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[TECH TOOLS] The Best in Ed Tech

By Brian Nadel | October November 2007
Make equations come alive.
Make equations come alive.

The latest and greatest in education technology.


Hands-on Phonics
Phonics comes alive for early learners with Learning Resources’ Reading Rods, small plastic cubes that display letters and make letter sounds when placed into the Reading Mentor console. Kids can create words, short sentences, or just gibberish by mixing and matching the different phoneme blocks, which were developed based on proven methods of teaching language arts. Simple enough for kindergartners to use, the $330 device has a 23,000-word dictionary and four headphone jacks
for small group use.

The Incredible Shrinking Calculator
At less than an inch thick, Casio’s fx-9860G Slim graphing calculator is slender enough to slip into a shirt pocket. Yet it contains 1.5MB of memory and can handle any equation a high school math teacher can throw at it. A fold-open lid protects the screen when it’s not in use and the calculator can be connected to a PC, monitor, or classroom projector. Perfect for math, chemistry, or physics classes, the fx-9860G Slim for $100 has been approved for use on all major standardized tests too.

A Clean Slate
Schools that are considering buying pen-based tablet PCs for classroom use should look at the innovative Motion Computing LE1700wt slate computer. With its snap-on keyboard, the tablet can be transformed into a desktop or notebook computer in seconds. Based on Intel’s Core 2 Duo processor and 12.1-inch touch screen, the slate computer weighs just 3.3 pounds yet is a competent computer for students and teachers alike. The system can be ordered with Windows XP or Vista and starts at $1,700, while the keyboard is a $170 option.

TeachLogic’s Orator self-contained wireless
public-address system is powerful enough to reach groups of up to 200 listeners. Because Orator has a battery-powered loudspeaker, it can be used just about anywhere—at the playground or in an auditorium. The wireless microphone can use 16 different frequencies for clear reception and maximum range. The system is priced at about $1,000 and varies according to options.

Instant Darkroom
By pairing a scanner with a high-quality printer, the Epson Stylus RX680 becomes a digital darkroom for any art class. The all-in-one imaging device scans pictures and documents at up to 1,200 x 2,400 dot-per-inch resolution in 48-bit color while producing rich and sharp prints, all for approximately $200. The RX680 can also restore ripped and faded originals and print directly from a digital camera’s flash memory card. Images can be previewed on its LCD screen before printing.

Catch the Wave
The world is no longer flat—at least as far as keyboards go. Logitech’s $50 Wave Keyboard has keys arranged in a curved pattern that vary in height to better match the shape of the hand. The result is more comfortable and accurate typing with less wear and tear on students’ and teachers’ fingers. It works with Macs and PCs and comes with a five-year warranty.

Ready for Your Close-up?
Although it won’t be available until next year, Sanyo’s PLC-XL50 projector is a miracle machine that can fill a six-foot screen from as close as three inches away. It not only opens up new possibilities for working in small classrooms, but the device can project its high-resolution XGA image onto a table, floor, or ceiling and pumps out 2,000 lumens of brightness. On the downside, its advanced optics make this projector expensive at $5,000.

Point Taken
You’ll never have to sharpen a pencil again if you use Jakks Pacific Pentech Ultrasharp Wooden Pencils or Liquaphite Mechanical Pencils. Rather than using solid graphite leads, which continually need to be sharpened, these futuristic pencils use liquid graphite. Writing with them feels just like using a traditional pencil, and automatic test scanners can read the ink. Both types come three in a pack, with erasers, for $4.

Full System to Go
A computer doesn’t have to stay on a teacher’s desk anymore with Jaco’s PerfectView mobile presentation system. Containing everything a teacher needs to conduct a class or present at a seminar, the PerfectView family of carts comes prewired for a variety of displays and audio-visual components. A cart can be easily wheeled from room to room and set up quickly for use either standing or sitting. Complete packages sell for about $5,000 to $7,500 and are available with an HP notebook or desktop PC, a 32-, 37-, or 42-inch monitor/TV, plus a wireless keyboard and mouse.

The Mouse Takes a Bath
It’s no secret that germs are everywhere in schools, so Belkin’s Washable Mouse is a perfect solution for computer items that travel from filthy hand to filthy hand in labs and classrooms. Even though the mouse can be scrubbed, disinfected, and rinsed if needed, it’s still a high-precision USB optical pointing device with an accurate scroll wheel. It costs $30.



Microsoft’s Math 3.0 makes formulas come alive with the ability to solve equations step-by-step and then graph them. The software has a library of more than 100 common equations so it can help teach everything from algebra and statistics to trigonometry. And if you’re using a tablet PC, formulas can be conveniently written and manipulated with a stylus. Math 3.0 can be downloaded for $20; for $50 it comes with Microsoft’s Student, which includes the premium edition of the Encartadigital encyclopedia.

Virtual Classroom 5 lets any teacher create remote lessons that can be transmitted over a network across a building, campus, district, or state. Audio and video, as well as classwork, show up on connected desktops—and the teacher can monitor what any remote student is doing. A five-user pack costs $200, and Farstone provides a free evaluation copy of the software to try. East Aurora (IL) School District #131 has installed the program in all 26 of its computer labs to create cross-district virtual classes.

Instead of buying dozens of typing programs, teach keyboarding the online way with Letter Chase Typing Tutor. After identifying the keys and the home positions to young fingers, the program shows the correct finger to use for each letter and indicates when a mistake is made. Advanced users can copy material into the typing box and attempt to key it in correctly. There are English, French, Spanish, Turkish, Hebrew, and Russian versions. And did we mention that it’s free?

Gamco’s Writing Process series can help students progress from simple sentences to polished essays with a group of three progressive programs. With Persuasive, Expository, and Narrative Writing, the $190 series focuses on organization and how to turn ideas into finished projects. The software has a section for other students to read and create a peer review of the piece.

Atomic Learning’s 30,000 online
instructional videos are a hands-on way to learn many popular software programs. Approximately 500 new tutorials are added every month and recent additions cover Photoshop and Word 2007. Perfect for students and teachers alike, the short tutorials are subtitled for the hearing impaired and many are available in Spanish. Individual accounts for this subscription-based service cost $80.00 per year, with a discount for volume purchases.


>Think of SMART Technologies’ SynchronEyes 7.0 software as the blackboard of the digital classroom. It not only connects the teacher’s computer with those of every student in the classroom, but it also fulfills the promise of interactive whiteboard technology. As an extension of the teacher’s computer, SynchronEyes allows instructors to give and grade digital quizzes, track progress, and even blank out the screen of every notebook in the class. Demo and trial versions are available online.

>The Silk Student Information System by ExLogica can house an entire district’s worth of student data, including files on discipline, family information, attendance, and grades. The program also verifies addresses and handles transportation needs.www.exlogica.comn Purchasing, distributing, and warehousing textbooks is a large and growing expense, but version 7.5 of Follett’s Destiny Textbook Manager helps by tracking every item with Web-based software. The program reports the condition and location of each book, CD, or other educational article in a school or district’s inventory and generates comprehensive reports that reduce ordering of replacement copies. Lee County (FL) Schools reports that it saved more than $90,000 in the first year it used Destiny.

>Gradelink brings the report card into the 21st century with a service that allows parents and administrators to view students’ progress online. The program facilitates any teacher’s grading criteria, including dropping the lowest score and adding extra credit. The best part is that it will instantly create a transcript of all the coursework for a transferring student.

>Whether your school or district has 25 pupils or 25,000, the Student Information Record System from Management Information Group is the one place to stash every digital record. Based on an open database structure, the program is composed of modular building blocks for every educational activity. There’s even a module for coordinating and administering an institution’s special education programs.

>Virtual Tutor Coordinator 3.1 helps set up and streamline a school’s tutoring system with everything needed to create a school within a school. The program can process online applications; precisely make schedules for personnel, equipment, and facilities; plus compile end-of-term updates and e-mail weekly schedules to staff and students. The software has a straightforward, color-coded interface that makes scheduling quick and simple. A free trial of the software is available online.

>The latest software from Wireless Generation, mCLASS:RtI, efficiently and accurately administers evaluation tests in math and reading to better assess and observe at-risk students. The comprehensive system starts with tests taken on the company’s proven mCLASS handheld assessment and reporting system. The program then analyzes the test data and delivers easy-to-read Web-based reports while also monitoring the student’s progress.

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