Find Their Mr Darcy!

If Romance is their thing, then look no further than the Jane Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice. The characters from the book have long been adored by women everywhere, Elizabeth Bennet in particular with her tumultuous relationship with the mysterious Mr. Darcy. If your search for a Mr Darcy has been somewhat unsuccessful, why not have for the real thing…?

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3-D video glossary

Types of 3D technology

• Active shutter: This technology requires glasses that electronically open and close liquid crystal lenses over each eye, synchronized with a 3-D video display. When this display presents a left eye image, the glasses cover the right eye so only the left eye sees the display, and vice versa for the other eye. This process is repeated more than a hundred times per second and is virtually undetectable to the user. Although movies in active shutter 3-D are extremely rare, the technology is often used for PC games in 3-D and 3-D education projection.

• Anaglyph: This is a very old 3-D technology that was once very popular in movie theaters. It creates the illusion of depth by having the two images (left and right eye) filtered in the color spectrum. By wearing the appropriately colored glasses, the eyes see the corresponding left or right eye image, and the visual cortex in the brain translates the difference in those images as depth. Anaglyph is a relatively inexpensive way to view 3-D video, but because images are composited into a single image from the original left and right eye information, they can appear washed out, because the process removes some of the color. Anaglyph 3-D can be viewed on any computer monitor or TV, and while it is most commonly used for home viewing of 3-D movies, some PC games also can be found in anaglyph.

• Passive polarized: This technology is most commonly found in theaters today. It requires light from the projector to be polarized so that it is filtered in a very specific way that does not alter the color. The light projects onto a screen that preserves this filtering upon reflection. Then, glasses with special lenses either block the polarized light or allow it to pass through, depending on the type and degree of polarization. By wearing these inexpensive, plastic glasses, each of the viewer’s eyes sees full-resolution, full-color 3-D images from the corresponding (right or left) projector. Some of today’s more advanced flat-screen technology incorporates a film layer that can polarize light in a similar manner as a theater projector and screen.

Key terms

• DLP Link: This is a communication protocol that uses the DLP chip inside DLP TVs and projectors. The DLP chip sends a flash of light in the transition between left and right images, and the glasses—recognizing this encoded white signal—sync to the image. These glasses do not require an emitter. The glasses work with Mitsubishi and Samsung DLP TVs and with 3-D-ready projectors.

• Hz: The hertz is a unit of frequency. In video parlance, it refers to the number of complete frames per second of video.

• Stereoscopic: Any technique capable of recording 3-D visual information or creating the illusion of depth in an image.

• XGA, SXGA: The Extended Graphics Array (XGA) refers to a display resolution of 1,024 x 768 pixels. The Super Extended Graphics Array (SXGA) refers to a standard monitor resolution of 1,280 x 1,024 pixels and is a step above XGA.

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3-D projector models

BenQ Corp.

BenQ offers three 3-D DLP projectors for the education market: the MP626, MP670, and MP772ST.
Intended for small and medium-size classrooms, the MP626 features XGA resolution, 2,500 ANSI lumens, a 10-watt speaker system, Ethernet-based asset management, and a lamp life up to 4,000 hours. It is priced at $649 for education.
Built for larger classrooms, the MP670 includes the same features as the MP626, except it’s brighter, at 3,000 lumens. It sells to schools for $899.
The MP772ST is a short-throw projector that can cast an 82-inch diagonal image from only 3.3 feet. It features XGA resolution, 2,500 lumens, two 5-watt speakers, Ethernet-based asset management, and a lamp life up to 4,000 hours. It costs $749 for education.
http://www.benq.us
 
Mitsubishi Digital Electronics Corp.

Mitsubishi’s XD600U is a 3-D-ready microportable projector with XGA resolution, 4,500 lumens, a contrast ratio of 2,000 to 1, a 10-watt speaker system, RJ-45 connectivity, built-in support for closed captioning, instant shutdown, and an estimated lamp life of 5,000 hours. Contact Mitsubishi for pricing.
http://www.mitsubishi-presentations.com

Optoma USA

Optoma’s 3-D projector models include the TX542i, a network-ready projector with XGA resolution, 2,800 ANSI lumens, a 3,000-to-1 contrast ratio, and a 10-watt speaker system. The TX542i also includes remote management and control via RS-232 or RJ45 connectors, a built-in security bar and control panel lock, built-in closed captioning, and an eco-friendly standby mode that uses less than a watt of energy. Contact Optoma for pricing.
http://www.optomausa.com

 
ViewSonic Corp.

ViewSonic’s 3-D models include the PJD6211, PJD6221, PJD6251, and PJD6381.
The PJD6211 features XGA resolution, 2,500 ANSI lumens, a contrast ratio of 2,000 to 1, and built-in closed captioning decoder. The PDJ6221 features XGA resolution, 2,700 lumens, a 2,800-to-1 contrast ratio, a 2-watt speaker system, and RJ-45 connectivity for remote network control.
The more advanced PDJ6251 offers XGA resolution, 3,700 lumens of brightness, a contrast ratio of 2,000 to 1, two 5-watt speakers, RJ-45 connectivity, and a filterless design for lower total cost of ownership. And the PDJ6381 is a short-throw projector that can produce a 50-inch diagonal image from just 27 inches away. It, too, features RJ-45 connectivity, two 5-watt speakers, and a filterless design, as well as XGA resolution, 2,500 lumens, and a 2,400-to-1 contrast ratio.

Contact ViewSonic for pricing.
http://www.viewsonic.com
 

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Technology plays a key role in autism support

Faced with limited budgets and special-education staff that are stretched thin, many districts are turning to technology products that can help teach educators about the needs of children with autism, while also providing activities to help students with autism develop important skills.

Because of the high cost of face-to-face training, Ontario’s Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board was only able to train a small portion of its staff to support students with autism. Seeking to reach the rest of its staff and make them aware of the teaching methods and therapies used with students with ASD, the district purchased software from Virtual Expert Clinics Inc., called AutismPro.

“It has been received [with] an overwhelmingly positive response by staff members,” said Joel Godecki, the district’s ASD project consultant.

TBCDSB also formed a partnership with Confederation College, in which students in the college’s developmental social worker program receive training from AutismPro as part of the course requirement.

“Training people before they get into the school system is key,” Godecki said.

AutismPro includes three basic tools. The first is a professional development program, AutismPro Workshops, that gives educators, paraprofessionals, and parents access to a 40-hour, six-course training program that highlights practical strategies to use in day-to-day activities with a child who has autism.

The second tool, AutismPro Professional, is an intervention planning tool for individuals who need support, or who don’t have a lot of specialized knowledge, in developing a program for a child with autism. The tool asks questions and, based on the autism team’s responses, generates a curriculum tailored to an individual child, helping the team in selecting goals, objectives, and activities to implement the plan. The student’s progress is plotted on a graph, and the team is able to use a journal to communicate and stay current with the student’s progress and activities.

The third part in the AutismPro package is AutismPro Resources, intended for individuals who have some knowledge in working with autism spectrum disorders. It contains more than 300 objectives, 3,500 activity plans, and an array of strategies for teaching and supporting children with autism.

Vermont’s Rutland Public Schools also began using AutismPro this year to help staff members develop individual programs for students with autism.

Ellie McGarry, Rutland’s director of support services, said the six district employees taking graduate-level courses specializing in autism have access to AutismPro Resources for designing and delivering lessons to students with ASD.

McGarry and her staff are responsible for 500 students from age three through second grade, and 22 of those students have been diagnosed with autism. Many paraprofessionals in the district have used AutismPro’s training, and parents can access it as well and can use home-based activities with their children.

“We have an ever-growing population of students in our district being diagnosed on the autism spectrum,” she said.

HandHold Adaptive’s iPrompts is a picture-based communication tool for the iPhone and iPod Touch. The mobile software lets users—including parents, special educators, and therapists—create picture-based schedules, timers to show when an activity will begin, and prompts between two images. iPrompts also includes a library of several hundred stock images.

Co-founders Dan and Carey Tedesco created iPrompts after becoming frustrated by the available tools to work with their son, Evan, who was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at a young age.

(For more about the Tedescos’ efforts to make sure Evan is fully supported at home and in school, see “One parent’s view: Caring for a child with autism ‘becomes a way of life’.”)

“My wife had a brilliant ‘a-ha’ moment that we should design a PECS system for a mobile device, and out of that was born the vision for iPrompts, and HandHold Adaptive,” said Dan Tedesco, who describes iPrompts as a simple picture-based communication aid for parents and other caregivers to help facilitate an ordinary life for a child with autism.

iPrompts launched in May and is available for $49.99 through the Apple store. Tedesco said copies have sold as far away as Japan, Austria, Australia, England, and Ireland. Several hundred copies have been downloaded so far.

Users can add their own images to the image library, including illustrations or pictures taken with an iPhone. Future iPrompts versions will include plans for audio and video prompts to accompany the images. Users also can submit their own images to share with the entire iPrompts community, and they can suggest images to be added to the library.

Its applications extend beyond children with autism, Tedesco added, noting that iPrompts also is useful for people who are unable to communicate as a result of other disabilities.

In addition to iPrompts, HandHeld Adaptive is developing data-tracking applications for parents to compare therapies and diets for children with autism, and the Tedescos also are hoping to create a feature that lets parents communicate this information directly to researchers.

Therapeutic video games and social skills training software are planned for the future.

“The premise for HandHeld Adaptive is to use handheld technology to serve the special-needs community and bridge the digital divide with them,” Tedesco said. “This is a tremendously underserved population, and we want to be the ones to bring this to them.”

Another relatively new product to hit the market is Vizzle, from Monarch Teaching Technologies (MTT) of Ohio.

MTT developed out of the Monarch Center for Autism, which opened in 2000 as a need arose for a specialty school for local children with autism. The charter school offers programs from preschool to students up to age 22, as well as residential services. The center also takes students on community activities to restaurants and movie theaters.

“There is a huge need for services, and some school districts don’t know how to deal with students with autism. Not all students need to come to us, but we want to share our ideas and best practices and help keep those kids in their districts,” said Lauren Stafford, director of instructional design for MTT.

The cost to instruct and support a student with autism can cost about three times as much as educating a non-disabled student, said Terry Murphy, MTT’s chief executive officer.

Murphy said the idea for Vizzle began when educators determined that software featuring visual representations would be much more useful than a manual of printed materials. Teachers would be able to share easily and have a screen-based activity for students instead of a tabletop activity.

“It lets teachers, speech therapists, and parents pull up the program wherever the child is, as long as you have an internet connection,” Stafford said. “It gives [adults] the ability to work as a team for the child.”

“The Holy Grail of education is to get teachers and parents to work together,” Murphy said. “Making Vizzle web-based lets parents and teachers use the materials, and that saves a lot of headaches.”

Transitioning from one activity or place to the next can be troublesome for children with autism. But parents can create stories about family events, holidays, or the child’s favorite food or object, and the child is able to access that in the classroom and have some familiarity throughout the school day.

Educators, including speech-language pathologists, contributed to Vizzle’s content. Whenever someone creates an image, is it added to the image library, which contains more than 1,000 items. Educators can use pictures, text, video, and audio to give their students access to materials that fit different learning styles.

A shared folder follows a student as he or she moves from elementary to middle school, which lets a new teacher view the student’s academic history and add on to that folder.

“Kids with autism have to learn visually—they do not process auditory information well,” Murphy said.

“A child with autism has a hard time maintaining information, holding onto it, and being able to reflect on it,” Stafford said. “Outbursts are their way of telling us that something is wrong, that information isn’t getting through. How can we increase their communication to help them understand us, and us understand them? It’s not bad behavior—those are their communication skills.”

The Activity Trainer, a video modeling program for children with autism, lets teachers use videos to teach any targeted activity or skill. It includes a skills library full of activities for teachers to use or customize, and a user library that lets teachers create their own activities.

Because children with autism learn better visually, this video modeling system targets that area, its creators say.

“Research proves that video modeling increases acquisition rates across a wide variety of skill sets for individuals with autism,” said Karl Smith, founder of Accelerations Educational Software, which produces the Activity Trainer, and father of a child with autism.

John Williams, the man who helped develop the idea of assistive technology, including the term itself, said this type of video modeling “could be the next tool that makes a significant improvement on education by making practical what research has shown us for a long time.”

The Activity Trainer helps educators teach their students with autism in practical ways, Williams added.

The National Center for Technology Innovation works with TeachTown, a curriculum tool for developmental ages from toddlers through first grade. It offers 600 lessons in language, academics, and life skills. Students receive rewards after achieving objectives, and everything a child does is tracked through the computer and sent to educators, an IEP, or parents.

In addition, off-computer activities reinforce concepts that students learn on the computer. For instance, a computer lesson that helps a child learn the names of body parts might have an off-computer activity that asks a child to play with a doll and name its different body parts.

“There’s a very substantial amount of reporting, so we can tell how a child is doing, how often a teacher is using it, and if parents are using it and how often,” said Christina Whalen, an autism specialist who founded TeachTown.

“This program is good for any kid at that age—activities are visual and repetitive, which tend to help children with autism,” Whalen said.

The program targets instruction based on how a child is doing. A child without special needs might advance more quickly through its activities, but the activities reinforce concepts that all children should learn, such as numbers or letters. TeachTown slows or speeds up the pace of activities based on a child’s progress. The program is intended for younger children, but activities can be customized for an older child who might, for instance, have language skills at a three-year-old’s level.

Whalen said she has noticed that TeachTown helps engage students with autism, has them use language more frequently, and encourages social interaction.

In fact, hard data on those observations should be available within a year, she added.

“We want to make the transition into inclusion more successful for these kids,” Whalen said.

Links:

AutismPro
http://www.autismpro.com

HandHold Adaptive
http://www.handholdadaptive.com

Monarch Teaching Technologies’ Vizzle
http://www.monarchteachtech.com

Activity Trainer
http://www.dttrainer.com

TeachTown
http://web.teachtown.com

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One parent’s view: Caring for a child with autism ‘becomes a way of life’

Dan and Carey Tedesco’s son Evan, who is four and a half, was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at just 19 months of age. And even though Evan’s early diagnosis has enabled him to have early intervention programs, Dan Tedesco says making sure all of Evan’s needs are being met can be a challenge.

The hallmarks of autism include trouble with language and communication, trouble with social relationships and understanding social engagement, and various hyper- and hypo-sensitivities, such as hypersensitivity to light, touch, or certain tastes or smells.

“Evan demonstrates all three of those, and it’s a real challenge getting through every day,” said Dan Tedesco, Evan’s father. “Each of these symptoms exacerbates the situation, and you can have a downward spiral very quickly in certain situations.”

Evan is very sensitive to different visual and spatial conditions, meaning a new building or different surroundings can upset him.

Dan recently took Evan to a new grocery store, and instead of the typical store entrance, the father and son walked into an atrium with a glass ceiling and wood beams.

“The visual structure and setting threw him off—he got very scared and actually ran out into traffic,” Dan said. “The more scared he got about it, the less capable he was of regulating himself and his communications.”

He added: “I think that when kids have language problems or sensory problems, and what’s called self-stimulatory behavior, they tend to retrench into their own little world doing these activities and routines that only have meaning to them.”

One of the red flags for autism is when a child will play with a toy for sensory stimulation, such as banging a toy on the ground repeatedly instead of playing with it in the way it’s meant to be used.

“These things make it difficult as they go into repetitive patterns—it’s hard to pull them out, because they find comfort in it,” he said.

One main technique that speech and occupational therapists use and recommend for children with autism is to use pictures to communicate.

“Just as you would rely on signs or icons if you were traveling in a foreign country and didn’t understand the language, it’s the same principle at play in this technique,” Dan said.

In the autism field, the picture system is knows as a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). A PECS lets parents print or buy cards with various images of day-to-day activities, food, or clothing on them.

A family taking an airplane trip might show a child with autism pictures of a suitcase, an airplane, and a security gate.

“We use pictures to apprise Evan of upcoming sensory transitions and novel experiences, in addition to facilitating communication,” Dan said.

Families of children with autism frequently create picture schedules using the PECS system. Children can see each step of a trip or a daily routine to prepare them for sensory transitions.

“No matter how much we told Evan in words, he couldn’t process it,” Dan said. “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

The problem with the PECS is that it can be cumbersome to print and laminate cards or carry boxes full of cards to make sure that the necessary cards are available on a trip or errand, Dan said.

“We didn’t always have the right image at the right time, and lots of the images are stick figures and are institutional-feeling,” he said.

When the Tedescos used the cards in public, people around them often stared and made the family feel awkward, which unnecessarily stigmatized Evan’s condition.

“[PECS] is a great system, but it’s paradoxically hardest to use in the situations where we needed it the most—on the go,” Dan said. “We want Evan expanding his horizons and experiencing the world.”

To that end, the Tedescos created iPrompts, a mobile PECS system that is accessible on an iPhone or iPod Touch. Having images on the go helps Evan immensely, Dan said.

“Evan deserves to be integrated with the rest of society, and he shouldn’t be stigmatized for using these kinds of things,” he added.

Evan attends some type of educational program or therapy seven days a week. Monday through Friday, he attends a pre-K special-needs program where he is integrated with both special-needs and mainstream children.

In that setting, Evan receives various therapies. The Tedescos also have secured private therapies, including speech, occupational, and behavioral, and even aqua therapy and horseback riding.

“It becomes a way of life,” Dan said. “When your child is first diagnosed, you’re obviously in disbelief and denial, you’re upset, and as you start to pick yourself up and put one foot in front of the other, you realize there’s no silver bullet. You need to do everything; it never stops, it needs to become a way of life.”

He added: “We’re thankful for the skills Evan has. He’s a great kid—it’s an adventure.”

Parents also will run into problems with insurance companies as they attempt to secure coverage for autism therapies.

Insurance companies will say that autism treatment is an educational problem, and schools will say that some treatments fall under the medical category.

“Obviously, parents just want help,” Dan said.

The organization Autism Speaks has lobbied state legislatures to mandate insurance coverage for therapies for children on the autism spectrum, and the effect is starting to snowball in many states.

“The problem is that with the explosion of autism spectrum disorders—it’s an epidemic—schools had financial problems even before the recession, and they are in a hard spot to give the resources that are required,” Dan said.

And while the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act states that children with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate education, the law leaves much room for interpretation and is vague in some crucial areas.

Many children with autism need around-the-clock care or need different equipment for occupational therapy to support their learning styles in school: Children who are hypersensitive to noise might need headphones, and children who can’t talk might need a voice output device.

“At the end of the day, everybody who is in the room cares about the child. Parents, the special-education staff—everyone’s there for the right reasons to start with,” Dan said.

The resources available to help Evan don’t completely take away the Tedescos’ worries.

“My life took a U-turn when my son was diagnosed. It’s amazing how resourceful you become—you pull on all of your skills and contacts to help you do what you need to do. I hope a cure is identified, but until that happens, I hope the younger parents who are coming after me have an easier time figuring out what they need to do,” Dan said.

“It’s going to take the internet, network technology, communication, sharing ideas, and being leaders to get the right resources for the problem, get the right debates going, and direct research in the right way,” he added.

“I worry about Evan’s challenges, what it’s going to be like if I can’t get him all the resources he needs. Where should I put my time and energy? How do I make these decisions? At the same time, I’m out in public, he’s having a tantrum, and people are looking at me like I’m a bad dad. I’m doing the job of 10 dads, but no one sees that but me.”

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Autism education resources

Autism education resources

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ autism web site discusses autism’s characteristics and gives resources for parents, families, and professionals. It includes general resources and education materials.
http://www.aap.org/healthtopics/Autism.cfm

The mission of the Autism Institute is to promote advances in the education of students with autism spectrum disorders and support national and state initiatives to build and sustain high-quality educational services.
http://autisminstitute.net

The Autism Science Foundation is a nonprofit corporation intended to support autism research by providing funding and other assistance to scientists and organizations conducting, facilitating, publicizing, and disseminating autism research. The organization also provides information about autism to the general public and serves to increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders and the needs of individuals and families affected by autism.
http://www.autismsciencefoundation.org

The Autism Society is a grassroots autism organization that aims to improve the lives of all affected by autism by increasing public awareness about the day-to-day issues faced by people on the spectrum, advocating for appropriate services for individuals across their lifespan, and providing the latest information regarding treatment, education, research, and advocacy.
http://www.autism-society.org

Autism Speaks is an autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.
http://www.autismspeaks.org

The Council of Administrators of Special Education is an international professional educational organization that is affiliated with the Council for Exceptional Children, whose members are dedicated to the enhancement of the worth, dignity, potential, and uniqueness of each individual in society. The group’s mission is to provide leadership and support to members by shaping policies and practices that affect the quality of education.
http://www.casecec.org

The Interactive Autism Network (IAN) is an online project bringing together tens of thousands of people affected by autism spectrum disorders and hundreds of researchers in a search for answers. Individuals with ASD and their families can share information in a secure setting to become part of an online autism research effort in the United States. The data collected by IAN both facilitates scientific research and empowers community leaders to advocate for improved services and resources.
http://www.ianproject.org

The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) coordinates all efforts within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concerning autism spectrum disorder.
http://iacc.hhs.gov

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Review criteria and ‘mock’ reviews can be useful grant-seeking tools

Grant writers might be overlooking a key “gift” from funders that can help them with creating and editing their grant proposals. As a recent participant in a mock peer review process, I was reminded of the importance of looking for review criteria in program guidelines and using these criteria to “score” your own proposal before it’s even submitted.

I have seen review criteria included in many federal program guidelines, and also in some funding guidelines from private funders. More often than not, however, we grant writers are so overwhelmed when putting together a proposal that we don’t take the time to look at the review criteria to make sure we’ve included all the information that proposal reviewers or foundation board members will be looking for as they make funding decisions.

Grant makers often list the review criteria for every section of a proposal, and these can function as a checklist to help ensure you’ve addressed all of the funder’s concerns. Using these criteria also gives writers a “heads up” about what reviewers will be looking for in each section of a proposal. If a funder wants to see certain information in the needs section, but you’ve included this information in the methodology section, it would make sense for you to move the information and make it as easy as possible for the reviewers to find it.

I was surprised, by the way, to hear at a recent technical assistance workshop for a federal department (not the Education Department) that reviewers must give credit for information as long as it appears in a proposal–even if it appears in the wrong section. I have served as a reviewer in the past, and in contrast, I’ve been instructed to subtract points if the requested information was not found in the required section. So, to be on the safe side, I would recommend that you place information in the correct section using the review criteria as a guide.

You also might want to conduct your own internal “mock” review session before submitting your proposal. (Of course, if you want to do this, you’ll need to plan ahead and make sure there is sufficient time available to conduct the review and make any necessary changes to your proposal before the submission deadline.) Select a few individuals, perhaps up to three, and ask them to look at the review criteria and read your proposal, making notes of what they could not find, as well as any paragraphs or sentences that seemed unclear and/or confusing. By choosing individuals who were not a part of the proposal development process, you are more likely to get unbiased feedback about your proposal. Other grant writers also can be effective mock reviewers.

Conducting a mock review is by no means a foolproof guarantee that your proposal will be funded. However, it will give you a chance to make sure you’ve responded to all of the proposal requirements in a clear manner and have included all of the information that reviewers will be looking for when they conduct the actual review. This, in turn, could improve your chances of being funded tremendously.

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BenQ’s GP1 projector is portable, lightweight, and convenient for small-group collaboration

Ultraportable projectors, such as BenQ’s GP1, are ideally suited to small-group collaboration, as well as structured presentations delivered by a teacher, users say.

The GP1 can be loaded with educational content in a variety of forms—photos, graphics, video, PowerPoint presentations, documents, lesson plans, and reference material—using a USB flash drive, eliminating the need for hooking it up to a PC or converting content to a DVD.

The GP1 displays an image that is only about 30 inches by 40 inches in size, making it ideal for viewing by a small group of students in a corner of the classroom, says Juan Alvarez, director of U.S. education for the BenQ Corp., which is based in Taiwan. And because it can project a relatively small image up close, several groups of students can work with GP1s in separate corners of a classroom easily.

After the students complete their work, he says, they could use the projector to share what they’ve learned with the rest of the class.

Because the device is easy to set up, “you can maximize the time for learning,” Alvarez says.

In schools that have yet to focus on small-group collaboration, teachers are finding that BenQ mini-projectors can enliven classroom lessons by allowing them to turn a traditional lecture into an interactive, multimedia experience.

The Baltimore County, Md., school system uses BenQ GP1 projectors in the immersive environment of the district’s two inflatable, portable Starlab planetariums, which the district uses to teach astronomy lessons aligned with Maryland’s science standards for students in preschool through grade 5, says David Copenhaver, elementary coordinator in the Office of Science PreK-12.

The Starlabs rotate among the district’s 106 elementary schools, spending about eight days a year in each school’s gym. Various classes are brought inside to experience being in space as images of stars and planets are projected on the ceiling and walls. As many as 30 students can fit in the Starlab, once they crawl through a small opening to get inside.

The district used to use slide projectors, but when “they started breaking down, and we couldn’t find parts,” the district switched to BenQ GP1 mini projectors, says Starlab resource teacher Tim Kent. “We didn’t want to take a laptop inside the Starlab, because it has a bright screen, and we wanted total darkness,” she exaplins. Also, the BenQ only needs one plug, which avoids a lot of messy cables in a small, crowded space.

The projectors are loaded with hundreds of slides from NASA, including images taken by the Hubble telescope, and movie clips, such as Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. The slides were scanned into computers and converted into a digital format and copied to flash drives, which plug into the projector.

Kent’s lessons include lots of interaction, with students taking notes on clipboards with pens that light up. He might have kids draw constellations and compare them to what the ancient Greeks saw in the night sky. Or, they might try to figure out what an alien life form might look like, based on a particular planet’s characteristics.

“We try to get them to role play as much as possible. With the pre-K students, we pretend like we’re floating in space,” he says.

“We live in a visual society,” Kent adds, and watching images projected inside the Starlab “is like watching them on a big movie screen. It makes the galaxy come alive.”

The GP1 uses LED technology for the lamp, which lasts 20,000 hours, compared with 3,000 to 4,000 hours for a traditional projector lamp, Alvarez says. Lamps cost $300 to $400 to replace. A typical classroom uses a projector for 1,000 hours a year, and most non-LED projectors will need at least one lamp replacement every three to four years, which adds considerably to the cost.

And unlike the traditional lamp, which decays over time and loses about 50 percent of its power by the end of its life, “the LED lamp doesn’t lose any brightness,” Alvarez says.

That’s particularly important to Bill Tudor, director of exhibitions and technology at the Center for Art, Design, and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus, who uses GP1 projectors to create an immersive environment for viewing artworks, including one piece that requires four projectors displaying images on four walls.

“The color balance starts to shift when bulbs start wearing out, and you spent a lot of time correcting and calibrating” the image, he says.

The brightness of the GP1 lamp is about 100 lumens, compared with 2,500 lumens in a traditional projector, but “LED [technology] makes it feel brighter,” Alvarez says.

Other features of the GP1 include wall color correction, SVGA resolution of 858 x 600 pixels, low power consumption, DLP filter-free operation, and a 16.7 million color palette. The device weighs just 1.4 pounds. The GP1 can play audio either through the 2-watt speakers included in the unit or through headphones. It also comes with cables that can be attached to a laptop, digital camera, iPod, cell phone, gaming console, DVD player, or TV.

BenQ is offering the GP1 for educators with a three-year warranty through Dec. 31 for $499. To request a free loaner, contact BenQ at Education.US@BenQ.com.

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