Retail Price: Free, some accessories require points.
DESCRIPTION: WeeWorld is a 2D virtual world with charming avatars and a playful culture. Anyone, anywhere over the age of 13 can create a WeeMee and start playing.
HOW TO USE IN THE CLASSROOM: Virtual Worlds give students and adults a place to explore identity, develop opinions, and make new friends. WeeWorld shows an alternative to some of the more adult sites. It is a mainstream social networking site with more than 24 million "WeeMees" worldwide, and some of the most engaged users. The average age on WeeWorld is 19 with a second bump at 30.
PROS: WeeMees decorate their fantasy rooms with brightly colored wall paper, musical instruments, book shelves, and DJ turn tables. Avatars are cute, not sexy, and selected WeeMees serve as red carpet hosts to greet newcomers. WeeMees engage in pretty innocent role playing, games, forums, and other interactions. They create virtual families and work together to solve problems such as putting an end to chain emails. By far the most popular forums are for making friends and role playing, but community, causes and politics, style, and music are also strong draws.
CONS: There is a commercial aspect to the product. Players can purchase brand-name apparel. WeeMees shop, decorate, and define themselves by their looks and accessories. However, when they become active in the community, they begin to define themselves by what they say and what they do.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: WeeWorld is very easy to use—just point, click, and save. The community and the aesthetic offer an alternative place for role playing and community building to other virtual worlds.
PRODUCT: ADOBE CREATIVE SUITE 4 MASTER COLLECTION
Retail price: $999 single license educational pricing
DESCRIPTION: Adobe Creative Suite 4 includes graphic editing, audio editing, video editing, PDF creating and editing, Flash creating and editing, Web page design, and editing software (13 products total).
HOW TO USE IN THE CLASSROOM: With Adobe Creative Suite 4, a class could produce a radio broadcast, a TV broadcast, design a school newspaper, newsletter, or animated Web site for a school district. Any type of communication that a school would need could be produced with this software.
PROS: This is an excellent collection of software that allows the end user to create any type of multimedia. Even though the cost of this software is rather high, the amount of power that one has with it makes it a very good value.
CONS: It took more than 2.5 hours to install all the software even on a very good computer (dual core processor 3.6 MHZ 4MB RAM), so a school would need a powerful workstation computer to run effectively. In-service training is required (as with most software).
OVERALL IMPRESSION: Any student learning these products will have a huge advantage both in higher education and in industry, making the software an excellent value for any school. The products of Adobe Creative Suite 4 are high quality and very professional and will make administrators, staff, and students proud to have it represent the school.
PRODUCT: SAS CURRICULUM PATHWAYS
Price: Based on student population, but about $5-$8 per student per year.
[NOTE: Due to errors in the review process, some product inaccuracies were published in the October 2008 issue. Below is the corrected review.]
DESCRIPTION: An online instruction system that covers five basic core areas of the curriculum.
HOW TO USE IN THE CLASSROOM: An instructor can assign the ready-made lessons to a class or an individual student and assign it to them to be completed and submitted online. The instructor can also use the blog to share best practices using SAS Curriculum Pathways with other teachers within a school. The teacher can add "flags" to bookmark resources and add notes to lessons.
PROS: The interface is easy-to-use. I like the blog feature. The ability for the instructor to set flags (make personal comments) is also good.
CONS: The program is set up so that the instructor's login automatically connects to her specific state standards. The program displays the entire state standards for the subject you are looking at (for example, if you are looking at a physics lesson, the program displays the entire state physics standards rather than just the part of the standards that the particular lesson refers to). It would be helpful if when an instructor selected a lesson for remediation, the program went to a specific standard correlation rather than the entire standards for the subject area in question.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: There are many products like this on the market, some with more features that are less expensive. However, this latest release of SAS Curriculum Pathways comes with some good features, such as the blog and flags, new student tutorials and audio inquiries, interactivities, and Web inquiries.
PRODUCT: ROSETTA STONE CLASSROOM VERSION
Retail Price: See Web site
DESCRIPTION: Rosetta Stone provides both foreign- and English-language learners with selfpaced, interactive multimedia tools for skill development. Version 3 has modules to teach 21 languages.
HOW TO USE IN THE CLASSROOM: Rosetta Stone Hebrew (Levels 1, 2, and 3), the product reviewed here, provides sequenced language instruction using three kinds of "dynamic immersion" activities.
PROS: An intuitive user-friendly graphical interface invites students to explore, then choose an activity. Guided instruction and immediate feedback enables students to set their own pace. Users have their own login, enabling the program to record the work they do and "bookmark" where they leave off so they can continue from the same spot at next login. Students can preview lesson materials without responding, replay words and video clips as often as they choose, and move forward or backward through the lessons. It is aligned with state standards.
CONS: There is no on-screen keyboard enabling students to click on keys in response to question prompts. Instead, students must affix Hebrew letter stickers to the keyboard. Those stickers can be removed easily and without them the writing lessons are hard to complete. While activities are both engaging and motivating, they're not gamelike (this could be viewed as a plus). Activities are better suited to upper elementary or older students able to take charge of their own learning.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: Although it's a bit pricey, the product's immersive, interactive, self-guided sequenced multimedia approach can support regular class instruction and independent learning.
PRODUCT: PULSE SMARTPEN 1GB
Retail Price: $149
DESCRIPTION: Pen computer.
HOW TO USE IN THE CLASSROOM: Student can use the smartpen to take notes and record what the teacher is saying at the same time. Because the smartpen is also a "computer," it can also act as a calculator. The smartpen would be useful in a foreign language class where the student not only writes down the translation for the word, but could also record the instructor speaking it. In a science or math class, students can write down the solution for a problem and could record the teacher's explanation behind the solution.
PROS: The device synchronizes the notes being taken with the audio that is recorded. By tapping anywhere on the written page, the student can recall the audio that coincides with the written notes at that point. It automatically translates a small set of words from the numbers zero to nine from English into Spanish, Swedish, Arabic, or Mandarin. By writing a word in English in their notebooks, students can see and hear correct translations from the Pulse smartpen. Livescribe now sells notebooks in packs of four—so about $5 per notebook or $20 for four 100-page notebooks. In addition, prior to the holidays, Livescribe will allow users to download the dot pattern and print their own dot paper for free.
CONS: The smartpen is thicker than many people prefer and does not translate writing to text. The company is working with several partners to make this feature available for consumers later this year. The smartpen casing is anodized aluminum so it is resilient, but could be susceptible to damage in a trying school environment.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: I like this product and wish it were more in the $50 range, since the cost of the paper does drive up the TCO for K-12 schools. While the recorded audio enhances any student notes, the smartpen would especially benefit those with good note-taking skills.