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Freebee Friday: The $100,000 Question

Sharp challengeThe Sharp Classroom Technology Challenge has begun and the company is giving away a $100,000 technological shopping spree of teaching gear to a needy school. All you have to do is answer a simple question: how you would use the Sharp gear to further your students’ educational goals. The Tech It Up prize package will include items most needed by the school and the company will give 10 runners up a 70-inch interactive display. The deadline is April 30th.

Freebee Friday: That Insecure Feeling

Splash dataEven the most airtight network is susceptible to intrusion if the teachers, students and admin staff don’t practice good password safety. Every year SplashData compiles a list of the most popular (and infamous) passwords, and – no surprise – the leader for 2014 is good old 1-2-3-4-5-6, which led last year as well. The second through fifth places for the least secure passwords go to:

  • password
  • 12345
  • 12345678
  • qwerty

In other words, just about every password needs to be replaced with something less guessable and force users to change them every couple of months with no repeats allowed.

School’s Worth of Data

My Cloud DL4100 SmallOffice imageThe days of expensive onsite data storage are over with Western Digital’s My Cloud DL4100 family. Rather than file servers or expensive blades, the DL4100 is a self-standing Network Attached Storage (NAS) system that connects to any network and has four bays for 3.5-inch drives. It tops out at 24TB of total storage potential for an economical $1,530, which should be more than enough for most small or mid-sized schools; a two-bay DL2100 version that can be had for as little as $350.

Dl 4100 screenPowered by an Intel Atom processor and housing up to 6GB of RAM, the NAS system has a pair of Ethernet connections and a trio of USB ports. For those worried about security or losing data, the DL4100 can encrypt its contents with 256-bit AES coding and work with RAID levels 0, 1, 5 and 10 for fail-safe operations. The best part is that the NAS drive can move data back and forth with several popular online storage systems.

Light up the Show

M-touch_main_NEWDespite its small size, Martin’s M-Touch has the power to turn any school’s Spring musical into a professional-looking production with a wide variety of lighting effects. It has a simple interface for independently controlling 10 different lighting channels that are controlled by moving your fingers over the touch-sensitive active surface. Any effect can be recorded for later playback at show time. Made of rugged aluminum, it weighs just 3.3-pounds so the board is easy to be moved to different venues or schools as needed.

HD on a Budget

Hc1200 dWhoever it was who said that schools don’t need high-definition projectors couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, the sharper the images, the better the content and the better focus students have on the lesson. At about $1,000, BenQ’s HC1200 makes HD cheap enough for classrooms.

The HC1200 is a one of a kind projector, at least for the moment. At 4.4- by 14.2- by 10.2-inches, its gray and black case doesn’t stand out from the crowd, but it’s what’s inside that counts. The projector has a single digital light processing (DLP) imaging chip coupled with a traditional high-pressure lamp that combine to put out 1,920 by 1,080 images at a rated 2,800 lumens of brightness.

Thanks to come clever engineering with the projector’s color wheel, optics and light source, the HC1200 sets a new standard for color fidelity that no other projector in its category can match. It can deliver over 1 billion individual colors and covers the entire sRGB color gamut.

It may lack optional lenses for different locales, but the single lens approach not only makes the HC1200 very economical, but the lens it uses is well suited to the classroom. It has a wide 1.5:1 optical zoom ratio, can fill a 6-foot screen from about 7-feet away and tops out at a 25 foot image. It comes with a tethered lens cap, but it can be hard to get your fingers in far enough to fine-tune the focus.

Hc1200 eIn addition to projecting 3-D material, the HC1200 offers three teaching templates that include blanks for penmanship, a lined screen or a blank image divided into quadrants. It lacks the ability to use interactive pens, though.

The HC1200 has one of the best assortments of input ports with a pair of VGA, composite- and S-video as well as two HDMI connectors. It adds a wired LAN plug but to connect with a wireless network, you’ll need BenQ’s $50 WiFi adapter. The system adds VGA-out port for mirroring the content as well as RS-232, USB, audio and the projector is compatible with Crestron’s and AMX’s control software.

For schools with powered screens, the HC1200 has the bonus of a 12-volt trigger button for opening and closing the screen. While most of BenQ’s competitors cut corners on their remote controls, the HC 1200’s remote not only mimics the projector’s control panel, but provides instant access to networking settings. There’s a laser pointer built-in, a luxury that every classroom should have.

Rather than the expected rectangular box, the HC1200 is shaped like a trapezoidal prism that’s larger on the top than the bottom. It has an adjustable front leg, four attachment points underneath for ceiling mounting and at about 8-pounds it is easy from one person to install it. The HC1200 comes with a padded bag for those who want to store or move it from room to room.

It might be a fast starter with the ability to put an image on the screen in 23 seconds, but it takes upwards of a minute to cool down and shut itself off when the class is done. It’s also a little on the loud side with its exhaust fan putting out 44.8 decibels 3-feet from the projector.

Hc1200cThe HC1200 has the expected vertical keystone correction, but lacks horizontal keystone correction and image shifting. Its built-in grid test pattern can help streamline getting the projector’s picture just right and its focus was spot-on from edge to edge. There’s a hot spot at the bottom, but you can hardly notice it.

In addition to three color temperature settings, the HC1200 has four projection modes and the ability to project onto different colored walls. While its Dynamic setting is very bright, it has a lot of green in it and Presentation has over-saturated colors, Cinema has a warm feel. Overall, the sRGB setting offers the best balance between brightness and color fidelity. You can also set up two user-defined modes with presets of your own choosing.

The HC1200 can put 2,894 lumens on the screen in Dynamic mode, just above its rating. Using the system’s EcoSmart setting, the projector delivers 10-percent lower brightness, but reduces the HC1200’s power draw from 375- to 315-watts.

The projector doesn’t require a dust filter, so maintenance is a snap and the projector’s optics have been designed so that its colors don’t fade over time. Its $350 replacement lamp is rated to last 2,000 hours and can be swapped in about two minutes. It adds up to estimated annual costs of $352 if it’s used for 8 hours every school day and electricity costs the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. This is high compared to other projectors with lower resolution, but not to HD devices.

At around $1,000 the HC 1200 sets a new standard for projectors at roughly 50-percent less than comparable devices, removing all the excuses for not getting HD projectors. It not only leads in color fidelity and resolution in the classroom, but upfront costs as well. 



BenQ HC1200

Price: $1,000

+ Excellent color fidelity

+ Inexpensive

+ Wide optical zoom lens

+ Laser pointer

+ Case


- Lacks image shift and horizontal keystone correction

- High operational costs


One Stop Classroom

Engrade aYou can end the wasted time and effort of logging into every classroom activity separately with McGraw Hill Education’s Engrade. The software lets you consolidate lesson plans, while interacting with educational software and online apps. There’re places to post grades and go over results as well as a behavior section for tracking trouble-makers.

Getting Into Form

Jotform bMost schools are stuck in the 20th century as far as forms goes with piles of paper needed each year per student. JotForm can put an end to it with an online form-maker that has been designed with schools in mind and doesn’t require any programming. With it you can make everything from enrollment forms and quizzes to teacher evaluations and payment for lunch or activities. There are plenty of templates for repetitive tasks and forms have routing built-in so that they require minimal human input and are automatically compiled. The results can be tracked, saved in DropBox online and you can even thank the filer after submission.



Freebee Friday: Next Tech

You gov ieeeIt’s true that we all love and secretly loathe new technologies because they have the power to enrich the classroom but often leave behind other technologies we were just getting used to. According to a survey sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers of over two thousand adults conducted by YouGov, the most important STEM subjects in You govsecondary education are math, science and overall technology. Over the coming year, the poll respondents thought that the most influential technologies will be Smartphones (42 percent), tablets (37 percent) and 3-D printers (32 percent). 

What’s going to be left behind? Based on the responses, digital music players and cameras are on the outs as stand-alone devices. That’s mostly because their roles have been taken over by even the cheapest tablets and phones.

Freebee Friday: Digital Hand Outs

HandoutThe age of the printed worksheet is long dead, but nothing has replaced it in the digital realm, until now. Handouts has the power to distribute anything to a class of students, from a lab set-up sheet or homework assignment to a take-home quiz. The basic software is free and can be had for either Android or iPads, but there’s nothing for Windows tablets or notebooks. The app can have students hand the work in and it comes with an excellent teacher’s guide. The free version allows teachers to use it for a single class of up to 25 students, while the Pro version can be used with an unlimited number of students and costs $100 per year. Districts and schools can get a discount.

Speed Printing

Samsung MF4530It’s amazing how fast printers can produce documents when they print in just black toner. Samsung’s ProXpress $650 M4530ND is a high-speed printer that puts 1,200- by 1,200-dots per inch onto paper and tops out at 47 pages per minute of output. There’s also the $850 M4530NX that adds a color touch control screen. Both are suitable for a department, entire floor or a small school to share, have duplexing and can be connected via USB, a wired or wireless network or even with an optional NFC connection device for tap and print operations. The printers can also integrate with cloud storage systems for quick printing of stored items. While the standard toner module holds enough for 7,000 pages, Samsung makes cartridges for as many as 40,000 pages that can drive down printing costs dramatically.



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