of a backpack with ease. There will also be a C910 model that includes a 15.6-inch screen and 4GB of RAM for $300. BETT no. F188.

ItslearningThe itslearning app takes this student information service to new levels of mobility with iPad and Android apps. The software allows teachers, students and admin staff access to the school’s itsLearning info without logging onto the system. The apps can not only automatically facilitate communication between students and teachers but deliver assignments and grades as well. FETC no. 1041.

ClassroomGoogle’s Classroom just got a lot more useful in, well, the classroom. The latest version of the software not only works with both Android and iOS systems, but lets you cache lessons and multimedia material offline so that you can now use it to teach in unconnected rooms. Teachers can add all sorts of images and Web pages as well as take a picture from the Classroom’s assignment page to document a project, what’s on the board or even take a snap shot of a homework assignment and turn it in digitally. BETT no. E240.

Screen480x480Aimed at K-through-2nd graders, Science4Us can be the first science lessons students are exposed to, so it has to count. Available online or via Science4Us’s free iPad app, there isn’t an app for Android tablets. The 28 two-week modules available cover everything from the physical and environmental sciences to life and earth science. Along the way, the lessons integrate literacy and math into the science lessons. The service costs between $5 and $12 a student. FETC no. 553.

SkywardThe job of drilling down to the school or classroom level to get the data needed just got a lot easier with Skyward’s myDistrict360. It can not only show individual students grades, attendance and other details, but provide context for how each class and school is doing. The online program lets you enroll new students through a Web form and create your own reports for what’s important without the need for programming. FETC no. 840.

Create educationCreate Education has a vision of the future of shop classes at schools that revolves around teaching kids to use 3-D printers. The company combines its Ultimaker 2 printer with its Cura software to allow kids to make all sorts of small plastic items. The key is that they model the items on-screen using the CAD design and imaging software and then watch it being made on the 3-D printer. BETT no. F54.

State of the InternetThe old saying that reading begets reading couldn’t be more true, according to Scholastic’s “Kids & Family Reading Report."The corporate parent of Tech Tools, Scholastic surveyed 2,558 children and parents to compile its results. While it points out that girls continue to read more than boys, the big take-away is that those who read become better and more proficient readers. The biggest factor in building a strong reader is that their parents read to them aloud between five and seven days a week before the student entered kindergarten. FETC no. 201

OkiEven with the ever expanding digital classroom, there’s still a place for printers at school. Take OKI’s MB562w printer, which can not only pump out up to 27 pages per minute of sharp 1,200 by 1,200-text and graphics, but works with OKI’s Remark scanning software to grade bubble tests and compile the results. FETC no. 1416

NB_3Smart’s Notebook software can bring everything needed for education together, from lesson plans and multimedia to collaboration and assessments. The latest version has a Lesson Builder for creating innovative classroom activities as well as Concept Mapping that can have a class turn ideas and concepts into deeper understanding. FETC no. M12.

Elmo-l-12idElmo’s L-12iD can put anything from a petri dish to a paper map onto the big screen and gives the teacher the choice of switching between sending the video stream through a computer via a USB cable or go directly to the classroom projector through an HDMI cable. The document camera-visualizer leads the way with a 12X optical zoom lens, full HD resolution and a built-in microphone. If you need a Web cam, the L-12iD’s lens can be flipped up to face the class. BETT no. C477.

  E805_ltCould the classroom projector have met its match? NEC’s 80-inch flat-screen display sure makes it look possible. The MultiSync E805’s HD screen can not only be controlled remotely over the school’s network, but it can work with Crestron and AMX control networks. It delivers a bright and clear image, has a 10W sound system and all the inputs you’re likely to need to connect, including both HDMI and DisplayPort plugs. The screen sells for $5,600 with a three-year warranty. FETC no. 1268.

SungardOne size does not fit all schools, but SunGard K-12’s Plus 360 Suite can put all the information that a teacher, principal or district supervisor needs in view. It can not only show the big picture but zoom in on individual students or classes and handle everything from student information, curriculum and assessments to financial, human resource and special education issues. It can even be set up so that a parent can view her child’s grades. FETC no. 1408.

UnplagWhether it’s copying a paragraph from Wikipedia or not properly attributing a source, plagiarism is front and center for teachers. In a few seconds, Unplag can cross check it against 16 million Web pages from Google and Bing, against any file on your computer or with respect to another student’s work. In fact, you can try it out by pasting a passage up to 275 words into the company’s Web site and look at the results. BETT no. E346.

Office 365 moodleMicrosoft’s Mix is a great way to add multimedia and interactivity to lessons, but it just got a lot more versatile with the addition of an add-in for material in Moodle’s open-source Learning Management System. The Moodle plug-in works with all of Office 365, lets you work offline and log-in using a single Office 365 password. BETT no. D270.


Freebee Friday: Hurry Up and Wait

AkamaiDespite all the talk in Washington about the importance of the Internet and speeding up access to all it has to offer, the numbers are in and the U.S. isn’t even in the global top 10 in Internet speed. Last year, the U.S. had an average online speed of 11.5Mbps of bandwidth available, according to the annual Akamai State of the Internet survey. That’s well behind South Korea’s 25.3Mbps. It’s sobering reading but explains why it can take so long to download items.

End of the Line for Windows 7

Windows-7-retail-copiesAll good things must come to an end and as of earlier this week, Microsoft is out of the Windows 7 mainstream support business. There won’t have any new software updates or security patches coming. The good news is that the company will provide schools with extended support for a fee for another five years and several outsiders provide the support you need. It may sound a bit surreal to a district still dependent on Windows XP, but Microsoft’s move might be the kick in the pants you need to start the inevitable migration to Windows 8.

And the Winners are …

5D3_0463Thousands of students from more than 90 countries entered the Google Science Fair, but the winners’ project isn’t just astoundingly creative, but can help make our planet a better place to live. The three grand prize winners discovered a naturally-occurring bacteria that can speed plant germination by 50 percent. Ciara Judge, Émer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow are each 16-years old and will not only get those cool trophies but a trip to the Galapagos Islands and a $50,000 scholarship.

Meanwhile, Mihir Garimella built a flying robot that mimicked how fruit flies evade threats and Hayley Todesco figured out a way to remove pollutants and toxins from mine tailing ponds. Finally, Kenneth Shinozuka won the Scientific American Science in Action award for is wearable sensors project that let him remotely keep tabs on his elderly grandfather and Arsh Dilbagi won for his Talk project that lets people with speech impairments communicate by exhaling. Congratulations, all.


Freebee Friday: The Future of Mobility


Harris poll mobilityWhile teachers and administrators are still on the fence over the impact of mobile technology on learning, their students are all for it. A Harris Poll survey sponsored by Pearson showed that nine out of ten students believe that tablets will change the way they learn. So says the 2014 Mobile Device Survey, which questioned more than 2,250 fourth-through-twelfth-graders and found them very amenable to new technology.

For instance, 81 percent responded that tablets let them learn in a way that’s best for them and 79 percent thought it helped them with their schoolwork. That said, only about 60 percent of those who participated in the survey regularly used a tablet at school. You can read the full survey results for free.

Freebee Friday: Yea or Nay on the Common Core

Common coreWhether you’re pro or con on the Common Core question, you’ll want to listen to the debate at New York’s Kaufman Center on September 9th. Titled, “Embrace the Common Core,” the program will feature spirited debate and the opportunity to vote either way before and after the presentations. Those lining up in favor of the Common Core curriculum include former assistant Secretary of Education Carmel Martin and Michael Petrilli, President of the Fordham Institute. They’ll be arguing with Carol Burris, Principal at South Side High School in Rockville Center, NY and Frederick Hess, Resident Scholar and Director of Educational Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. ABC reporter John Donvan will moderate the event. It will be part of an NPR show called “Intelligence Squared U.S.” and will be streamed on the Intelligence Squared Web site.

The School Pad

Jamf bThe biggest downside of making teachers and students bring their own computers to school is that logging them onto the school network can be a chore with different software for different platforms. JAMF’s latest Casper Suite puts an end to the BYOD shuffle with a system that relies on iPad and Android users to do most of the work of enrolling and maintaining networking connections.

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