Once again, we can award points for hipness and tech savvy: Nearly 30 percent of you reanointed last year's winner, the flash drive (a.k.a. jump drive or thumb drive), a highly portable chunk of digital storage that leaves CDs in the dust. Flash drives store all sorts of files, plug into USB sockets on just about any computer, and are so small that the only downside is how easy they are to lose. A flash drive with two gigabytes of storage space -- about as much as entire state-of-the-art desktop computers contained ten years ago -- sells for as little as 50 dollars.
Coming in a strong second was the digital camera, followed by calculators of various types and functions. For all this electronic gee-wizardry, however, you still showed your affection for classic low tech standbys as staples and "a really, really good pencil sharpener!" But our favorite response, because it called to mind the kind of classroom we'd most like to be a student in, was "Walkie-talkies -- we do lots of field work."
Allow us to toss into the ring our own favorite, affordable tech teacher's aid: iTunes. The free software (available for Mac or PC computers) can play various audio and video files, but its greatest value to educators is as a portal to the iTunes Store, where visitors can instantly download a host of media presentations at little or no cost. Among the more than 200 television shows available, for example, are free episodes of Learn Along with Sesame, and PBS's Scientific American Frontiers for $2 per episode or $15 per season. Audiobooks are pricier; Charlotte's Web, for example, sells for $17. But 65,000 podcasts are offered free by National Public Radio, the BBC, the Economist, and the New York Times. Despite what Apple's frenetic commercials may imply, iTunes is not just for amped-up downloaders anymore.
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