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TECH TOOLS

New projectors deserve new screens--go instant!<br />
New projectors deserve new screens--go instant!

The Long and Short of Projectors

A digital projector is a great way to present a lesson for the whole class to see, but small and oddly shaped rooms aren’t projector-friendly. Toshiba’s TDP-EW25U is the first of a new breed of classroom projectors with an advanced short-throw lens that can work at less than two feet from a screen, transforming any room into a digital classroom. At around $2,000, the TDP-EW25U may not be the cheapest projector, but it can work in tight places.

Inside the projector are a 0.65-inch DLP imaging engine and a sophisticated lens that team up to create a sharp 1,280 by 800 widescreen image. It can fill a 10-foot classroom screen from five feet away or a 3.5-foot screen from just 22 inches. Because the projector sits so near the screen, there’s less chance of casting shadows when working in front of the screen—a real bonus for teachers. The TDP-EW25U also has wired Ethernet and an 802.11g Wi-Fi radio built in.

On the downside, when you factor in the cost of electricity and the costly replacement lamp, the projector’s expenses come to a hefty 26 cents per hour. Still, for classrooms that aren’t long on space, this projector might be the best choice.

Toshiba TDP-EW25U   $2,369 (discounts available)
www.toshibadirect.com

+  Excellent short-throw lens
+  Built in Wi-Fi
+  Quick start-up and shutdown
-   Big and heavy
-   High per-hour expenses

Brain Buddy
BrainChild’s Study Buddy is an innovative handheld education system that can not only teach students individually in math and language arts, but test them as well. This self-paced education system lets students learn at their best speed, while its quickie quizzes give instant feedback to teachers, administrators, and parents. A 10-pack of color-screen Study Buddies, including 20 curriculum cartridges, costs $3,995.
www.brainchild.com

EZ Cam
Schools looking to incorporate student-made videos into the classroom or a Web site should check out the SupaCam DVi. This small and light digital camcorder sells for only $328, a fraction of what similar devices go for. On top of 12-megapixel still images, SupaCam DVi can capture high-definition video at 30 frames a second. Rather than tapes or DVDs, SupaCam puts it all on reusable SD flash memory cards. Just record the material, remove the card, and plug it right into a computer for immediate editing and distribution; an inexpensive 2GB card can hold more than five hours of raw video.
www.supacam.net

Hear Me …
Schools that lack a public address system can get the word out
by piggybacking PA announcements over their data network with Cyberdata’s VOIP technology. Cyberdata has everything a school needs, including paging gateways, amplifiers, servers, and speakers, and the company’s Web site has a handy interactive calculator for deciding how many speakers a school needs.
www.cyberdata.net 

The Computer that Saves

The ThinkCentre A61e from Lenovo not only is quieter and smaller than a traditional desktop PC, but it also uses 50 percent less energy. The savings can add up quickly; Lenovo estimates that the typical school can cut its electric bill by about $20 a year for every PC it replaces with an A61e. Based on either an AMD Sempron or Athlon Dual Core processor, the A61e starts at $400 and can be ordered with Windows XP or Vista.
www.lenovo.com

Up, Down, Here & There
Anthro’s Zido adjustable laptop cart creates an instant workspace for teachers, students, or staff. The sturdy cart can hold up to 40 pounds and be wheeled from room to room. Just squeeze the paddle and the tabletop can go from 30 inches high to 40. Available in grey or slate blue, the desktop comes in two sizes and the company sells a variety of accessories. Pricing for the cart starts at $620.
www.anthro.com

Download a Cup of MoCA
Be on the lookout for MoCA, but you don’t have to spike your morning coffee with chocolate. MoCA stands for the Multimedia over Coax Alliance, and it could be the next big thing in networking. By sending data over the plain old coaxial TV cables that most schools already have installed, a MoCA network can be cheaper than traditional Ethernet networking, and with a top speed of 110 megabits per second, it’s just as fast. Look for a slew of MoCA products from DLink, Linksys, and Toshiba. 
www.mocalliance.com

The Big Picture
Widescreen projectors have traditionally been too high-end for most classrooms, but the new EIKI LC-WB40N widescreen classroom projector (premiering at FETC 2008) now comes in under $3,000. Since it weighs less than 10 pounds, it’s easy enough to share between classrooms and auditoriums. Other bells and whistles include wired and wireless network connectivity, analog computer input and monitor output connections, and DVI with HDCP supporting both digital computer and video input.
www.eiki.com

Instant Screen
Why install a permanent projector screen in your school’s auditorium if you only use it a few times a year? Airscreen is an inflatable projection screen that can be erected in a few minutes and folds for storage. Available in either traditional 4:3 or widescreen 16:9 aspect ratios and from 16- to 30-foot sizes, the screens can even be used outdoors for movie night or other activities. Several schools, including Burning Tree Elementary in Maryland, have used Airscreen. Pricing starts at $5,000.
www.airscreen.com

The Eyes Have It
Science teachers will like the new Elmo TT-02S visual presenter. It’s lightweight and takes just one hand to focus in on microscopic details like small 3-D objects and documents. No more squinting students squashed around the microscope—just line the camera up to a microscope eyepiece, and you’re in business. Check out more specs at www.elmousa.com

Quick Scan

With the ability to turn paper documents, slides, and prints into faithful digital images at a super-sharp 6,400 dots per inch, Epson’s Perfection V500 Photo scanner is a must-have for any school art department. Because it illuminates the original with instant-on LEDs rather than a fluorescent tube, the scanner doesn’t need to warm up and perform a calibration. Its advanced software can automatically remove dust and scratches from damaged originals. At $250, it’s a relative bargain.
www.epson.com

CURRICULUM:

[Language Arts]
McGraw Hill CTB’s Writing RoadMap 2.0 attacks the problem of student expression from two sides. On top of tips and prompts on improving writing skills, the program includes an enhanced engine for automatically scoring student essays. The software
is appropriate for grades 3–12. The annual cost is about $6 per student
plus a one-time setup fee.
www.ctb.com

[Math]
Hotmath.com is the first online education site to use instant messaging to let middle and high school students collaborate to work through problems in real time. From pre-algebra to calculus, the site allows kids to communicate, combine skills, and tackle problems from more than 200 of the most popular math textbooks. An annual license costs about 75 cents per student.
www.hotmath.com

[Chemistry]
If visualizing molecules is giving you and your class a headache, Marek Dlapa’s Molecule Constructor 1.3 can create vivid models for the class to see and explore. With a library of popular compounds, the program makes complex molecules like benzene come alive on a computer monitor or projector. Once on-screen, the models can be rotated and zoomed in and out. The software costs $10, but can be tried for free at www.download.com

[Math]

On top of reviews of dozens of educational titles, vocabulary builders, and educational games, the SuperKids Web site helps math teachers with a free worksheet-maker program. With the ability to create worksheets that range from graphing to handling factorials, it’s a math teacher’s first stop on the Web.
www.superkids.com/aweb/tools/math

[Art]
Claymation Studio is an innovative program that school art classes can use to make surprisingly professional-looking animation clips. With a simple yet flexible interface, the program has the ability to capture images, compare adjacent frames, and add audio, which lets junior Walt Disneys compile photos or drawings into video sequences. The $40 program has a free trial version available.  www.honestech.com

[reading]
Rather than traditional and costly commercial software, free-reading.net is an open-source alternative for early reading support. The Web site contains a sequential reading course that emphasizes phonics for a 40-week school year. Unlike many of its competitors, free-reading.net is flexible enough for schools or districts to customize. The site is chock full of advice and suggested activities. www.free-reading.net

[Reading]
Soliloquy 4.1 is the latest version of this one-of-a-kind reading support program that helps students hone their skills. Its advanced speech recognition technology listens as students read a passage and then highlights misread words. The program now not only runs on Microsoft Vista, but a recent update means it can be licensed across a school or district. The new version also prepares more concise student progress reports.www.soliloquy.com

[Math]
Algebra Solver is a unique program that can help an entire class or individual students make sense of equations, variables, and graphs. From simplifying polynomials to linear algebra, the $75 program can help with tips and step-by-step instructions.
www.algebrasolver.com

MANAGEMENT

*Whether public or private, every school needs to collect all kinds of charges, and MySchoolFees can streamline the process. On top of setting up fee schedules for classes, activities, and trips, this program can handle secure credit card transactions online, making payments simple.
www.myschoolfees.com

* Why fuss with individual programs for payroll, HR, and finance when Weidenhammer Systems’ alio does it all. Based on an Oracle database, the software picks up where Information Design’s Sage leaves off and can help you find the right data, analyze trends, and quickly create a variety of reports. 
www.hammer.net

* SchoolSoftware Group’s Build Your Own Assessment program makes creating and grading tests for a class or district as easy as 1, 2, 3. Assessment tests can be made with any combination of single or multiple choice questions as well as true/false and essay formats for maximum flexibility. All tests can be administered either on paper or via computer, and the program lets teachers give partial credit. The software requires an annual fee of $1,000 plus about $2 a student.
www.schoolsoftwaregroup.com

* School RecordKeeper Pro 7 can handle everything a school needs to track, including grades, attendance, after-school activities, and medical records. Planning for the next school year is a snap, too, with the ability to schedule facilities based on seating, floor plan, and even power outlets. Entering new students or updating records is fast and easy, and transcripts can include supporting documents. Pricing starts at $2,450 for one user and up to 100 students.
www.schoolrecordkeeper.com

* Mizuni’s Motiv Total Information Management tool can help put together all the data an instructor, principal, or administrator needs to make educational decisions. While teachers have instant access to any student’s portfolio via the Web, administrators can quickly analyze data and track trends. www.mizuni.com   

* FundWare from Kintera has the power to turn fund-raising from a chore into a school cash machine. The program includes up-to-date accounting techniques as well as sections for preparing budgets, banking, cash, and grants. In other words, FundWare can help boost the cash flow of any educational institution.  www.fundware.com

* Elementary Software’s Report Card Pro makes creating high-quality grade reports as easy as importing a class list and typing in each student’s grades. The program works in both Macintosh and Windows environments, and it comes with preformatted report cards for several different grades and specialty classes. A demonstration program is available for download. www.elementarysoftware.com

* Veplan’s Web-based school management software keeps every record in place and tracks student progress while also keeping an eye on the business details. With modules for curriculum development, class management, grading, and attendance, Veplan covers all the territory. On top of modules for billing ledger and comprehensive reporting tools, the program has optional sections for Web site development, events, and donations. www.veplan.net

About the Author

Christine Weiser is a writer and editor who has reported on K-12 education technology for more than 15 years.

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