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Freebee Friday: Video Memo to Myself

Swivl reflectionReflecting on a day, week, month or even an entire school year in the classroom is an excellent technique for personal and professional growth. One easy way to do it is to aim the Swivel tablet carrier at yourself and let it all out. The company has a few suggestions in its “Learning from Yourself and the Power of Self-Reflection” on how to make it work with tips on how far to go and suggested questions to ask yourself. Ready for your close-up?

Freebee Friday: Math by the Bits and Bytes

Nea stemThe National Education Association is more than a union and lobby group for teachers. It’s a source of top-level curriculum, like its top 10 STEM resources. With everything from the Exploratorium Museum and Kinetic City to Master Tools (one of my favs) and Engineer for Life, there’s something for every age group and proficiency level. The bonus is that on top of seven classroom sites, there’re four sites dedicated to professional development. Any and all are just plain fun to use and teach with.


Let it Grow

Click n growForget about trying to grow an avocado pit or potato on toothpicks because Click & Grow’s Smart Herb Garden kit has a free iOS app for iPhones and iPads to monitor growth, create a watering schedule and teach about plants. The kit has LED lighting, sensors that keep an eye on soil conditions and comes with soil already set up and for those with brown thumbs who can only grow weeds, the company guarantees that plants will germinate. It all costs between $100 and $160, depending on which wood the base is made out of. There are also refills for growing new plants every year.


LimelensIt’s time to face the fact that while digital cameras are a great way to capture moments, add visual elements to lessons and teach photography, they’re just another device that needs to be charged, learned how to use and repaired or replaced. They might offer sharper pictures and the ability to change many photographic parameters, but they’ve expensive, fragile and obviously haven’t kept up with the convenience and ease of using a smartphone or tablet to shoot pictures.

Limelens fills in the gap with two snap-on lenses that push the smartphone’s camera into the creative realm and give digital cameras a run for the money. At the moment, the company has a two lens kit that can turn many recent smartphones into full-fledged cameras, ready to bring out the inner Ansel Adams in all of us.

Limelens photosThe lenses work just as well for still as for video shooting and easy to attach over the lens of a wide variety of phones. Limelens’s kit includes:

  • Captain is a 190-degree fisheye lens that excels at taking in an extra-wide field of view. It’s just as good for getting a large group into a class selfie or a wide landscape scene into a photo. Its scope is comparable to panorama images and the fisheye can also be used for creative distortions close-up.
  • Thinker is a combo 10X macro lens for extreme close-ups like taking the photo of the crenulations of a tree’s bark and doubles as a 0.67X wide angle lens for a wide field of view. Think of it as a two-position zoom lens for framing the exact shot you want to get.

Limelens bEach lens slides into a plastic carrier that’s attached to the back of the phone or tablet and won’t block the phone’s flash. Either of the Limelens optics can be used with any of 40 phones or tablets, including iPads and iPhones (model 4 and newer) and just about any recent Samsung Galaxy out there. It’ll even work with a bunch of phone or tablet cases.

How good are the pictures taken with either of the Limelens optics? The company curates an Instagram page of images taken with them, some of which are quite creative and startlingly beautiful. At $99, the two lenses come with a padded case with all the attachment hardware you’ll need as well as a synthetic cleaning cloth. These lenses are just the start with more Limelens accessories on the way.





Deep Data Dive

EdsbyBy looking deeply at test results, Edsby Analytics can not only create grades but it can reveal the big picture and many smaller ones based on who’s learning, who’s at risk and why. It goes beyond producing informative graphs by giving alerts to identify at-risk students and pointing to areas where incremental improvements can be made. It works for everything from a single class to an entire district.

The New Board of Education

ClarusIn the beginning, there was the chalkboard, then the whiteboard and now the Glassboard. Made with high-quality quarter-inch thick glass, the Clarus Glassboards are good for anything from writing math equations to modeling sentences to drawing maps. They’re available in a variety of colors, are more durable than other glass or melamine boards and Glassboards come with a shelf to stow the markers. They can be set up as a single unit on a wall or with casters or as hinged individual screens that combine for a wall-wide writing surface.

Open and Ready

Sis_nexg_dashboardIf you like DIY projects, openSIS’s school administration package is for you. Built from open-source software, openSIS covers a school’s life from pre-K to graduation with demographics, health records and instant access to emergency contact info. Along the way, openSIS can schedule a full school of classes, while keeping grades and creating transcripts when needed. It can archive lesson plans and record discipline problems for later action. It’s all summarized in a compact Dashboard. In addition to the expected, the program can upload current data, easing the transition from old to new. In spite of all this, the basic school-wide CE version is free, but you might want the company to customize it for your district with things like state reporting and Moodle integration.

Freebee Friday: (Almost) Back to School, Part II

Chemistry 2It’s summertime and the classrooms are either empty or very close to it. So, it’s time to think about the new school year that's coming, with Vernier leading the way with a slew of tips, tricks and summer services. To start, you can check out the company’s available grants to help outfit a new lab for the incoming class, watch any of its 180 videos or look over the company’s 1,000 sample experiments online.


Freebee Friday: (Almost) Back to School, Part I

Back to schoolIt’s never premature to get thinking about back to school activities for the fall's first day of class. Scholastic (the corporate parent of Tech Tools) has a bunch, including a great variation on the “what I did over the summer.” Aimed at third-through-fifth graders, Genia Connell has put together a good way to teach the rudiments of storytelling and organizing thoughts while having kids talk and write about their summer trips, family reunions and diversions. The lesson plan includes suggested readings, exercises -- like creating long- and short-versions -- writing a poem and making an arts and crafts project of some element of the summer that could end up being a hallway exhibit for parent’s night. In more ways than one, it says “Welcome Back.”

Freebee Friday: Land of the Free and Not So Free

Windows_logo_-_2002–2012_(Black).svgThe end of July and beginning of August represent a good update and the end of a valuable freebee. To start, on July 29th Microsoft’s free (and sometimes involuntary) upgrade to Windows 10 will end. It’s good because, presumably the pop-ups and come-ons just might be over. It’s bad because unless the offer is extended, the software will probably soon cost $120 for a fresh version of Home and $200 for the Pro version. That's not much solace for a school still using Windows XP.

On the other hand, next week represents the OS’s first birthday and with it comes a large (and needed) Windows 10 upgrade. There will be no wrapping paper, bows or cake with candles. The new software includes a more integrated way to take notes on a touchscreen as well as security enhancements and refinements to the Edge Web browser.

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