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Powering Up the Classroom

Banner-juice-powerConnecting and powering up computers will get a lot easier with Bretford’s Juice system that allows schools to incorporate AC outlets or USB plugs and network connections into many of their tables. The power module has flip up outlets that fold away when not needed and up to eight tablets can be daisy chained with an innovative cable that has a magnetic connector.

Chrome with Oomph

6a00e54faaf86b883301a3fcd9717d970bIf your school’s Chromebooks have had trouble keeping up with tough tasks, Acer’s latest C720 model has a fourth generation Core i3 processor that’s at least 50 percent more powerful than the Atoms, Celerons and Pentiums that power Chromebooks. The system uses a 40005U model that runs at 1.7GHz and you can order it with 2- or 4GB of RAM and 32GB of solid state storage for $350 or $380. The system still has a 1,366 by 768 11.6-inch screen, WiFi, Bluetooth and a good assortment of ports.

Tidying Up those Tablets

Gc35538_powerdock5_1The biggest downside of the digital classroom is all the portable gear that now inhabits schools, from notebooks and phones to tablets and speakers. If only there was an inexpensive way to organize and store the gear while it’s charging. Enter, Griffin’s PowerDock 5 Charging Station + Storage, which at $99, can end slate chaos, at least as far as warehousing goes.

The design is ingeniously clever. Inside the 5.1- by 8.3-inch stand is a 50-watt power supply that sends out five streams of 5-volts of electricity to power and charge all sorts of devices; each device can grab up to 2.1-amps while connected. On the side are five USB outlets, which line up with the storage rack’s opaque plastic dividers that hold the devices.

The Charging Station does the rest, doling out power to each and every system. It works with tablets, phones and even portable hot spots. In fact, it can power just about anything that uses a USB-power plug.

Gc35538_powerdock5_3All you need to do is put the devices in between the dividers and plug their power cords into the USB outlet on the side; it can’t power devices that don’t use USB power. The computer rack can comfortably accommodate a variety of slates in their cases, from both iPad models, and just about any Android tablet up to those with a 10.1-inch screen. Beyond that, the charging rack gets unwieldy.

The result is that rather than having a warren of power strips and extension cords, each Charging Station can neatly store and consolidate the electrical cables for five systems into one power cord. Happily, it uses a two-prong plug, so the system works easily in older schools with antiquated wiring.

Over the source of several weeks, the Charging Station worked well, powering a variety of gear and never got more than warm to the touch, even when it was charging two iPads, an Android tablet, a Windows tablet and a Samsung hot spot. It can work with devices up to about an inch thick and everything fits in neatly.

The best part is that the Charging Station can put an end to leaving the classroom at night with stacks of tablets charging with individual power adapters. While the typical classroom will need five or six Charging Stations for a one-to-one arrangement or two or three if the devices are to be shared, they don’t take up a lot of precious shelf or table space and have soft rubber feet so they won’t scratch a countertop.

Gc35538_powerdock5_8If the gear travels to the kids, the Charging Station stand can be used on a cart. When it’s time to start digital school work, it’s easier and safer for students to grab a system from the rack rather than from a pile of slates or a shelf.

Because of the variety of items it works with, the unit doesn’t come with the charging cables you’ll need, but you likely to already have them. The problem, and it’s a small one for schools, is that with the tablets and the power outlets next to each other, you really don’t need cables that are 3- to 6-feet long. My advice is to either buy some shorty cables or get Velcro tie-wraps.

In fact, its only shortcoming is that you can’t stack the Charging Station units to make best use of a classroom’s limited space. Griffin and others, make cube-shaped storage systems that can be stacked, but they cost a lot more than the Charging Station’s $99, which is one of the best classroom bargains available today.

 A+

Gc35538_powerdock5_7

Griffin Technology PowerDock 5 Charging Station + Storage

$99

+ Neat, efficient storage for five tablets

+ Full USB charging

+ Works with iPads and other tablets

+ One power cord for up to five tablets

+ Inexpensive

 

- Can’t stack units

Energy Saver

Action.ves-bta.ves-vl.anm-bta.labq.lp.kw-awxc._environmental-science._renewable-energy._high-school.001.590.332It is the rare school that properly teaches about electricity, renewable energy and climate change, but Vernier has a new device and curriculum to cover this important area. The company’s $69 Energy Sensor and $48 Renewable Energy lab can help kids get a grasp on where electricity comes from, how it gets to our AC outlets and how to use less of it. The kit contains 26 experiments that use the gear to measure voltage, current, power, and energy produced from wind turbines and solar panels.  

 

Enter the Z Dimension

ZView capture of LASD boyIf STEM education seems, well, a little flat, zSpace has the answer: a 3-D education zone that puts the emphasis on science and technology. The system consists of a 24-inch monitor that requires a pair of polarizing 3-D glasses to get the 3-D effect. Not only do items appear to come out of the screen, but you can control and rotate them with the included electronic pen. The company’s STEM Lab is just as good for simulating the dissection of a frog as it is for showing Newton’s laws of motion or designing electric circuits. The system requires a high-end PC and costs about $60,000 for 12 screens and computers.

The System Mover

Carrier30_01Getting a class’s tablets from A to B isn’t as easy as it seems, but lockncharge’s Carrier system can help. The big part is a lockable cart that can store and charge up to 30 mobile systems at once, from Chromebooks and small notebooks to Android and iPad slates. The small, but deceptively useful, part is a small plastic basket. It can hold five systems at a time. Just grab it and pass the systems out. The equipment should be out in the fall.

 

Bullet-Proof Screen

Image001Made of ceramic coated steel, Polyvision’s latest interactive screen will likely last longer than the projector you use with it and maybe even longer than the teacher. Called e3CeramicSteel, the screen can be used with markers or a proejctor and is resistant to bacteria and fire. It's as good for marking up sentences as it is marking up a projected map.

Next-Gen Shop Class

A7516721_2Class, put down your saws and hammers, the shop class is about to change. With the advent of 3-D printers, kids can now design what they want to make in software and then watch it get made. Dell now sells the Maker Bot 3-D printer complete with all the software you’ll need along with the filament that is the printer’s raw material. The best part is that rather than wobbly spice racks and lamps, kids get items they designed and made themselves.

From One to Many

1210tWhat do you do when you have six kids and one digital music player or computer? Get an audio distribution box, like Califone’s 1210T. The device has one plug for connecting with a source and can accommodate up to ten listeners. Each outlet has an individual volume control and, unlike other jack boxes, this one not only allows kids to listen but with the right headsets, they can speak as well for video conferences with Skype or FaceTime. It costs $48.50.

 

To the Bat Cave, Class

Em-touch-module-silo-1The mystery behind bats can have a hold on students akin to them learning about dinosaurs, but with the impact of a species that is available to see and hear today. The Wildlife Acoustics Echo Meter Touch has the power to turn this curiosity into an imaginative science curriculum with the needed hardware, software and classroom activities.

An add-on to an iPhone or iPad, the system listens for the distinctive echolocation sounds that only bats make. The kit comes with a plug-in ultrasonic microphone that is sensitive to sounds between 8- and 125-kilohertz, most of which is beyond the range of human hearing. The best part is that because the bat’s echolocation mechanism uses such high frequency sound waves, you can talk and teach while still getting a good recording.

The microphone’s aluminum case adds about an ounce and 1.8-inches to the profile of the device and is moisture resistant. Inside is a sophisticated microphone and a custom digital signal processor that is able to convert the bat’s high-frequency echolocation pi sounds into something the iPad can use and playback for kids to hear. The set-up is able to capture 256,000 samples per second and is effective as far away as 300-feet.

It works with recent iPads and iPhones, including the 5 series phones and the Mini iPad Retina model; unfortunately, it uses Apple’s new Lightning connector so early iPads and phones are out of reach. Plus, because the microphone requires the system’s Lightning port, you can’t charge the pad and use the echo microphone at the same time. As a result you need to run the pad or phone on battery power while stalking bats.

Iphone-1I used the Echo Meter two ways that are equally educational. I started by leaving a microphone-equipped iPad Mini on a window sill overnight with the window open to listen for the nocturnal creatures. It was able to pick up three or four bats on a good night and showed the results in a very interesting screen that displays a frequency distribution spectrogram of the soundings at the bottom with color indicating intensity and an amplitude graph at the top to show loudness.

Later I set out with several bat specialists into New York’s Central Park at dusk and captured the sounds of dozens of bats with the gear. Without the equipment I would only have been vaguely aware that things were flying back and forth overhead.

The app and hardware work together like hand in glove and the recording software is free. The Echo Meter’s Auto-ID software takes the device to a new level by recognizing the species based on its calls. At $150, it is money well spent, but the hardware and software roughly equals the price of a good iPad; teachers get a $75 gift certificate to Apple’s app store to help pay for the software. There’s no Android version available.

The combo of the two apps lets a teacher combine the visual spectrogram information and sounds with which bat it actually is. Overall, the data presentation is excellent and can help in not only teaching about bats, but it could be the basis of a great general science lessons on everything from habitat and population biology to data and graphing techniques.

Echo meter aThe device is so sensitive that in addition to the base sound sequence, you can sometimes see subtle harmonics of the bat calls. You can playback the sequence, but with a twist that makes it incredibly useful. Rather than high-frequency sounds that nobody will be able to hear, the software slows it down to the human hearing range.  At any time the app lets you add text or voice notes.

In fact, a cool game might be to play the sounds of a few types of bats and then have the class guess which ones they are. The system was able to recognize about one in three bats recorded and identified three different creatures: Eastern Red Bats, Hoary Bats and Small Footed Bats.

The Auto-ID app has a database of 25 North American and 13 European bats and the company plans to update it as time goes on. It’s like having a bat expert on hand, with each entry providing the common and scientific names as well as a nice species profile, its geographic region and what it likes to eat. In other words, it can turn any curious science teacher into a bat expert.

While you’re using the system, the iPad’s GPS receiver can be marking where you are, but only if you’re using an iPad that has a cell network data card. Later, back at the classroom, you can see where each bat was identified.

Screen-recordings-1This meshes well with the kit’s curriculum. Called “Discover Bats,” the 225-page book was put together by Bat Conservation International and can be used as a self-contained course or in bits and pieces based on need and the student age group. In addition to a one-week quick study course, the kit as an excellent general introduction to bats, there are sections about habitats, species identification, echolocation and caves.

Each section has a good reading along with printed references for further study, although no Web site links. On the other hand, the iPad-based species information section has lots of links to BCI and other areas. At the end of each section, there’s a series of classroom activities and assignments along with teacher answers in the back. Finally, the kit includes a DVD that has four bat-based movies. Unfortunately, it doesn’t contain the book’s material so you’ll need to copy the worksheets rather than print them directly.

While the combined cost of the microphone and programs might seem excessive, Wildlife Associates has bulk deals for the microphone alone that brings the cost down to $450 in lots of 100. On the other hand, the curriculum can be used and reused for many years and the microphone can be passed from class to class when it’s time to study bats.

In other words, the Echo Meter Touch ends up being an economical way to teach about one of the marvels of nature.

A

Em-touch-webpage-1

Wildlife Acoustics Echo Meter Touch

$499; $523, with curriculum

 

+ Great ecology curriculum

+ High frequency microphone and software

+ Record and identify species

+ Listen to recordings

+ Spectrogram presentation

+ GPS location

 

- CD doesn’t contain classroom materials

- Can’t use microphone and AC power at the same time

 

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