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The latest and greatest in education technology

January 2008

A Calculator Worth Waiting For

Traditionally, a 40th anniversary rates the gift of a ruby. But Texas Instruments celebrates the anniversary of the first pocket calculator, created in 1967, by giving teachers and students a better present: the TI-nspire calculator. While this powerhouse may be overkill for some school situations, the TI-nspire calculator is the most advanced device of its kind and has the power to redefine how secondary math is taught.Thanks to its innovative removable keypads, the device is actually two calculators in one. Within seconds, the TI-nspire transforms from an alpha­numeric pad to one that mimics the company’s venerable TI-83/84 series. This newfound flexibility makes it a calculator that’s just as appropriate for ninth graders mastering quadratic equations as for 11th graders who are exploring the laws of motion.

On top of solving and graphing equations, TI-nspire’s built-in spreadsheet uses Microsoft Excel’s commands, and the unique four-pane display can show multiple ways of looking at a problem. Work can be saved on the calculator, transferred to a PC, and projected for the class to see. Chemistry students, for instance, might use it to collate pH data, analyze it onscreen, graph the trends, and use the data for a report.  

On the downside, the software for connecting it to a computer doesn’t work with Macintosh or Vista
computers; TI is working on a new version for 2008. At 11.6 ounces (with four AA batteries), it is more than an ounce heavier than the TI-84 Plus model. The tiny keys on the alphanumeric keypad can be tough for adults to master, but are perfect for a child’s fingers. With a price of $135, the TI-nspire is only available to schools. Look for TI to broaden its distribution of the TI-nspire later in 2008 to include retail stores.


--Whether your information ends up on a CD, on a Web site, or distributed over a network, Adobe’s latest Digital School Collection covers all the creative bases. With Photoshop Elements 6, Premier Elements 4, Acrobat Pro 8, Contribute CS3, and a slew of examples and templates, Digital School is all most schools will need for teachers and administrators to produce everything from beautiful yet functional digital curricula to online blogs and podcasts. On the downside, the software is only for PCs.

--SchoolDESX is the one place that can house and distribute an entire school’s worth of student, staff, and equipment information. LinkDESX takes care of student data and grades, TimeDESX is an attendance clock, and SaleDESX is for bookkeeping. The company is working on ClientDESX for setting up appointments.

--If the textbook costs in your school or district are out of control, Hayes’ Textbook Inventory Program Web can help organize what you have and let you know when to order replacements. Based on a secure SQL database, the program puts inventory control, audits, barcodes, and payments for lost materials in one convenient place. Try it free for 30 days.

--Schools and districts with IBM AS400 computers can upgrade to Tenex Systems’ xSphere software to store and analyze student data. Whether it’s information on attendance, transportation, grades, immunization, or discipline, xSphere stores it securely and produces a variety of reports.

--It’s time to chop down the phone tree: AlertNow can notify parents about snow days, early closings, and upcoming events quickly and efficiently. The software gets the word out by calling or sending text messages to thousands of parents in a matter of minutes and in up to 11 different languages. AlertNow is used by the 51 schools in the Hartford County (MD) Public School District.

--Perception from Questionmark completes the circle of testing and evaluation by helping teachers write, schedule, and analyze assessments of all sorts. A wizard assists in writing 22 different types of questions, and the program can randomize tests to reduce cheating. A free demo CD is available from the company.

--ScheduleWhiz Academic makes it easy to create an efficient calendar for classes, facilities, and equipment. In addition to its ability to create multiple schedules and then pick the best one, version 14.4 can display the timetable in a variety of ways, including a Web-ready HTML version.

--Acuity from CTB McGraw Hill can not only make sense of assessing a student’s progress, but its Math, Reading, and Algebra sections will soon be augmented with a Science module. From predictive benchmarks and diagnostic assessments to instructional exercises and easy-to-create reports, Acuity can help a school organize, interpret, and send out test results.

--With Truancy Tracking 3.0, you’ll always know where every child is.
The software both monitors student absences and late arrivals and calls home and assigns detentions. A staff member can call up this information on a handheld computer for instant action.


PracticePlanet is the perfect place for students to brush up on fundamentals and prepare for standardized test-ing. Aligned with the assessment standards of 21 states, PracticePlanet has tests, games, and progress reports. Fee varies with the number of users. A 90-day trial is available.

eLearning Systems’ WebLessons has added 200 science topics to its library of integrated Web-based courses for K–12 students. On top of visually oriented content for subjects ranging from biology to earth science, the lessons include quizzes for monitoring comprehension. Pricing starts at $450 per teacher, and a free trial is available.

Create professional-looking classroom materials with SmartDraw 2008. Whether it’s a reading poster, a chart of the water cycle, or a tour of the beaches of Normandy, SmartDraw helps teachers quickly produce imaginative and lively graphics. Explore the program with a seven-day trial.

With the ability to set up lessons, tests, and homework assignments, NetOp School is the place to plan, carry out, and assess lessons. The software also enables teachers to control every student’s screen or observe as each works through a problem.

Knowledge Adventure’s Academy–Early Literacy helps even the youngest students develop critical language skills. Based on National Reading Panel research, the adaptive program includes 270 lessons on phoneme awareness, word building, spelling, and other literacy areas. A trial version is available.

Vernier’s Web site offers enough to keep a science class busy for an entire semester. In addition to lesson plans with step-by-step directions, the site also features how-to videos. With subjects that range from electrical to biomedical engineering, activities include building a truss bridge, rating popular sunscreen creams, and more.

With Merit’s Essay Punch, students can add zest to their writing assignments. The program guides students through the writing process by asking key questions. The final product can then be transferred to a word processing or e-mail program. Essay Punch costs $45 for stand-alone software or $29 per year for the online version.

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