Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Commentary: Sotir: Just When You Thought...

The one thing I know about technology is that it can always surprise me. Today I was reading Edutopia ( Yes, this mag is produced by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, but this is not some science fiction blockbuster. These are real, though sometimes not yet available, products for learning. The new products include one that is wonderful and another that is simply amazing, and that I can't wait to try. The wonderful one is something I think students have forgotten about, but hopefully will rediscover.

Visual Thesaurus ( is $29.95 for a desktop edition (Hybrid PC/Mac CD), or $19.95 a year or $2.95 a month online. It's animated and truly seems to make language come alive. Type in a word and a host of related terms pop up on the screen. There is a visual trail to follow, uncovering dozens of linguistic links. A trial version on the website is available where you can input any word and see how the program works. I was absolutely fascinated seeing the word develop beyond the uses normally associated with it. For example, I typed in 'fantastic' and was immediately shown an array of words from 'phenomenal' to 'wondrous'. It will pronounce the base word, and you can click on any of the words to make it the base word as well. There are definitions and uses included. It is 'marvelous' tremendous' and 'extravagantly fanciful', but hardly 'foolish'. Perhaps it can even excite children (and adults) to expand their use of language again.

My choice for 'simply amazing' is the Fly Pentop Computer ( Go to this site and you can try it out for yourself. It's about $100 but that buys a lot of wow for your money. It's a combination of pen and...paper. So how is this a computer? By giving audio feedback as you write and draw on special Flypaper, of course. For example, you can draw a calculator, touch the handwritten digits and functions with the device to perform an operation, and then hear the answers announced. Or draw drums or a piano keyboard and record your own tunes. You can even add Flyware cartridges to add games and adventures. What kid isn't going to want one of these (and Santa...if you're reading least one adult would like this in her Christmas stocking too...) This is way too much fun for just kids!