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Big Bags of Ink

Epson WF 8590Forget about changing the ink cartridges every week with Epson’s WorkForce WF-8950 super-printer. It’s based on the company’s Precision Core inkjet technology and rather than using small plastic ink modules, the system uses bags of ink to not only increase the volume to be enough to cover 75,000 pages, but also to cut the cost to the minimum. It can support a group of classrooms or even a small school by being able to pump out 24 pages per minute and hold more than three reams of paper. There’s a scanner/copier with a document feeder that can suck in 20 pages per minute.  The system can be connected via USB, wired networking or WiFi. This first of a new family of printers should be available by the end of the month.

Cut Classroom Clutter

BOX4HDECP.main (1)If wires and cables are taking over the classroom or lecture hall, think about making them disappear with StarTech’s Conference Table Connectivity Box. The box has a hinged lid so it disappears when not in use but contains the most used connectors, including HDMI, power, VGA, composite, mini-DisplayPort, audio and wired networking. In other words the $335 box can be the single connection point for teachers or students.

Robots Invade the Classroom

Copy of dash+dot_front_XLIn science fiction movies, robots may be bent on conquering the earth, but in the classroom their mission these days is to teach kids about programming. A case in point is Wonder Workshop’s Dash and Dot. The pair work together to teach basic coding skills using one of the simplest interfaces around.

Dash and Dot are two of a kind. Both have lighted eyes and can talk to kids. Dash has infrared sensors front and back as well as two drive motors, an accelerometer, gyroscope and three microphones. Dot is stationary. Unfortunately, neither can accommodate add-on sensors for ultrasonic sound or infrared light, as is the case with MindStorms.

The $349 Wonder Pack that I looked at is a complete kit that would work well in classes from first-grade through high-schoolers. It includes the two robots as well as accessories like a snap-on xylophone for Dash to play, a plow for gathering small items and a carrier for a mobile phone for doing this like using Dash as a roving video camera. You can get the two robots for $259, but the accessories really help to extend the creativity.

Both have micro-USB ports for charging their internal lithium batteries and come with cables, but no AC adapter. They keep a charge for several hours of intense use and will likely need to be charged during the school day if they’re used continually. The robots are made of heavy-duty plastic that should last for several years, but the kit lacks a case to store the items between classes or to carry them between rooms.

Dash dot programmingTo start, unlike many other educational robots, Dash and Dot come assembled and ready to play and teach. In other words, there’s no time spent putting them together, as is the case with Lego Mindstorms EV3, although that can be half of the fun.

Software is the key to getting the most out of Dash and Dot in the classroom, but there’s an emphasis on iPad apps. There are four programs available that need to be downloaded and installed separately and can only be used with the tablet horizontally. The four cover the territory well for iPads with Go (for acquainting yourself with the robots and what they can do), Path (where you can map out Dash’s movement), Xylo (for playing the optional xylophone) and Blockly (for programming the robots to do tasks).

By contrast, only Blockly and Go are available for a small group of Android systems that includes the Nexus 7 and 9 models as well as Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10.1 and Galaxy Tab 3 8.0. There’s nothing for using Dash and Dot with PCs, Macs and Chromebooks.

Plus, the four programs each have a different look and feel and require a few minutes to scope out and get used to. Blockly is the gem of the bunch and uses Google’s drag-and-drop visual programming interface for moving premade chunks of code around. You’ll never see a line of code, but each block has a quickie description of what it does.

On the surface, it seems simple, but Blockly can be used to create complicated programs and there’s no limit to the number of blocks that can be assembled. On the downside, you need to grab each block separately because there’s no way to copy existing items or groups for reuse.

Copy of dash_front_XLExpect that it will take a couple of minutes to get started. After pairing the robot with an iPad, Dash and Dot get very personable with start-up greetings. For instance, when you set Dash to spin, it squeals and at times bobs its head up and down.  When they haven’t been used in several minutes, they yawn and go to sleep. 

There are several premade projects to explore how Dash and Dot work. On the downside, there’s no software simulator for trying out programming sequences before loading them on the robot as is the case with Mindstorms EV3.

The robots use Bluetooth connections between an iPad and the robots and a class can use 20 or 30 of them at a time without interference (CHECK). After using the robots with a trio of 17-year olds, I found that using Dash and Dot works best in groups of two or three with the kids exploring their capabilities and then diving into programming. In other words, set aside a get-acquainted period. We played with them for a while to get the feel of the controls, used the xylophone attachment to play a crude song, programmed Dash to plow marbles across a floor and then had it move around in a spiral pattern. A word of warning, Dash works best on the floor because if you’re not careful it can drive right off the edge of a table.

Copy of dot_front_XLWhile the robots and software work well together, there are no lesson plans included. The company is working on creating curriculum and a forum for teachers to share their ideas and favorite robot routines. There should also be a software development kit coming for others to add new capabilities to Dash and Dot.

The variety of projects you can make with Dash and Dot pales compared to Mindstorms, but Dash and Dot have an ace up their sleeves. With the optional $19 Building Brick Connector, the robots can have Lego bricks attached to their heads.

Overall, using Dash and Dot to teach the basics of programming not only provides instant feedback for students but is less daunting (for student as well as teacher) to try out, use and become engrossed in.


Dot dash

Wonder Workshop Dash and Dot

$349 Wonder Pack

+ No assembly

+ Nice accessories and options

+ Flexible programming interface

+ Inexpensive

+ Includes lots of apps


- Better software for iPad than Android

- No online lessons

- Lacks case





Mimio Goes Mobile

MimiomobileWith the latest updates to Mimio Studio and Mimio Mobile, the teaching software now runs on Android and iPad tablets.  In addition to providing a classroom space for collaboration, MM3 can control an interactive whiteboard and put any student’s system on the big screen as well as let kids answer quizzes using MimioVote. It’s a free upgrade for Mimio users.

Instant Teaching Space

Zest deskToday, learning happens wherever there’s room for teachers and students to meet, and the ZestDesk will be able to turn just about any surface into a desk or a lectern. The fold up desktop is available on pre-order for $385 and has a 22.8- by 25.1-inch work surface with an adjustable monitor or notebook stand; a second stand can be added for under $100. ZestDesk’s work surface can move up or down by six inches and it all quickly folds up into an easy-to-carry bag. All told, the aluminum ZestDesk weighs 12 pounds.

Freebee Friday: Free Windows

Win 10 previewFresh from the Windows 10 preview event, there’s news that every school will want to hear: the next version of the computer operating system will be free. Does it sound too good to be true? For those schools still using Windows XP, it is because the free upgrade applies only to those who have licenses for Win 7 or 8.

Windows10_Continuum-1C-500x299The software continues the company’s move towards a more tactile approach to computing, which works best with touch screens. One big change is the ability to not only to divide the screen into horizontal segments but to do it diagonally, as well. In addition to holographic goggles, Windows 10 will usher in a cool touch-screen interactive board called the Surface Hub that should open new vistas of instruction. The two big questions that remain are, what happened to Windows 9 and when will the new software appear? While Microsoft might be playing a name game with numbers, company insiders say the new software should be ready later this year.

HP’s Either-Or Tablet

HP EESchool slates are available in Android or iPad’s iOS, but HP has a new idea: Build Android and Windows versions of the same system. The HP Pro Slate 10 EE (Android 4.4) and Pro Tablet 10 EE (Windows 8.1) are like two 10.1-inch peas in a pod, powered by Atom processors and include just about everything needed for class. They each weigh roughly 1.9-pounds and come with WiFi, have Trusted Platform Modules and there’s a passive stylus that has a nice place to store it when it's not in use. They're not identical, however, because the Android version has Near Field Communications (NFC), while the Windows tablet has twice as much storage space at 32GB. The best part is they each have optional snap-on mechanical keyboards available, which can instantly turn them into notebooks or desktop computers. The Windows Tablet EE will be sold to schools for $300 while the Android Slate EE will go for $280.

Bright Light, No Lamp

CasioThe latest in projectors are ones that don’t have expensive lamps that need replacing, but are powered by LEDs and lasers, like Casio’s EcoLite XJ-V1. The projector puts out 2,700 lumens and its solid state lighting element has been rated to last 20,000 hours of use, or more than a decade of typical use. A big bonus is that it uses only 180 watts, making it an efficient way to light up a lesson.

Best in Shows

Fetc bettAlong with the New Year and ever-present danger of writing 2014, we have a slew of education shows upon us. At them, we’ll see and try-out the latest teaching products –from tablets and projectors to administrative software and computer carts – are debuted. This year, though, we get the double whammy of BETT and FETC at the same time. Although they are still on different continents, it’s a lot to absorb. Here’re my favorites from the current Ed Tech shows.

6_to lumensNotebooks and tablets need to be as mobile as students and teachers are these days with the ability to go from room to room as needed. Capable of holding up to 48 systems, that’s exactly what Lumen’s Rhino CT-S50 cart does. It can hold and charge notebooks, tablets and Chromebooks so they’re always ready for class. The lockable cart is mounted on stable casters, is ventilated and uses a smart charging system that reduces power demand. The bonus is that the S50 cart provides a large work surface on top with an articulated arm to hold a slate or monitor. FETC no. 323.


What’s better than wheeling notebooks and tablets around on a cart? Individual lockers like the LapSafe Diplomat PIN can safely hold and charge the systems when they’re not in use. Rather than a keyed lock, though, each Diplomat PIN locker has its own combination that gets typed into the locker’s keypad. The combinations can be set up with the company’s TANmode software, frequently changed and sent to users via an email or text message. The sturdy steel lockers come in stacks that can hold a dozen systems. Bett no. F186.

Acer C740 Chromebook_rear left facing 2Acer’s new Chromebook C740 has the distinction of being just about indestructible at schools and should outlast its students. The system has an 11.6-inch screen that can show 1,366 by 768 resolution and a durable display hinge that can take being repeatedly twisted and turned. The screen cover is reinforced and the system can stand up to foot-and-a-half drop. Schools and districts buying more than one-hundred systems get Premier Care, which includes accident damage coverage. All told, it costs $260, weighs less than 3 pounds and should slide into and out of a backpack with ease. There will also be a C910 model that includes a 15.6-inch screen and 4GB of RAM for $300. BETT no. F188.

ItslearningThe itslearning app takes this student information service to new levels of mobility with iPad and Android apps. The software allows teachers, students and admin staff access to the school’s itsLearning info without logging onto the system. The apps can not only automatically facilitate communication between students and teachers but deliver assignments and grades as well. FETC no. 1041.

ClassroomGoogle’s Classroom just got a lot more useful in, well, the classroom. The latest version of the software not only works with both Android and iOS systems, but lets you cache lessons and multimedia material offline so that you can now use it to teach in unconnected rooms. Teachers can add all sorts of images and Web pages as well as take a picture from the Classroom’s assignment page to document a project, what’s on the board or even take a snap shot of a homework assignment and turn it in digitally. BETT no. E240.

Screen480x480Aimed at K-through-2nd graders, Science4Us can be the first science lessons students are exposed to, so it has to count. Available online or via Science4Us’s free iPad app, there isn’t an app for Android tablets. The 28 two-week modules available cover everything from the physical and environmental sciences to life and earth science. Along the way, the lessons integrate literacy and math into the science lessons. The service costs between $5 and $12 a student. FETC no. 553.

SkywardThe job of drilling down to the school or classroom level to get the data needed just got a lot easier with Skyward’s myDistrict360. It can not only show individual students grades, attendance and other details, but provide context for how each class and school is doing. The online program lets you enroll new students through a Web form and create your own reports for what’s important without the need for programming. FETC no. 840.

Create educationCreate Education has a vision of the future of shop classes at schools that revolves around teaching kids to use 3-D printers. The company combines its Ultimaker 2 printer with its Cura software to allow kids to make all sorts of small plastic items. The key is that they model the items on-screen using the CAD design and imaging software and then watch it being made on the 3-D printer. BETT no. F54.

State of the InternetThe old saying that reading begets reading couldn’t be more true, according to Scholastic’s “Kids & Family Reading Report."The corporate parent of Tech Tools, Scholastic surveyed 2,558 children and parents to compile its results. While it points out that girls continue to read more than boys, the big take-away is that those who read become better and more proficient readers. The biggest factor in building a strong reader is that their parents read to them aloud between five and seven days a week before the student entered kindergarten. FETC no. 201

OkiEven with the ever expanding digital classroom, there’s still a place for printers at school. Take OKI’s MB562w printer, which can not only pump out up to 27 pages per minute of sharp 1,200 by 1,200-text and graphics, but works with OKI’s Remark scanning software to grade bubble tests and compile the results. FETC no. 1416

NB_3Smart’s Notebook software can bring everything needed for education together, from lesson plans and multimedia to collaboration and assessments. The latest version has a Lesson Builder for creating innovative classroom activities as well as Concept Mapping that can have a class turn ideas and concepts into deeper understanding. FETC no. M12.

Elmo-l-12idElmo’s L-12iD can put anything from a petri dish to a paper map onto the big screen and gives the teacher the choice of switching between sending the video stream through a computer via a USB cable or go directly to the classroom projector through an HDMI cable. The document camera-visualizer leads the way with a 12X optical zoom lens, full HD resolution and a built-in microphone. If you need a Web cam, the L-12iD’s lens can be flipped up to face the class. BETT no. C477.

  E805_ltCould the classroom projector have met its match? NEC’s 80-inch flat-screen display sure makes it look possible. The MultiSync E805’s HD screen can not only be controlled remotely over the school’s network, but it can work with Crestron and AMX control networks. It delivers a bright and clear image, has a 10W sound system and all the inputs you’re likely to need to connect, including both HDMI and DisplayPort plugs. The screen sells for $5,600 with a three-year warranty. FETC no. 1268.

SungardOne size does not fit all schools, but SunGard K-12’s Plus 360 Suite can put all the information that a teacher, principal or district supervisor needs in view. It can not only show the big picture but zoom in on individual students or classes and handle everything from student information, curriculum and assessments to financial, human resource and special education issues. It can even be set up so that a parent can view her child’s grades. FETC no. 1408.

UnplagWhether it’s copying a paragraph from Wikipedia or not properly attributing a source, plagiarism is front and center for teachers. In a few seconds, Unplag can cross check it against 16 million Web pages from Google and Bing, against any file on your computer or with respect to another student’s work. In fact, you can try it out by pasting a passage up to 275 words into the company’s Web site and look at the results. BETT no. E346.

Office 365 moodleMicrosoft’s Mix is a great way to add multimedia and interactivity to lessons, but it just got a lot more versatile with the addition of an add-in for material in Moodle’s open-source Learning Management System. The Moodle plug-in works with all of Office 365, lets you work offline and log-in using a single Office 365 password. BETT no. D270.


Pocketful of Anatomy

Screen322x572 (1)Forget about sketching the pancreas or patella using the board to teach about human anatomy because Pocket Anatomy can do it better with 10 layers of overlaid organs, veins and glands to peruse and identify. There’re male and female versions and all of the content can be saved on an iPad or iPhone so students don’t need online access to bring up an image. With 100,000 pieces of content at its disposal Pocket Anatomy provides a bird’s eye view of the body with quizzes and places to take notes. It costs $15.



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