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Best of ISTE 2016

IsteWith reporters both on the show floor and making the rounds of the vendor’s suites, Tech Tools has put together our choices for the most interesting, important and intriguing educational products of this year’s show. With more than 500 educational firms exhibiting this year at the Colorado Convention Center, finding what your school needs can seem like searching for that elusive needle in the haystack.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Over the next few days, we'll have stories on a little bit of everything having to do with education. There'll be a selection that runs the gamut from charging cabinets and projectors to grading software and programming. In fact, there’s something here for every school.

Freebee Friday: Mightier than the Thumb

AnotableIf tooling around an iPad Pro with your thumb is awkward and not quite precise enough, the $99 Apple Pencil is a big help with accurate placement and pressure sensitivity. Annotable, a powerful iPad app, works just as well with a finger as with the Pencil and takes the pro pad to a new level. In addition to adding the ability to annotate and draw circles and squares, you can add arrow heads to any screen, even while it’s connected to a projector. My favorite is Anotable’s pixelate function that blurs anything you select. Other items, like colors and a cool spotlight tool cost a few dollars, but you can get everything for $8.

Macs with a little Mileage

Gazelle macbookNeed anything from a classroom of MacBook Air models to a few Pros for a computer lab? Gazelle has them all at surprisingly low prices. The company’s inventory of refurbished systems available includes phones, iPads and MacBooks. The site not only shows their condition and the specs but what the price would be to buy or lease it for a year and a half. For instance, a late 2011 MacBook Pro model with a 13-inch screen, 8GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive and 30-day warranty costs $650.

The Doc Cam Strikes Back

Dc-21 sideIf you thought that with all the smart phones and digital cameras floating around today’s schools, the days of the document camera would be numbered, you’d be dead wrong. Epson’s DC-21 takes this genre to a new level of quality and ease of use. 

A dead-ringer for the DC-20 it replaces, the DC-21 continues with a white and gray color scheme, an articulated swivel arm, sturdy base and large downward-facing lens. Along the way, it’s gotten slightly larger and has picked up its game in just about every area that counts.

The DC-21doc cam still opens to allow the aiming of the camera to any conceivable position and just as easily folds up just as small for storage. At any time, the camera head can be rotated 90-degrees right or left so that it can be aimed at just about anything. It includes a padded case so it can be carried from room to room, but does without a lens cap to protect its optics.

Inside, the DC-21 sticks with a CMOS imaging target that tops out at full HD resolution. This is backed up with excellent optics that include 12X-optical as well as 10X-digital zooming potential. At the arm’s full extension, the camera takes in 20.7 by 11.7-inches, or roughly two sheets of paper, perfect for using with a large-format atlas.

The camera’s LED lighting has two settings for illuminating an object but even the lowest setting can create a hot spot on many surfaces. In most cases, the room lighting should be more than enough to create a sharp and rich image, though.

Dc-21 headIt really comes into its own because rather than having to hold a smartphone steady as you’re trying to project a map or take in a chemical reaction, the DC-21 camera arm does the hard work. The arm has two articulated segments so that it can be used in a nearly infinite number of positions. Best of all, it doesn’t wobble. The base can be screwed into a table top.

Its connection panel on the side can fit into just about any classroom with the ability to connect with a computer (with USB and VGA), send its images to a projector or large display (via VGA and HDMI) and a USB port. It has an SD card for grabbing material or saving lesson’s video, but doesn’t connect with a USB thumb drive.

The controls are simple and let you select from the camera’s direct view, what’s on a connected PC as well as a two-way split screen that shows both. At any time, you can freeze the action, capture an image or video and zoom in and out. All the buttons are large and well labeled. While the buttons aren’t backlit, there are good enough for teaching in the dark.

All told, it takes about a minute to plug in, turn on and aim the camera at what you’d like to show the class. It worked just as well for flat items, like maps, magazine articles and photos, as for 3-D objects, like a petri dish, rock or insect. It includes an adapter that allows the DC-21 to connect directly with an optical microscope in a science room.

PICT0004You can also use the DC-21 for general videos but there’s a trick. After aiming the camera head, you’ll need to either use the remote control’s rotate image twice or go into the menu’s Image section and rotate the image 180-degrees to keep everything from looking upside-down.

Along the way, the voices of teachers and students can be captured by the DC-21’s camera-mounted microphone. This helps with creating videos that include a voice-over of the lesson, but as use the zoom, an annoying whirring noise of its motor will obscure the sound track.

The DC-21 comes with a small remote control that can select the source, freeze the action and control what’s shown on the system’s two-way split screen. The remote, however, does without a laser pointer and if you have an Epson projector you’ll find yourself trying to use the wrong one because in the dark they are almost identical.

If you use Epson’s Brighter Futures discount program, the DC-21 can be had for $549 along with a three-year warranty; $80 less and a year more. Regardless of whether it’s to show the live dissection of a flatworm or what bark looks like close-up, the Epson DC-21 Document Camera can put just about anything on the big screen.

A+

Dc-21 back

Epson DC-21 Document Camera

$549 (with Brighter Futures discount)

+ Sturdy base

+ Excellent optics with adjustable light

+ 12X optical zoom lens

+ Excellent connections

+ Case

+ Microscope adapter

 

- No laser pointer

-  Lacks lens cap

Project and Write

WBTE_01_03Projector screens that double as whiteboards for Dry Erase markers are always compromised: either they are dull or eventually show the telltale signs of stray marks that won’t go away. The latest WhiteBoardScreen from Elite Screens starts with a theater-quality screen that has a 1.1 gain with a matte finish that can improve the look of any projector. Its nanotech resin surface lets you write with dry markers and completely erase anything. Available in sizes as large as 5- by 10-feet, the WhiteBoardScreen has a shelf for holding the markers and eraser.

Windows on an iPad

Parallels accessIf you like the variety of PC school software, but have a school of iPads, the latest emulation software from Parallels lets you run just about any Windows app on a 12.9-inch iPad Pro system, adding an incredible amount of versatility to the pad. It costs $20 a year, but you can try it out before you commit to buy the software.

Up Close with HD

DH758USTIR_04_lWho says you can’t make an interactive short throw projector that can show true HD material? Not Vivitek, because its DH759USTi projector not only can create a 7-foot image from a foot away, but it can show full 1,920 by 1,080 resolution and offer 10-finger interaction with the company’s DT02 laser module. The DLP projector puts out 3,500 lumens of light, has a pair of HDMI and a pair of VGA ports as well as wired networking built in. Best of all, it includes the hardware you’ll need to mount it on the ceiling or wall.

 

Freebee Friday: 4 Dozen Languages Waiting

Open cultureA program that can help teach one, two or maybe three tongues is a great help in the foreign language classroom, but what about 48 different languages? Open Culture has a list of dozens of free language classes online. They all start with online classes and many include printable textbooks. From Arabic to Yiddish, there’s something for everyone.

 

Linear Regression Comics

9781593274191Following in the footsteps of manga guides to statistics and physiology, the latest serious comic book is a look at what mathematical regression analysis is and how to use it. The 232 page book from No Starch Press is chock full of girls in Victorian costumes, big eyed characters with some high-level math thrown in. As is the case with earlier efforts, its key is that in a light-hearted way, the "Regression Analysis" treats the very serious topic with areas like calculating regression equations, confidence intervals and the ever-popular Chi-squared and F confidence tests. It costs $25.

Click to Present

Clickshare aThe promise of being able to quickly and easily wirelessly mirror a screen on a projector or display has failed to materialize for schools – until now, that is. Barco’s ClickShare can not only simplify mirroring a screen, but uses both 802.11ac WiFi channels for top resolution and video quality.

I looked at Barco’s CSE-200 set, which has a host base station that you plug into a display’s HDMI port, and a pair of small ClickShare modules. The kit is a huge step forward in terms of making screen-sharing easy and quick, but at $1,750, it’s an expensive necessity. There are also versions with a single ClickShare button module and one with four.

After you’ve plugged the base station into a projector, it instantly shows directions for connecting. Rather than a discourse with IP addresses and passcodes, it has three visually-oriented steps and few words. For PCs and Macs, plug one of the ClickShare modules into a USB port and load the software right from it. It takes less than a minute to install and you only need to do it once.

Clickshare dAfter that, press the module’s central button, which has a lit white circle; it turns red when you’re connected. In about 10 seconds, what’s on your screen is seen by the entire class. Click again to disconnect when you’re done. On the downside, the clicker gets kind of warm if used for more than 10 minutes at a time. It’s not hot, but could be uncomfortable for a small child to use.

Connecting Android and iOS phones and tablets is a little more complicated and constraining. That’s because there’s no ClickShare module available to plug in. You’ll need to get and install the ClickShare app, but the set up screen has a QR code that makes it a snap. Shoot a shot of the QR code and the software download page pops up. Again, you only have to do this once.

The phone and tablet ClickShare screen has a circular button that looks like the one on the ClickShare module. Tap to connect.

Because the base station has AirPlay technology built in, an iPhone or iPad can mirror what’s on its screen. You can also select individual files from the device’s local storage on an Android or iOS system or an online storage service that are sent to the projector. It’ll even work with the phone or tablet’s camera for a live feed of a chemistry experiment or a student reciting a poem.

Screenshot_20160615-080128On the downside, for schools that have standardized on Chromebooks, Barco doesn’t have software for these devices, but is working on it and could have an app ready by summer.

At any time two can share the display in a split screen format. I displayed an HP EliteBook Folio and a Google Nexus 9 at the same time, making it a good tool for comparing or contrasting what’s on the screens of students or putting an image of the Declaration of Independence on the side and the text on the other. Other Barco ClickShare products allow you to connect up to four screens, but none let the teacher save the material for later use or distribution to the class.

Because it uses both the 2.4- and 5GHz WiFi wireless data channels, ClickShare can deliver high-quality HD imaging while allowing any of the clients (teacher or student) to annotate the screen; this obviously works better with tablets and touch-screen notebooks. The device has excellent sound synchronization and delivers smooth video up to its range limit of about 40-feet.

While at $1,750, all but the best budgeted districts will be hard pressed to get ClickShare systems for more than one or two classrooms. It’s a shame because ClickShare belongs in every classroom that has a large display or projector.

A-

CSE-200 host

Barco ClickShare CSE-200

$1,750

+ Easy wireless connections to projector or display

+ Uses both 2.4- and 5GHz WiFi channels

+ HD-capable

+ Includes audio

+ Software for tablets and phones

+ Split screen

 

- Expensive

- Chromebook software not ready

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