The constant development of new and evolving internet and electronic technologies has resulted in the creation of an exciting variety of teacher tools for classroom use. The related changing nature of culture and the way students learn these days makes it imperative to adopt these digital tools in our schools. Ultimately, many of these resources can help students learn better and make teachers’ jobs easier.
This article takes a look at a sampling of new or updated software, web-based services, and hardware that can be very useful in a variety of learning situations. The field is so large, however, that this roundup examines only a small number of the seemingly infinite possibilities available for the digital classroom.
SOFTWARE AND WEBSITES
Puzzlemaker, a puzzle generator, is an outstanding tool for use in K–12 learning. With this program, teachers or students can make several types of puzzles that can be printed or exported for use with other programs. The puzzle formats include word search, crisscross, double puzzles, fallen phrases, math squares, mazes, letter tiles, cryptograms, number blocks, and hidden messages. The program can create puzzles in a variety of subject areas, including math and vocabulary, that can be customized for any grade level and curriculum.
The program is free for online use. A CD-ROM version compatible with Windows Vista systems is available for $49.95. The CD-ROM edition includes extra features such as searchable Merriam-Webster elementary and intermediate dictionaries, more than 350 clip art images, and consistent access speeds with no slowdowns during heavy use periods.
Enchanted Learning is a subscription website that offers more than 20,000 pages of resources gathered primarily, but not exclusively, for elementary education. Many of these resources are simple printouts with excellent explanations, activities, and simple line drawings.
The printouts include books to print, cloze activities, Black History Month resources and other celebration-focused activities, a huge collection of animal printouts, art coloring pages, connect the dots activities, calendars, crafts, graphic organizers, K–3 theme pages, maps, flags, states, explorers, and much, much more. A very nice feature is a series of dictionaries in English, English/Spanish, and other languages. The sheer number of resources at this site really has to be seen to be believed.
A single family, teacher, or personal subscription is $20 for 1 year. The subscription provides a username and password that can be used to log on to the site from any internet-connected computer. A single school subscription is $125 per year. The subscription-based access is ad-free.
Starfall.com is one of the best online reading and writing instructional resources I’ve found on the internet. The site features very high-quality interactive video stories and lessons (with sound) and a systematic, standards-based approach to reading instruction.
The reading and writing instruction is presented in a four-stage approach that begins with the ABCs and moves on to phonetic work including sound-out words. The second section alone provides 15 online stories and more than 40 supporting activities. Levels three and four progressively introduce more complicated material, including comprehension activities and many more online books. A large amount of teacher and parent support material is offered as well.
Best of all, access to the site is free. An online store offers support materials that elementary teachers or parents can buy to use with the online programs. Starfall was designed for first grade, but it can be used with prekindergarten, kindergarten, and second-grade students.
Adobe Visual Communicator 3
Adobe Systems, Inc.
It’s possible that a program such as Adobe Visual Communicator 3 could one day take the place of the more static PowerPoint for presentations. With Visual Communicator, a user relatively new to the program can create professional-looking "newscast-quality" video presentations for a variety of education-related purposes. Teachers and students in grades 7–12 with some computer experience will find the program easy to use and relatively intuitive.
Visual Communicator’s many easy-to-use options include drag-and-drop features, scrolling text, multiple languages (including sign language), a teleprompter, video creation capabilities, video editing components, and a library of customizable graphics, special effects, titles, music, and templates. Video presentations can be shared via email, CD, DVD, a Channel One closed-circuit system, or streaming live FLV (Flash video) presentations over the internet using Adobe Flash Media Server. In addition, the program can convert PowerPoint presentations to narrative video.
The education price for Visual Communicator 3 is $149.
BrainPOP, BrainPOP Jr., and BrainPOP Español
BrainPOP/FWD Media, Inc.
BrainPOP (K–12), BrainPOP Jr. (K–3), and BrainPOP Español are subscription-based web programs that offer quality animated, curriculum-based video content. No downloading, installation, or special hardware is required. An online BrainPOP Educators area supports the programs with free lesson plans, video tutorials, professional development tools, graphic organizers, and more.
The BrainPOP material covers math, reading, science, social studies, writing, and health studies with a number of excellent videos that can be used in group or one-on-one situations. The BrainPOP English subject area, for example, includes four subcategories (Famous Authors & Books, Study & Reading Skills, Grammar, and Writing) with a total of roughly 75 videos.
BrainPOP K–12 subscriptions for use by teachers and students at a single school site are $995 a year. The subscription includes unlimited use on-site during school hours and educator-only access after school hours. A 24-hour remote access option is available at an additional cost. The BrainPOP Jr. subscription is priced at $725 per year.
Discovery Education streaming Plus
Discovery Education streaming Plus is a subscription web-based service that gives access to 9,000 full-length videos segmented into 71,000 content-specific clips tied directly to state and national standards. Subscribing schools may stream and download the video content directly from the internet without additional servers, software, or changes to their technology infrastructure.
The program offers additional useful features such as Assignment Builder, Quiz Center, Writing Prompt Generator, more than 100 skill builders spanning core subject areas, more than 100 educational games, and self-paced tutorials. The teacher support materials include the Discovery Educator Network, interactive self-paced training, and free webinars.
The Discovery Education streaming Plus service is priced at $2,615 for a K–8 building and $3,095 for a K–12 building. A basic version, Discovery Education streaming, provides access to 5,000 full-length videos and 41,000 content-specific clips tied to state and national standards at a cost of $1,570 per year for a K–8 building. The service is available for home-schoolers at $265 per household per year.
Canon PowerShot SD780 IS Digital ELPH Camera
The Canon PowerShot line offers some very good digital camera equipment. The PowerShot SD780 IS Digital ELPH camera provides technology that helps the user focus in various situations, enhances exposure, automatically detects and corrects camera shake, and provides red-eye correction even during playback.
The PowerShot SD780 also records high definition (HD) video; the camera’s video and still images can be displayed on HDTV. The SD780 uses a variety of storage media, has a 3x zoom and a 2.5" LCD screen, and is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Available in a variety of body colors, the camera measures 3.4"x0.7"x2.1" and weighs 4.2 oz. The retail pricing for cameras in the PowerShot line begins at $129.99.
Mighty Scope Digital Microscope 1.3M w/6 LED Lights
The Mighty Scope is a handheld digital microscope with a USB interface, a 10x–200x adjustable lens, and a six-LED adjustable lighting system. Basically, the unit is a minicamera with zoom features that can provide illuminated and enlarged views of items such as crystals, insects, plants, field samples, and more.
The Mighty Scope can be plugged into any laptop for network sharing or projection, as well as to save still images and short videos for use in future projects. The unit has a brightness-control wheel for fingertip illumination adjustments.
The retail price is $199 for the handheld microscope, an adjustable stand, and the image capture software with measurement capabilities. A boom stand for use in viewing larger items is available for an additional cost of $160.
MIX iMT800 Digital Boom Box
Altec Lansing, a division of Plantronics, Inc.
Although it may be a bit much for classroom use, the MIX digital boom box offers many interesting possibilities with its flexible, high-quality technology. The device enables playback of audio material such as podcasts and music from iPhones or iPods; playback can be selected from as many as three different sound sources. It also includes an FM radio player.
The MIX iMT800 has many of the features found in expensive stereo systems, including a seven-band graphic equalizer, multiple EQ modes to select and adjust sound, and a large subwoofer. The unit can switch back and forth among sound sources. The iMT800 operates on electrical current or battery power, is portable, has a remote control, and uses a high-contrast LCD panel to display information about files played from a docked iPhone or iPod.
The MIX iMT800 is priced at $299.95. This device is worth a look, since the iPod and iPhone are becoming fairly common equipment these days and seem to offer some compelling opportunities for the classroom.
Epson AP-60 Projector Sound Solution
Epson America, Inc.
The Epson AP-60 sound enhancement system is designed to offer clear sound to every part of a classroom. The sound system can be used to amplify a teacher’s voice and to project sound from a variety of sources including iPods and MP3 players. The unit can be connected to recording equipment for the creation of podcasts and other audio files.
The system provides four speakers, 60 watts of sound, a wireless classroom microphone, and a ceiling-mounted sound projection unit. The included remote control can be used to adjust volume, front and rear sound balance, and more.
The AP-60 can be installed with new or existing projector mounts using standard pipe. The sound system is compatible with nearly any projector mounted on a ceiling using standard 1.5" projector mounting equipment. The retail price is $899.
IdeaPad S Series Netbook
Netbooks, sometimes referred to as mininotebooks or subnotebooks, are rapidly becoming more popular and, in some cases, are evolving closer to becoming laptop computers. These devices are small, light, and inexpensive portable computers suited for general computing and accessing web-based applications. They are often marketed as "companion devices," designed to enhance a user’s computer access, and they are intended to be cheaper than laptops—although that isn’t always the case.
The Lenovo S Series netbooks are designed to be basic, lightweight, affordable devices for use in web browsing, emailing, doing homework, listening to music, social networking, and more. The S10-2 measures 9.8"x7.2"x0.7", weighs 2.65 lbs., and includes 3 USB 2.0 ports, a 4-in-1 card reader, and a VGA outlet for an external monitor. The device has a multitouch pad that allows users to enlarge, reduce, and edit images by drawing with a finger. The S12, weighing 3.42 lbs., includes a 12.1" screen and a full-sized and full-featured keyboard.
The basic S Series model costs about $329. Various colors and options are available. Buyers should keep in mind that, to some degree, a smaller size may be achieved by sacrificing some of the features found in larger laptop computers.
For My Media Center
Software and websites such as Puzzlemaker, Enchanted Learning, and Starfall.com provide a wealth of creative learning options. Adobe Visual Communicator 3, BrainPOP, and Discovery Education streaming Plus can be used to take instructional presentations to a new level. Many of these programs have free trial versions online; I encourage you to give them a try.
The Canon PowerShot camera can be used for digital curriculum-based projects and to take photos around the media center. These images can be uploaded to digital photo sites such as Flickr for storage or modification. The Mighty Scope looks interesting for similar reasons. The images obtained with these devices can be used to develop resources for use in websites, podcasts, video presentations, and more.
The latest hardware technology can provide unlimited new sound reinforcement options, from Altec Lansing’s MIX digital boom box to Epson’s sound enhancement system. And netbooks such as the Lenovo IdeaPad S Series can help extend learning into a variety of real-world situations.
I would enjoy working with all of these tools in my media center. They can provide countless opportunities to work on an unlimited number of computer-based projects with students of varying ages and aptitudes.
Charles Doe has been teaching for 38 years, including 20 years as a Title I reading specialist and 8 years as a media specialist. In addition to presenting and writing articles, he has been involved with computers in education for more than 20 years. He is also a longtime product reviewer for MultiMedia & Internet@Schools magazine. Communications to the author may be addressed to Charles Doe, Media Specialist, Hastings Area Schools, 232 W. Grand, Hastings, MI 49058 or firstname.lastname@example.org.