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Freebee Friday: Time for Lunch

School lunch choiceIf you’re a charter or private school with 300 or fewer students, School Lunch Choice can be used for free. It not only provides control over the cafeteria, but lets you accept online payments for meals, participate in reduced price lunch programs and has a breakfast option. Need more? There’s a paid option allows a custom design and multiple schools.


Super Way to Learn

Super duperThe skill of storytelling is best taught when it goes hand in hand with learning to read and write. Super Duper Story Maker is a great way to get started with the ability to create full and rich narratives. There are more than 800 people, places and items to choose to build the story around and the app lets you add your own drawings, photos and voice-overs. Just name the story and start adding items and backgrounds. When students are done, they can share it with others or collaborate on a larger story. The pages turn like in a book and they can be printed.

A Handful of Math

Fx-CG50With Casio’s Prizm fx-CG50, every major mathematical operation can be in the palm of students’ and teachers’ hands. Its color screen not only sets a new standard with the ability to quickly and clearly graph all sorts of equations, but can display tabular material and 3-D functions as well.

Yet, at 0.8- by 3.5- by 7.2-inches and 8-ounces, it is easy to manipulate and can be stashed in a backpack or pocket. It comes with a plastic cover and uses four AAA single-use or rechargeable batteries.

The front panel has color-coded keys and a large silver four-way control for easy, although pressing the 4-way control doesn’t activate your choice; to do that, you’ll need to use the “EXE” (execute) key. Plus, you need to press the keys deliberately to get them to respond.

Dominated by its 3.4-inch color screen, the CG50 delivers nearly 20-percent more viewable space than Texas Instruments’ TI-84 Plus C family of calculators. It’s not touch sensitive, but has a resolution of 216 by 384 pixels and a color depth of 65,000, both of which are on a par with the TI-84 Plus C.

Graphics are front and center with the ability to use images to teach with but you’ll need to convert the raw images for use with the CG50; the software is free. The calculator’s main screen offers a cornucopia of choices from equations and inequalities to 3-D graphing and conic sections. Students can explore an equation’s details with the calculator’s Zoom and Trace modes.

Screen receiverInside, the CG50 has 61KB of RAM and 16MB of storage. It takes a big step forward with one of the easiest ways to handle scientific notation. Just type the mantissa, the calculator’s “x10x” key and then the exponent. It’s immediately displayed.

In fact, the CG50 does the basics extremely well with everything from trigonometric functions and hyperbolic equations to working in degrees, radians as well as polar or Cartesian coordinates. In addition to plain old arithmetic, it can handle spreadsheets or matrices of numbers, recursions and financial operations (like loan values, depreciation and amortizations) as well as open the classroom to programming.

A big surprise is that the CG50 can do the heavy work of numerical differential and integral calculus, while calculating min and max values as well as areas. Its statistical abilities are particularly deep with calculating the mean, median, quartiles and standard deviation as well as figuring out the student T test results. In addition to combinatorials and permutations, the CG50 has 12 regression models to choose from and there are probability simulations and distributions.

Suon3eqyThe calculator can store and present tabular material as if the calculator were a tablet. It comes with the data for the Periodic table and most of the scientific, math and conversion constants you’re likely to need from 10th grade earth science to senior physics. You can add your own for specialty uses. The small screen requires a little squinting at times and will never substitute for a larger tablet or notebook, but it’s a great extension of the calculator’s abilities.

The package includes a set of batteries, the protective cover and a mini-USB cable for connecting to a computer. If you have a Casio projector, you can use the cable to display what the CG50’s screen shows for the class to see. Otherwise, you have the choice of software for transferring screen shots or an emulator to show the class how to do a certain task.

Casio also provides a slew of online tutorials and manuals, including a useful 28-page quick reference guide that provides an excellent introduction to the calculator’s keys and abilities. While it isn’t aimed directly at the CG50 calculator, Casio has a series of workbooks that cost $75 each and can help organize a science or math class. The screens might look slightly different buy they are useful texts.

With all it can do, the Prizm fx-CG50 isn’t perfect, but it’s very close.



Casio Prizm fx-CG50



+ Small and lightweight

+ Color screen

+ Lots of computations

+ 3-D graphing

+ Periodic table and constants table

+ Online curriculum


- Need to press keys hard

Sit and Spin

2800-CRM-BLU 1 UP BLUE MAINOFM’s Vivo Height Adjustable Perch Stool not only lets you sit still to do your work in a library, public area or classroom, but the seating height can be adjusted from 21.3- to 30.7-inches high. Its 14.2- by 14.4-inch padded seat is available in five colors and can rotate and pivot until the student or teacher gets to a comfortable position. When you’re done, just grab it from the handle in the back and take it to its new location. It sells for $366.

Financial Winner or Loser?

Catch onAre those new tablet apps better than the desktop and notebook programs they replace and are they the best around. The CatchOn beta program offers school administrators an application management and reporting program that can give them a detailed look at where they money is going and how well the new tech is fitting in. It can calculate everything from the return on investment of each acquisition to how cost-effective apps are. The online service has a 60-day trial and costs between $3 and $5 a student after that, with school volume discounts available.

Freebee Friday: iWork, Therefore I Am

Apple iworkRegardless of whether your school has the latest MacBooks or elderly Air models, they can all get a big boost with free software. You can download and install the latest iWork suite with Pages, Keynote and Numbers but you’ll have to install them one at a time. The GarageBand and iMovie apps are also free. Just go to the App Store and grab what you like before they change their mind. Depending on the app, you’ll need something between OSX 9.3 to 10.12 to do this upgrade.


Freebee Friday: Doing Good by Doing Well

ParadigmWhile the Web can supply an abundance of lesson plans for math, science and the other mainstream subjects, it doesn’t do very well in teaching about life, generosity and helping those in need. That’s where Project Paradigm comes it. Sponsored by a slew of corporate giants and the Red Cross, Paradigm stresses collaboration, creativity and especially kindness to make a better tomorrow for students, teachers and the rest of the planet. To start, there’re a bunch of online lesson plans and supporting material to help get this message out. Then, there’s the money. The non-profit offers innovative and creative students and teachers cash for submitting and sharing problem-solving lessons that get kids to actually work together to identify and solve a major global social problem.

Streamline your School

JitasaThe modern school runs not on chalk and blackboards, but on data, and the K12 Jitasa Enterprise Suite does it all, allowing the institution to run more efficiently. In addition to governmental reporting of scores, the software can bill students for fees, handle payroll and handle all the intricacies of human relations. The company will do a remote demo for you.

An A in Chromebook Design

Chromebook plus compositeSamsung’s Chromebook Plus sets the pace for Chromebooks at school with an unequaled combination of size, weight and versatility. It may cost more than plain utilitarian systems, but it’s a powerful and versatile Chromebook that punches above its weight. And, a more powerful model is on the way.

At 8.7 by 11.0-inches and 0.6-inches thick, the 2.4-pound (2.7-pounds with its small AC adapter) Chromebook Plus is significantly smaller and lighter than either the Acer C731T or Asus C202, in spite of the fact that the Chromebook Plus has a slightly bigger screen. In fact, the Chromebook Plus’s dull silver case is only marginally thicker and heavier than the Asus Flip C100A, a convertible Chromebook with a similar design that has a smaller 10.1-inch screen versus 12.3-inchs for the Chromebook Plus.

Despite its slim profile, the system is a convertible notebook with a 360-degree hinge that allows it to assume several computing profiles. It can be a traditional keyboard-centric system, but if you want a tablet, flip the screen over. You can even set it up on a tabletop in tent orientation or with the keyboard facing down and speakers facing up for presentations or small-group video watching.  

Chromebook plus bIts hinge action is smooth, the display doesn’t wobble too much when you tap it and the display locks in place when it’s set to tablet mode. Overall, the system feels good in the hand as a slate and its 18.5-mm keys are easy on the fingers.

Just like Flip, the Chromebook Plus has a tough metallic skin over a strong internal frame to protect it from damage. Unlike the C202 and the C731T, the Chromebook Plus is not Mil-Std 810G certified for rugged use.

It lacks the Celeron processor that many other Chromebooks use and instead has the RockChip OP1 ARM-based six-core chip that runs at 2GHz. An evolutionary update of the RockChip used in the Asus Flip C100A, it’s faster and has more computing cores to work with, yet doesn’t overwhelm the battery.

In addition to the $450 Plus model I looked at, Samsung plans an all-black $550 Pro model that’s aimed at businesses, but just might be the ultimate teacher or administrator’s system. It uses an Intel Core m3 processor that runs at between 1- and 2.2GHz, but otherwise mirrors the Plus system.

Either way, the systems come with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage space. Need more room for lessons, assignments and grades? You can add extra storage space with a micro-SD card.

As is the case with many newer systems, its ports are a mixed bag. The Chromebook Plus has a pair of USB-C ports, one of which is used for charging the system. In other words, like others, you’ll need to get an adapter to connect with a projector, display and accessories. It worked fine with a Minix Neo C Mini adapter, which also provided a pair of USB 3.0 ports and HDMI connections, but you’ll probably be using its 802.11ac networking and Bluetooth 4 wireless connections more often.

Chromebook plus iLike many new Chrome-based designs, the Chromebook Plus lacks a cooling fan, which can make it a more reliable system with longer battery life. While it generally keeps its cool, there’s a hot spot near the USB-C port while it’s plugged in.

The 12.3-inch display is a gem that is not only able to interpret 10 independent touch inputs but has a highly detailed 2,400 by 1,600 resolution versus 1,366 by 768 screens for the competition. In fact, it handles UHD videos extremely well with sharp detail and smoothness, but could be a weak link it its longevity by not having reinforced glass, like Gorilla Glass.

At an aspect ratio of 3:2, the screen is taller than most of the competition and might end up being a way for kids to hide from the teacher during class. It lets you work comfortably with three taller documents or Web pages at once, though.

Above the screen is a 720p Web cam, but there’s no camera in the screen lid. It does have a pair of microphones that can filter out background noise, something that’s usually reserved for more expensive models.

A big step forward for this class of Chromebook is the inclusion of the Chromebook Plus’s pop-out stylus for sketching and annotating what’s on the screen. It does a good job of mimicking the feel of a pen on paper, but there’s no way to tether it to the system. 

The stylus software on the Chromebook Plus lets you define an area and save it as a screen shot and write notes, but there’s also a magnifying glass tool. My favorite is the cool laser pointer mode that leaves a bright blue trail that’s perfect for highlighting something on-screen. There’re also downloadable programs that can use the pen, from math graphic and drawing to note-taking and signature apps.

It’s more secure than most with a second-generation Trusted Platform Module. The Chromebook Plus, however, lacks a fingerprint scanner or Web cam capable of facial recognition for log-ins.

With version 56 of the Chrome OS software, the Chromebook Plus has one more trick up its long sleeve. In addition to including ArtCanvas and AirDroid Premium, it can run manyAndroid apps. Unfortunately, this doesn’t yet include the free versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, but Samsung is working with Google and Microsoft on an update to open these apps to the Chromebook Plus.

Chromebook plus gThis is a Chromebook that won’t set any performance records, but it was more than powerful enough to work with those apps as well as things like MathWays online graphing calculator and the University of Colorado’s PHET science simulations. It scored 521.1 milliseconds and 9,675 on SunSpider and Octane benchmarks, slightly ahead of the Celeron-based Acer C731T. 

Its battery ran for 8 hours and 45 minutes of non-stop video playing. This should translate into more than enough for a full day of lessons, assignments and Web searches with a little left over at the end of the day. Still, it was more than an hour short of the Asus Flip C100’s 9:20. The system was able to start up and be ready for class in 7.8 seconds.

At $450, penny-pinching districts will see the Chromebook Plus as more expensive than the typical Chromebook, but it pays dividends with an excellent design and a slew of unexpected goodies, like an ultra-HD screen, TPM security and included stylus. Look for the $550 Intel Core M3-powered black Chromebook Pro in the coming months that will have more processing power and could be the ultimate teacher’s computer.

When the Android compatibility software is ready later this year, the Chromebook Plus/Pro pair will set a new standard for school computers. Which you get depends on whether your outfitting students or teachers with what will likely be the best all-around school system ever made


Cb plus a

Samsung Chromebook Plus



+ Versatile convertible design

+ UHD screen

+ Thin and light

+ Includes stylus

+ Two USB-C ports

+ TPM module

- Doesn’t work with Android-based Word, PowerPoint and Excel apps

Who’s Where

ESS-on-Mobile-and-TabletLenvica’s Smart School attendance software not only keeps track of who’s at school and who isn’t for state aid purposes but during an emergency, you can compile a list of those in the facility along with photographs in a matter of seconds. The program works with fingerprint readers and can alert parents via text or email messages if a student doesn’t show up for school.


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